The most recommended books on gulags

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5 authors created a book list connected to gulags, and here are their favorite gulag books.
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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

By Alexander Solzhenitsyn,

Book cover of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Zachary Austin Behlok Author Of The Advancement of Humanity

From Zachary Austin's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Philosopher Lebanese-American Existentialist Professor

Zachary Austin's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Zachary Austin love this book?

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich highlights the harshness of human life, particularly those experienced by prisoners during World War 2 in the Soviet Union.

The tale follows the life of a man, Ivan Denisovich, and although we are only met with the reality of a day in his life, we can only assume that not much differs day by day. This book is a powerful portrayal of what human beings can endure in order to be who they are.

It explores how people will cling to their ideologies, and, in the case of the author himself, promote an understanding of the inequalities that plague the people of the world, which, more often than not, are derivatives of the political situation of the area which a person is subjected to.

By Alexander Solzhenitsyn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Foreshadowing his later detailed accounts of the Soviet prison-camp system, Solzhenitsyn's classic portrayal of life in the gulag is all the more powerful for being slighter and more personal than those later monumental volumes. Continuing the tradition of the great nineteenth-century Russian novelists, especially Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn is fully worthy of them in narrative power and moral authority. His greatest work.


On Looking into the Abyss

By Gertrude Himmelfarb,

Book cover of On Looking into the Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society

L谩szl贸 Borhi Author Of Hungary in the Cold War, 1945-1956: Between the United States and the Soviet Union

From the list on the search for truth in history.

Who am I?

I come from a small country, Hungary, the past of which was consciously falsified in the political system under which I grew up. Some chapters of it, like the cold war period, Soviet rule, the revolution of 1956 couldn't even be discussed. I was lucky because communism collapsed and archives were gradually opened just as I started my career as a historian. Books on international history are usually written from the perspective of the powerful states, I was interested in looking at this story from the perspective of the small guy. Writing this book was both a professional challenge and a personal matter for me. I'm currently a professor at Indiana University-Bloomington.

L谩szl贸's book list on the search for truth in history

Why did L谩szl贸 love this book?

This book is the symbol of intellectual brilliance and honesty and one which argues that if we are to preserve western civilization, we must restore historical truth as the center of historical inquiry.

I will advertise this magnificent book with a quote: 鈥淟ooking into the most fearsome abysses of modern times, the historian sees not beasts but faceless bureaucrats, not corpses but statistics, not willful acts of brutality and murder but the banal routine of everyday life, not gas chambers and gulags but military-industrial-geopolitical complexes.鈥 The reader also will learn why.

The reader also will learn why footnotes disappeared from history books. A book to be enjoyed and savored when in a contemplative mood.

By Gertrude Himmelfarb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Looking into the Abyss as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discusses the intellectual arrogance and spiritual impoverishment at the heart of structuralism, deconstructionism, and postmodernism, and shows how they have led to the belittling of the Holocaust


Kolyma Tales

By Varlam Shalamov, John Glad (translator),

Book cover of Kolyma Tales

Elliot Lord Author Of The Potter

From the list on engaging stories of historical adventures.

Who am I?

I have chosen this area of literature because I enjoy expanding my horizons. I love to find out about stories from different cultures and different times that will open my eyes to things I would never have thought about before. The depth of the writing is important to convey the emotions felt by the characters. This is what inspires me in my writing and my book that I have chosen to highlight here is also a story of historical fiction, influenced by my experience of living in Slovakia and finding out from residents about how incredibly different life had been in their country.

Elliot's book list on engaging stories of historical adventures

Why did Elliot love this book?

Shalamov was a political prisoner in the Soviet Union and was sent to the gulags in northeastern Siberia. This book is life-changing in that he nonchalantly tells stories of extreme discomfort and how the men would kill each other without a second thought if they didn't like what the other was doing. Narrating tales over many years of desperation, Kolyma Tales puts the reader in the shoes of someone who knows they can't escape but can't lose the survival instinct, either. This is easily one of the best books I've ever read.

By Varlam Shalamov, John Glad (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kolyma Tales as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is estimated that some three million people died in the Soviet forced-labour camps of Kolyma, in the northeastern area of Siberia. Shalamov himself spent seventeen years there, and in these stories he vividly captures the lives of ordinary people caught up in terrible circumstances, whose hopes and plans extended to further than a few hours This new enlarged edition combines two collections previously published in the United States as Kolyma Tales and Graphite.


Book cover of The Journals Of A White Sea Wolf

Louisa Waugh Author Of Hearing Birds Fly: A Nomadic Year in Mongolia

From the list on the intimate lives of landscapes.

Who am I?

Louisa Waugh is a writer, blogger, and the prize-winning author of three non-fiction books: Hearing Birds Fly, Selling Olga, and Meet Me in Gaza. She has lived and worked in the Middle East, Central and West Africa, and is a conflict adviser for an international peace-building organisation. She blogs at The Waugh Zone and currently lives in Brighton, on the southern English coast, where she kayaks and drinks red wine on the beach, usually not at the same time.

Louisa's book list on the intimate lives of landscapes

Why did Louisa love this book?

In 1991, Mariusz Wilk, a Polish journalist long fascinated by the mysteries of the Russian soul, moved to the Solovki islands, a lonely archipelago amidst the far northern shores of Russia鈥檚 White Sea. He lived on one of these islands for seven years, and came to know every single one of its thousand residents. His sparse, heartfelt account of these islands that are dominated by the powerful interwoven forces of religion, politics, and the Arctic, is unconventional, and well worth the challenge. He pierces beneath the skin and the ice of this remote community and slowly begins to unravel the complexities and contradictions of Russia鈥檚 history and her landscapes.

By Mariusz Wilk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Journals Of A White Sea Wolf as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1991 Mariusz Wilk, a Polish journalist long fascinated by the mysteries of the Russian soul, decided to take up residence in the Solovki islands, a lonely archipelago lost amid the far northern reaches of Russia's White Sea. For Wilk these islands represented the quintessence of Russia: a place of exile and a microcosm of the crumbling Soviet empire. On the one hand, they were a cradle of the Orthodox faith and home to an important monastery; on the other, it was here that the first experimental gulag was built after the 1917 revolution. Over the course of years Wilk鈥


American Gulag

By Mark Dow,

Book cover of American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons

Nancy Hiemstra Author Of Detain and Deport: The Chaotic U.S. Immigration Enforcement Regime

From the list on why the U.S. has the biggest immigration detention system.

Who am I?

I first became aware of harms of immigration enforcement policies while volunteering to tutor kids of undocumented migrant farmworkers in the 1990s. Through a variety of jobs in the U.S. and Latin America, my eyes were opened to reasons driving people to migrate and challenges immigrants face. I eventually went to graduate school in Geography to study local to transnational reverberations of immigration policies. A project in Ecuador where I helped families of people detained in the U.S. led me to realize how huge, cruel, and ineffective U.S. immigration detention is. I hope these books help you break through myths about detention and make sense of the chaos.

Nancy's book list on why the U.S. has the biggest immigration detention system

Why did Nancy love this book?

Unfortunately, the word 鈥済ulag鈥 is all too apt for describing U.S. carceral systems.

While this book came out nearly twenty years ago, I picked it because its gut-wrenching descriptions of what goes on inside U.S. immigration facilities still reflect contemporary reality.

Journalist Mark Dow draws on interviews with detainees, guards, and immigration officials to document the atrocious material conditions, violations of human rights, and abuses routinely experienced by detainees.

He details how guards are conditioned to treat all detainees as criminals, regardless of who they are, and how using private companies helps shield facilities from scrutiny and accountability. Given the horrors revealed in this book, it is especially alarming that the detention system has more than doubled since its publication.

By Mark Dow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Gulag as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before September 11, 2001, few Americans had heard of immigration detention, but in fact a secret and repressive prison system run by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has existed in this country for more than two decades. In "American Gulag", prisoners, jailers, and whistle-blowing federal officials come forward to describe the frightening reality inside these INS facilities. Journalist Mark Dow's on-the-ground reporting brings to light documented cases of illegal beatings and psychological torment, prolonged detention, racism, and inhumane conditions. Intelligent, impassioned, and unlike anything that has been written on the topic, this gripping work of investigative journalism should be鈥


The Gulag Archipelago

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,

Book cover of The Gulag Archipelago

Lynne Viola Author Of Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial: Scenes from the Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine

From the list on Stalin鈥檚 Great Terror.

Who am I?

Lynne Viola is a University Professor of Russian history at the University of Toronto. Educated at Barnard and Princeton, she has carried out research in Russian and Ukrainian archives for over 30 years. Among her books, are two dealing with Stalinist repression: Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial: Scenes from the Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine and The Unknown Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin鈥檚 Special Settlements. Both are based on work in previously classified archives, including the archives of the political police.

Lynne's book list on Stalin鈥檚 Great Terror

Why did Lynne love this book?

This is the classic account of the Great Terror and the Gulag. Solzhenitsyn roots Stalinist repression firmly in the Russian Revolution, blaming Marxist ideology for the camps. The literary value of this work is incontestable.

By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Gulag Archipelago as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The official, one-volume edition, authorized by Solzhenitsyn

鈥淏EST NONFICTION BOOK OF THE 20TH CENTURY鈥 鈥擳ime

The Nobel Prize winner鈥檚 towering masterpiece of world literature, the searing record of four decades of terror and oppression, in one abridged volume (authorized by the author). Features a new foreword by Anne Applebaum.

鈥淚t is impossible to name a book that had a greater effect on the political and moral consciousness of the late twentieth century.鈥 鈥擠avid Remnick,聽The New Yorker

Drawing on his own experiences before, during and after his eleven years of incarceration and exile, on evidence provided by more than 200鈥