The most recommended Joseph Stalin books

Who picked these books? Meet our 20 experts.

20 authors created a book list connected to Joseph Stalin, and here are their favorite Joseph Stalin books.
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Book cover of Young Heroes of the Soviet Union: A Memoir and a Reckoning

Lisa Dickey Author Of Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia

From my list on the Russian people.

Why am I passionate about this?

Lisa Dickey is an author and book collaborator who’s helped write 20+ nonfiction books, including 10 New York Times Best Sellers. She’s also a Russophile from way back:  her first post-college job was working as a nanny at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the last days of the Soviet Union. Lisa began her writing career in St. Petersburg in the mid-1990s, writing for the Moscow Times and USA Today, and she’s the author of Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia.

Lisa's book list on the Russian people

Lisa Dickey Why did Lisa love this book?

Alex Halberstadt’s paternal grandfather was the last living bodyguard for Josef Stalin. His maternal grandparents were Lithuanian Jews who watched firsthand as their world caught fire in the Holocaust. And Alex, who grew up in Moscow but moved to New York as a teenager, is now an out gay American man. From this mad tapestry of personal history, Halberstadt weaves an incredibly moving story of identity, family, and inherited trauma.

By Alex Halberstadt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Young Heroes of the Soviet Union as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this “urgent and enthralling reckoning with family and history” (Andrew Solomon), an American writer returns to Russia to face a past that still haunts him. 
 
NAMED ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES CRITICS’ TOP BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Alex Halberstadt’s quest takes him across the troubled, enigmatic land of his birth, where decades of Soviet totalitarianism shaped and fractured three generations of his family. In Ukraine, he tracks down his paternal grandfather—most likely the last living bodyguard of Joseph Stalin. He revisits Lithuania, his Jewish mother’s home, to examine the legacy of the Holocaust and the pernicious anti-Semitism that…


Book cover of The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin

Joanna Lillis Author Of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan

From my list on to summon up the spirit of Central Asia.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a reporter and author with a passion for seeking out stories less told, and there are plenty of those in Central Asia, where I made my home more than two decades ago: first in Uzbekistan and, since 2005, in Kazakhstan. I have found telling overlooked tales from an overlooked region that is overshadowed by its mighty neighbours – the Russian bear to the north and the Chinese dragon to the east – to be both rewarding and valuable. I hope these book selections will bring more stories about the people who populate Central Asia to the attention of readers with inquisitive minds.

Joanna's book list on to summon up the spirit of Central Asia

Joanna Lillis Why did Joanna love this book?

This beautifully-crafted memoir beginning in 1930s Soviet-ruled Kazakhstan inspired me to seek out a survivor of the famine that tore through the land and left over a million Kazakhs dead during that traumatic decade. I found a feisty nonagenarian who recounted how she walked from Kazakhstan to China at the age of six to find food. Shayakhmetov’s book charts the famine and the accompanying destruction of the nomadic lifestyle the Kazakhs had led for generations until the iron fist of Soviet rule came crashing down. He lyrically evokes his carefree childhood as the son of nomadic herders, which came to an abrupt end when the Soviets seized their herds, corralled them into collective farms, and shot his father. Harrowing, but uplifting too – a story of survival against the odds.

By Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, Jan Butler (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is a first-hand account of the genocide of the Kazakh nomads in the 1920s and 30s. Nominally Muslim, the Kazakhs and their culture owed as much to shamanism and paganism as they did to Islam. Their ancient traditions and economy depended on the breeding and herding of stock across the vast steppes of central Asia, and their independent, nomadic way of life was anathema to the Soviets. Seven-year-old Shayakhmetov and his mother and sisters were left to fend for themselves after his father was branded a "kulak" (well-off peasant and thus class enemy), stripped of his possessions, and sent…


Book cover of Stalin’s Secret War

Sean McMeekin Author Of Stalin's War: A New History of World War II

From my list on Stalin and the Second World War.

Why am I passionate about this?

In 1992, I graduated high school and although I did not then know how to read or speak Russian, I interviewed six Soviet veterans who happened to live in a nursing home in Rochester NY. I was blown away by their stories; each was missing at least one limb and had a tale to tell about it. The timing was fortuitous in that there was an exhibition at the U.S. Library of Congress that summer on “Revelations from the Russian archives,” which has just opened to researchers. Although it took me some years to master Russian, I resolved then and there to go to the source and research Soviet history in Moscow itself. I am a historian now and I have been working in Moscow archives for nearly a quarter-century now. Stalin’s War is my eighth book to date, all of which draw on this work in the Russian archives.

Sean's book list on Stalin and the Second World War

Sean McMeekin Why did Sean love this book?

This book is the one exception to my rule about access to Soviet documents. Writing at a time when he had no such access, Tolstoy nonetheless blew up the field with bold arguments deriving from sources to which he did have access, from Soviet dissident memoirs to a vast trove of material he discovered in the Public Record Office in Kew Gardens, London, in particular on the often-neglected “Phony War” period of WWII between the fall of Poland and Hitler’s invasion of France and the Low Countries – a period during which Britain and France nearly went to war with the USSR after Stalin’s invasion of Finland. At a time when the Soviet bloc still denied Stalin’s responsibility for the “Katyn massacre” of Polish officers and elites in 1940, Tolstoy argued not merely for Stalin’s responsibility but explained why Stalin ordered the massacre when he did, confronted as the Soviet…

By Nikolai Tolstoy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stalin’s Secret War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1 HARDCOVER BOOK WITH DUST COVER


Book cover of Assignment: Churchill

Mary Doria Russell Author Of Dreamers of the Day

From my list on the fragile peace after the Great War.

Why am I passionate about this?

Mary Doria Russell is the New York Times best-selling and award-winning author of The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace, Dreamers of the Day, Doc, Epitaph, and The Women of the Copper Country. Widely praised for her meticulous research, fine prose, and compelling narrative drive.

Mary's book list on the fragile peace after the Great War

Mary Doria Russell Why did Mary love this book?

It will take some digging, but do try to hunt this down. Thompson was assigned as Churchill's bodyguard just a week before the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference began. His account of his boss's attitudes and habits is refreshingly irreverent. (While smoking a cigar, Churchill “looked like an upholstered toad, slowly incinerating himself.”) Thompson also provides an important contemporaneous description of how T. E. Lawrence was regarded by Arabs in 1921, before either he or Churchill became enveloped in mythology.

By Walter Henry Thompson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

AN UNIQUE, INTIMATE VIEW OF WINSTON CHURCHILL BY THE MAN WHO GUARDED HIM NIGHT AND DAY FOR 20 MOMENTOUS YEARS.

When Tommy Thompson as assigned to guard Winston Churchill by Scotland Yard he shuddered. Churchill was considered a tough assignment and Thompson had had his share of tough ones. From Lloyd George to King Alexander of Yugoslavia. But he did it for almost 20 years.

Here is a delightful intimate view of the great statesman and his contemporaries—Lawrence of Arabia, F.D.R., Joseph Stalin, seen with the well-trained eye of a Scotland Yard man.

“As intimate a portrait of Churchill as…


Book cover of Stumbling Colossus: The Red Army on the Eve of World War

Gerhard Weinberg Author Of A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II

From my list on World War 2.

Why am I passionate about this?

Gerhard Weinberg fled Germany at the end of 1938 and experienced the first year of World War II – including the beginning of the Blitz – in England. He completed his PhD after serving in the US Army of Occupation in Japan, researched the captured German documents, established the program for microfilming them, and after writing an analysis of the origins of World War II decided to prepare a book covering the war as a whole.

Gerhard's book list on World War 2

Gerhard Weinberg Why did Gerhard love this book?

A truly extraordinary examination of the army that would do a majority of the fighting and suffer as well as inflict the largest portion of the military casualties of the European part of World War II. The "Bibliographic Essay and Selective Bibliography" is extraordinarily helpful in its account of the fate of Soviet archives and publications over the years.

By David M. Glantz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Germany's surprise attack on June 22, 1941, shocked a Soviet Union woefully unprepared to defend itself. The day before the attack, the Red Army still comprised the world's largest fighting force. But by the end of the year, four and a half million of its soldiers lay dead. This new study, based on formerly classified Soviet archival material and neglected German sources, reveals the truth behind this national catastrophe.

Drawing on evidence never before seen in the West-including combat records of early engagements-David Glantz claims that in 1941 the Red Army was poorly trained, inadequately equipped, ineptly organized, and consequently…


Book cover of Traitor

Gabriele Goldstone Author Of Crow Stone

From my list on Stalin and Hitler-era for young people and adults.

Why am I passionate about this?

And, who are you? I write the stories I wish I could have read when I was growing up. As the self-conscious first-born daughter of post-war German/German-Russian immigrants, I looked for my reflection in books. My masters’ degree in 20th German literature only whetted my appetite. I needed more and continued to search for my family’s stories. That search included climbing Hitler's mountain, perusing Soviet secret police files, and cycling through old East Prussia searching for amber. Now I write my own stories even as I continue to read, listen, watch and travel. The past is everywhere.

Gabriele's book list on Stalin and Hitler-era for young people and adults

Gabriele Goldstone Why did Gabriele love this book?

Discovering this German YA writer was a thrill. It focuses on the dilemma a German girl faces when she finds a Russian prisoner of war hiding in her barn. Pausewang has written many books about atrocities during war years and also anti-nuclear novels set in the future. I gobbled up several of her books and read them in the original German, then passed them on to older relatives who find the YA books an easier read with less complicated plots. Pausewang’s books are popular in the German school curriculum and many have now been translated into English. It’s great to read books that explore the German war history, written by Germans.

By Gudrun Pausewang, Rachel Ward (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Traitor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

It's 1944 and Anna's in the Sudetenland, her elder brother is at the front and her younger one is a fanatical member of the Nazi Youth. When she finds an escaped Russian soldier hiding in their barn, nearly dead, humanity conquers fear and she hides him in a disused bunker and continues to feed him despite knowing that if caught she'd be executed as a traitor. She doesn't dare tell even her mother. As the front approaches their village from the east it seems the Russian prisoner will soon be re-united with his comrades - but will Anna's already suspicious…


Book cover of The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties

Michael Isikoff Author Of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

From my list on Russian espionage.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a child of the Cold War, I was fascinated from an early age by Russia—and the history of U.S.-Soviet relations. I still remember devouring everything I could about many of the events of the 1960’s—the Cuban Missile Crisis, the coup that replaced Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. These and much else from this period inspired me to become a journalist. And while I have had a wide-ranging and occasionally globe-trotting career, returning to the subject of U.S.-Russia relations in Russian Roulette  and the feeling that we made a genuine contribution to contemporary history—was unusually satisfying.

Michael's book list on Russian espionage

Michael Isikoff Why did Michael love this book?

No book exposed the horrors of Josef Stalin’s purges more graphically and with greater power than Robert Conquest’s epic, The Great Terror. The book chronicled how a paranoid Stalin, convinced his power was threatened by his rival Leon Trotsky and his allies, unleashed a wave of terror by his country’s NKVD—a forerunner of the KGB--  that decimated the Soviet leadership and its military with millions of Russians executed or marched to Siberian prison camps. While Stalin’s henchmen staged mock “trials” in Moscow, marked by phony confessions, extracted by torture, liberal apologists in the West sought to justify Stalin’s lunatic crackdown. I read this book in college and it has stayed with me for years-- providing an eye-opening lesson in the willingness of those of all political stripes to turn a blind eye to the evils of totalitarianism.

By Robert Conquest,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Robert Conquest's The Great Terror is the book that revealed the horrors of Stalin's regime to the West. This definitive fiftieth anniversary edition features a new foreword by Anne Applebaum.

One of the most important books ever written about the Soviet Union, The Great Terror revealed to the West for the first time the true extent and nature Stalin's purges in the 1930s, in which around a million people were tortured and executed or sent to labour camps on political grounds. Its publication caused a widespread reassessment of Communism itself.

This definitive fiftieth anniversary edition gathers together the wealth of…


Book cover of Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan

Sean McMeekin Author Of Stalin's War: A New History of World War II

From my list on Stalin and the Second World War.

Why am I passionate about this?

In 1992, I graduated high school and although I did not then know how to read or speak Russian, I interviewed six Soviet veterans who happened to live in a nursing home in Rochester NY. I was blown away by their stories; each was missing at least one limb and had a tale to tell about it. The timing was fortuitous in that there was an exhibition at the U.S. Library of Congress that summer on “Revelations from the Russian archives,” which has just opened to researchers. Although it took me some years to master Russian, I resolved then and there to go to the source and research Soviet history in Moscow itself. I am a historian now and I have been working in Moscow archives for nearly a quarter-century now. Stalin’s War is my eighth book to date, all of which draw on this work in the Russian archives.

Sean's book list on Stalin and the Second World War

Sean McMeekin Why did Sean love this book?

Using newly available Soviet sources, along with Japanese and American documents, Hasegawa fills a gaping hole in the vast literature on the dropping of the atomic bombs and the conclusion of the Pacific war in August-September 1945. For too long, western historians have told this story without reference to the immense Soviet role in the drama – or if they mention the Soviets at all, it is to use the Red Army’s last-minute intervention to argue either for or against the necessity of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to break Japanese resistance. What Hasegawa shows is how central Soviet neutrality – negotiated by Stalin in 1941 and still operative in summer 1945 – was to Japanese decision-making, right up to the moment Tokyo appealed to Stalin for mediation after Hiroshima, only to learn in horror that peace in the Far East was the last thing Stalin –…

By Tsuyoshi Hasegawa,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Racing the Enemy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With startling revelations, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa rewrites the standard history of the end of World War II in the Pacific. By fully integrating the three key actors in the story--the United States, the Soviet Union, and Japan--Hasegawa for the first time puts the last months of the war into international perspective.

From April 1945, when Stalin broke the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact and Harry Truman assumed the presidency, to the final Soviet military actions against Japan, Hasegawa brings to light the real reasons Japan surrendered. From Washington to Moscow to Tokyo and back again, he shows us a high-stakes diplomatic game as…


Book cover of Stalin: A Biography

Daniel Kalder Author Of The Infernal Library

From my list on dictators.

Why am I passionate about this?

I lived in the former Soviet Union for ten years, primarily in Moscow, the home of many a brutal tyrant. My obsession with dictator literature began after I discovered that Saddam Hussein had written a romance novel, following which I spent many years reading the literary output of all of the 20th century’s most terrible tyrants, from Mussolini to Stalin to the Ayatollah Khomeini. This monumental act of self-torture resulted in my critically acclaimed book The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, And Other Catastrophes of Literacy

Daniel's book list on dictators

Daniel Kalder Why did Daniel love this book?

If How to be a Dictator gives you an overview of the great tyrants of the 20th century, then Service’s biography of Joseph Stalin provides a close analysis of one of the great monsters of the 20th century. Everybody knows about Hitler’s terrible crimes, but Stalin’s are less familiar, due to a mystifying reluctance on the part of several generations of educators to teach “the youth” about the USSR. What I especially admire about Service’s book is that he really engaged with Stalin’s own writings (which are awful) and so he provides a lot of insight into the ideas that drove this ex-seminarian as he transformed himself into the supreme leader of the largest country in the world. The Stalin that ultimately emerges from this portrait is no raving lunatic but rather a highly intelligent and profoundly evil man who is completely in control of himself. Chilling.

By Robert Service,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Overthrowing the conventional image of Stalin as an uneducated political administrator inexplicably transformed into a pathological killer, Robert Service reveals a more complex and fascinating story behind this notorious twentieth-century figure. Drawing on unexplored archives and personal testimonies gathered from across Russia and Georgia, this is the first full-scale biography of the Soviet dictator in twenty years.

Service describes in unprecedented detail the first half of Stalin's life--his childhood in Georgia as the son of a violent, drunkard father and a devoted mother; his education and religious training; and his political activity as a young revolutionary. No mere messenger for…


Book cover of Intimacy and Terror: Soviet Diaries of the 1930s

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

From my list on Stalin’s Great Terror.

Why am I passionate about this?

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’s Special Settlements. Both are based on work in previously classified archives, including the archives of the political police.

Lynne's book list on Stalin’s Great Terror

Lynne Viola Why did Lynne love this book?

This is a collection of diaries written by a wide range of individuals during the Stalin era. The diaries address the terror in a variety of surprising ways, demonstrating the diversity of Soviet citizens in this time.

By Veronique Garros, Natalia Korenevskaya, Thomas Lahusen

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The private lives of a broad section of Russians who lived during Stalin's purge are revealed in this book. The nine diaries here capture the day-to-day thoughts of these people, and represent a vast selection of opinions, from those oblivious to the terror and those deeply affected by it.