The best books about Moscow

25 authors have picked their favorite books about Moscow and why they recommend each book.

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A Gentleman in Moscow

By Amor Towles,

Book cover of A Gentleman in Moscow

This delightful novel was the first book I read after moving into a new apartment. It’s about a Russian aristocrat in the 1920s who is sentenced to live the rest of his days in a small attic room in the Hotel Metropol, and how he makes a life for himself there. Just by enjoying the story so much I actually found myself being more amused by, rather than wary of, the quirks of my own new neighbors. Gentle curiosity is a powerful weapon for surviving the unknown and this book helped sharpen mine.

A Gentleman in Moscow

By Amor Towles,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked A Gentleman in Moscow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The mega-bestseller with more than 2 million readers, soon to be a major television series

From the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Lincoln Highway and Rules of Civility, a beautifully transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and…

Who am I?

I’m an Australian author and artist who is quite cautious and introverted by nature, but very curious and playful at heart. I make books that help people untangle what’s on their mind today and shift their thinking in creative ways, often using visual metaphors. My latest book, Guidebook to the Unknown, was created during the long lockdowns we had in Melbourne (and all over the world of course) during the pandemic. It was my way of exploring how to calm an anxious mind and find meaning in my daily life, right here and now, without knowing what tomorrow will bring.


I wrote...

Guidebook to the Unknown: A Journal for Anxious Minds

By Lisa Currie,

Book cover of Guidebook to the Unknown: A Journal for Anxious Minds

What is my book about?

Find fresh ways to move beyond fear and into curiosity, confidence, and hope in this supportive journal. This calming and comforting companion is filled with insightful prompts to help you honor your feelings, shift your perspective, and feel like yourself again.

Whether you’re new to the world of anxiety or a longtime traveler in the land of the unknown, this hand-drawn and heartfelt journal will prompt you to turn the page to a fresh start.

The Master and Margarita

By Mikhail Bulgakov, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Book cover of The Master and Margarita

The devil arrives in Moscow with three companions—a pistol wielding cat, a female vampire, and a hit man. Together they wreak havoc. 

These days The Master and Margarita might be categorized as Magical Realism, but I don’t think the term does it justice. It is humorous, fantastical and modernist, sensual and absurdist, a love story, and a social satire. There is also a recurring philosophical theme, expressed by Pontius Pilate struggling with his guilt.

The Master and Margarita has an interesting provenance too. In a fit of depression over the futility of being an author in Soviet Russia, Bulgakov burned the original draft of his manuscript. He then rewrote it but he never believed it would be read. Stalin held Bulgakov in high esteem and protected him, yet he would not allow his work to be published. It was smuggled out of the Soviet Union and first published in Paris…

The Master and Margarita

By Mikhail Bulgakov, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Master and Margarita as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Bulgakov is one of the greatest Russian writers, perhaps the greatest' Independent

Written in secret during the darkest days of Stalin's reign, The Master and Margarita became an overnight literary phenomenon when it was finally published it, signalling artistic freedom for Russians everywhere. Bulgakov's carnivalesque satire of Soviet life describes how the Devil, trailing fire and chaos in his wake, weaves himself out of the shadows and into Moscow one Spring afternoon. Brimming with magic and incident, it is full of imaginary, historical, terrifying and wonderful characters, from witches, poets and Biblical tyrants to the beautiful, courageous Margarita, who will…


Who am I?

By the age of nine, I was beginning to wonder why things were the way they were, or if indeed they were at all. Perhaps growing up the youngest of five siblings and listening to conflicting opinions set me on my course. One of my sisters introduced me to literature. I began to write plays based on Shakespeare and Monty Python. The love of absurdity took me early on. I liked books that offered a different view of reality. I still do, and it influences what I write today. I believe Borges said something to the effect that all authors keep writing the same book, just in different ways.


I wrote...

Seven Cries of Delight

By Tom Newton,

Book cover of Seven Cries of Delight

What is my book about?

This collection of twenty-four short stories explores unknown but vaguely familiar worlds. Charting the frontier between the real and the illusory, Seven Cries of Delight celebrates offbeat independent human curiosity, the unorthodox spirit of Renaissance enquiry into the nature of things, and its exposition in fiction unfettered by either convention or doctrine.

Moscow, 1937

By Karl Schlogel,

Book cover of Moscow, 1937

Karl Schlögel’s masterpiece, Moscow,1937, is a gripping study of Moscow at the peak of the Stalinist Great Terror. With short chapters and a multitude of illustrations, the book leads the reader on a panoptic tour of every aspect of the city’s life in this year of mass arrests and waves of executions. Step by step, Schlögel builds a convincing case that as the Communist regime struggled to get a grip on the chaos unleashed by the regime’s own collectivization and industrialization drives, its reflexive response was to resort to political violence. The murderous frenzy that resulted changed the society beyond recognition.

Moscow, 1937

By Karl Schlogel,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Moscow, 1937 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Moscow, 1937: the soviet metropolis at the zenith of Stalin s dictatorship. A society utterly wrecked by a hurricane of violence. In this compelling book, the renowned historian Karl Schlogel reconstructs with meticulous care the process through which, month by month, the terrorism of a state-of-emergency regime spiraled into the Great Terror during which 1 1/2 million human beings lost their lives within a single year. He revisits the sites of show trials and executions and, by also consulting numerous sources from the time, he provides a masterful panorama of these key events in Russian history. He shows how, in…

Who am I?

Steven G. Marks is a historian who has written extensively on Russian economic and cultural history, the global impact of Russian ideas, and the history of capitalism. He received his PhD from Harvard University and has spent more than 30 years teaching Russian and world history at Clemson University in South Carolina.


I wrote...

How Russia Shaped the Modern World: From Art to Anti-Semitism, Ballet to Bolshevism

By Steven G. Marks,

Book cover of How Russia Shaped the Modern World: From Art to Anti-Semitism, Ballet to Bolshevism

What is my book about?

In this sweeping history, Steven Marks tells the fascinating story of how Russian figures, ideas, and movements changed our world in dramatic but often unattributed ways.

On Europe’s periphery, Russia was an early modernizing nation whose troubles stimulated intellectuals to develop radical and utopian alternatives to Western models of modernity. These provocative ideas gave rise to cultural and political innovations that were exported and adopted worldwide. Wherever there was discontent with modern existence or traditional societies were undergoing transformation, anti-Western sentiments arose. Many people perceived the Russian soul as the antithesis of the capitalist, imperialist West and turned to Russian ideas for inspiration and even salvation.

57 Hours

By Paul Wilson, Vesselin Nedkov,

Book cover of 57 Hours: A Survivor's Account of the Moscow Hostage Drama

Vesselin Nedkov was in Moscow on a business trip when he decided to buy a ticket to the Broadway style musical Nord-Ost, which was being shown at the Theater on Dubrovka. This book is his harrowing account of the ordeal as the theater and its thousand visitors were seized by armed terrorists and held for 57 hours before being "liberated" by the Russian special forces who attacked the theater with lethal gas. Rich in detail, his book also raises the many unanswered questions about the massive loss of innocent life. 

57 Hours

By Paul Wilson, Vesselin Nedkov,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 57 Hours as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

To celebrate the last night of a business trip in Moscow, Canadian resident Vesselin Nedkov and a friend picked up two tickets to the hottest musical in town. Halfway through the show, his life was changed forever. 57 Hours is Nedkov's harrowing account of being trapped between two immovable and unpredictable forces: inside the theatre, suicidal Chechen rebels, loaded with explosives, demanded an end to the bloody civil war that was ravaging Chechnya; outside, Russian special forces prepared to storm the theatre, refusing to negotiate with the rebels. Through fifty-seven hours of fear and fatigue, Nedkov discovered courage and ingenuity…

Who am I?

David Satter is a leading commentator on Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of five books on Russia and the creator of a documentary film on the fall of the U.S.S.R. He is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. He has been a fellow of the Foreign Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, and an associate of the Henry Jackson Society in London.


I wrote...

The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin

By David Satter,

Book cover of The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin

What is my book about?

In December 2013, David Satter became the first American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the Cold War. The Moscow Times said it was not surprising he was expelled, "it was surprising it took so long." Satter is known in Russia for having written that the apartment bombings in 1999, which were blamed on Chechens and brought Putin to power, were actually carried out by the Russian FSB security police.

In this book, Satter tells the story of the apartment bombings and how Boris Yeltsin presided over the criminalization of Russia, why Vladimir Putin was chosen as his successor, and how Putin has suppressed all opposition while retaining the appearance of a pluralist state. As the threat represented by Russia becomes increasingly clear, Satter's description of where Russia is and how it got there will be of vital interest to anyone concerned about the dangers facing the world today.

The One and Only

By Julia Ash,

Book cover of The One and Only

So often, the ‘strong woman’ character is in fact just a really rude, self-centered person, but not here. In Julia Ash’s The ELI Chronicles series, Ruby is a kind-hearted, brilliant scientist trying to do what’s right for her family and for the world. She’s also a great mother and is in a healthy, wholesome marriage with a supportive husband. That’s wonderfully refreshing amidst the plethora of toxic relationships we see in movies and books.

The One and Only

By Julia Ash,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“And while the zombie action is exceptional, readers will likely find themselves rooting for the messy demise of Ox, whose lechery boils from the page.” – Kirkus Reviews

Ruby thinks being a new mother and government microbiologist during a pandemic are hard enough. But then the pathogen mutates into ZOM-B and Russia kidnaps her while on assignment in Taiwan.

Somehow, Ruby is at the center of a global crisis.

Will she find out why? More importantly, can she save her family and perhaps the world?

If only she could break out of the Moscow prison and find her way back…


Who am I?

I have an amazing daughter in my life, and I want there to be more books for her to read that feature strong, admirable, and good women in leading roles. That’s one of the things I keep an eye out for in the books I read as well as the books I write.


I wrote...

Her Name Was Abby (His Name Was Zach)

By Peter Martuneac,

Book cover of Her Name Was Abby (His Name Was Zach)

What is my book about?

Weeks after her fifteenth birthday, Abby lost her family, her friends, and her home in one fell night. Now alone in a post-apocalyptic America, she must journey West to find civilization. But a bitter winter is setting in all around her, and violent psychopaths and hordes of the undead stand in her way.

And even if Abby can escape this lawless wild of monsters and madness, the shadows of the past are not so easily abandoned...

A Year Without Mom

By Dasha Tolstikova,

Book cover of A Year Without Mom

This engaging graphic novel follows twelve-year-old Dasha as she is forced to separate from her mom who leaves for America to make a better life for the two of them. The spare yet touching text brings us into Dasha’s world in Russia and her fears and hopes for a new life. Based on Tolstikova’s own experiences, the book draws the reader into Dasha’s fears and joys.

A Year Without Mom

By Dasha Tolstikova,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Year Without Mom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is the early 1990s in Moscow, and political change is in the air. But Dasha is more worried about her own challenges as she negotiates family, friendships and school without her mother. Just as she begins to find her own feet, she gets word that she is to join her mother in America - a place that seems impossibly far from everything and everyone she loves.

Dasha Tolstikova's major talent is on full display in this gorgeous and subtly illustrated graphic novel.


Who am I?

From the time I was a kid, I loved books about real people who lived through difficult and colorful times.  As a writer, I’ve written about people whose lives fascinated and inspired me like Franklin Law Olmsted (The Man Who Made Parks) I believe that a riveting story or memoir gives the reader a strong sense of a person and the times in which they lived. And after reading one of these books, I wanted to know more about the person and the period in which they lived.


I wrote...

Avis Dolphin

By Frieda Wishinsky, Willow Dawson (illustrator),

Book cover of Avis Dolphin

What is my book about?

Avis Dolphin is an unforgettable novel inspired by the true account of a young girl on the ill-fated Lusitania. It’s also a story of friendship, courage, and resilience set amidst war and unexpected terror.

Dog Boy

By Eva Hornung,

Book cover of Dog Boy

Of all my picks, this one is the most startling read, I think. It follows the life of a very small boy, left for some reason abandoned, who takes refuge with a stray bitch and her litter, and consequently grows up as a dog.

This, too, is very much a tragedy; although he lives as a dog, and everything he knows is of being a dog, yet the boy is not a dog and cannot remain one, and his own complete failure to understand his circumstances when he is rescued results in one of the most heartbreaking endings to any book I have ever read.

It’s a strange and beautiful experience, reading this book, and although yes, it will break you, it gives a rare insight into how it can be for anyone brought up outside his proper culture.

Dog Boy

By Eva Hornung,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A vivid, riveting novel about an abandoned boy who takes up with a pack of feral dogs

Two million children roam the streets in late twentieth-century Moscow. A four-year-old boy named Romochka, abandoned by his mother and uncle, is left to fend for himself. Curious, he follows a stray dog to its home in an abandoned church cellar on the city's outskirts. Romochka makes himself at home with Mamochka, the mother of the pack, and six other dogs as he slowly abandons his human attributes to survive two fiercely cold winters. Able to pass as either boy or dog, Romochka…

Who am I?

Since I brought home my first rescue thirty years ago, my life has been full of dogs and dog-related activities that I can hardly imagine the person I would've been without them. My own books often feature one or more dogs, not because I particularly decide to write about dogs, but more because I live with dogs, it’s what I know. When I’m browsing for a good read, if a book features a dog, that’s a draw for me, just because dogs are dogs; they are such good creatures, so infinitely lovable, that their presence enhances a book for me just as their presence in my life enhances my every day.


I wrote...

Bloodsucking Bogans

By Tabitha Ormiston-Smith,

Book cover of Bloodsucking Bogans

What is my book about?

Dingo Flats hasn't been the same since the Murphy family moved back to town. The boys are delinquents, the daughter's a disgrace, and old Granny Murphy is constantly causing trouble. Even the dogs are delinquents. The crime rate's doubled since they arrived. And what's with all the dead rats that have started appearing on the doorsteps of local businesses? The tabloid thinks it's a plague, but Sam's dad is convinced it's warnings from the Mafia. 

Meanwhile, Sam's friends are determined to make her over and marry her off, and she's staring down the barrel of having to give up her police dog pup. What's a cop to do?

Reading Chekhov

By Janet Malcolm,

Book cover of Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey

Suspicious of biography, Malcolm dissects various myths about Chekhov’s death in this engaging book that mixes travel writing with acute readings of Chekhov’s stories and plays. As Malcolm visits some of the places crucial to Chekhov’s life and work (the scenes in Ukraine are of course poignant), she moves seamlessly between her own everyday experiences and the predicaments of Chekhov’s characters. In amongst the despair, disappointment, and absurdity she discovers beauty, humor, and occasional visions of hope.

Reading Chekhov

By Janet Malcolm,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

To illuminate the mysterious greatness of Anton Chekhov’s writings, Janet Malcolm takes on three roles: literary critic, biographer, and journalist. Her close readings of the stories and plays are interwoven with episodes from Chekhov’s life and framed by an account of Malcolm’s journey to St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Yalta. She writes of Chekhov’s childhood, his relationships, his travels, his early success, and his self-imposed “exile”—always with an eye to connecting them to themes and characters in his work. Lovers of Chekhov as well as those new to his work will be transfixed by Reading Chekhov.

Who am I?

For three decades I have been the first violinist of the Takács Quartet, performing concerts worldwide and based at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I love the ways in which books, like music, offer new and surprising elements at different stages of life, providing companionship alongside joys and sorrows. 


I wrote...

Distant Melodies: Music in Search of Home

By Edward Dusinberre,

Book cover of Distant Melodies: Music in Search of Home

What is my book about?

For the first years after I moved to Colorado, my impractical strategy for overcoming homesickness was to avoid any music or books that inspired nostalgia. Thirty years later however, music seems to me a powerful way to connect past and present, triggering memories at the same time as it offers new experiences. When  I was unable to travel to England during the COVID-19 pandemic, I turned to the music and lives of composers whose relationships to home and travel shaped the pursuit of their craft—Antonín Dvořák, Béla Bartók, and Benjamin Britten. Distant Melodies tells the stories of their American sojourns as they try to reconcile new surroundings with nostalgia for their homelands. The backdrop is my own changing relationship to England, Elgar’s music, and the idea of home. 

Death of a Russian Priest

By Stuart M. Kaminsky,

Book cover of Death of a Russian Priest

Stuart Kaminski brings us the wonderful detective, Porfiry Rostnikov, a barrel of a man who wanted to be a wrestling champion in his youth, and surely the only honest policeman in the Soviet system. He is kind and generous and will fix the plumbing of anyone in his building for the sheer joy of it. He is entranced by the geometry of pipes and their challenge. He is also a man of a certain age who has seen it all and has no illusions. His relationship with soviet authorities is tricky; they suspect his Jewish wife, and his love of Ed McBain books, but he’s the only man who can catch the crook and save the state embarrassment.

Death of a Russian Priest

By Stuart M. Kaminsky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Death of a Russian Priest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Never miss a Kaminsky book, and be especially sure not to miss Death of a Russian Priest.” —Tony Hillerman, New York Times–bestselling author
 
In the darkest hours of communist rule, Father Merhum fought to protect the sanctity of the Orthodox Church. Now the Soviet Union is gone, but the bureaucracy survives, and within it lurk men who would do anything to undermine the fragile new Russian democracy. Father Merhum is on his way to Moscow to denounce those traitors when he is struck with an ax and killed.
 
As police inspectors Porfiry Rostnikov and Emil Karpo dig into the past…

Who am I?

I’m the writer of an award-winning, best-selling series called the Lane Winslow Mysteries. They take place in British Columbia right after the Second World War, and feature an intelligent, canny, beautiful, polyglot who has just retired from spying for the British—this character inspired by my own beautiful multilingual mother, who did intelligence work in the war. I love the mystery genre, and while no one loves a burned-out, borderline alcoholic inspector who's divorced and has children who won’t return his calls more than I, I've always really adored what I call the “gentleman inspectors.” Men who are happily married, or will be soon, smart, educated, ethical, emotionally complex people you’d like to meet one day. 


I wrote...

Framed in Fire: A Lane Winslow Mystery

By Iona Whishaw,

Book cover of Framed in Fire: A Lane Winslow Mystery

What is my book about?

It is 1948 and Lane Winslow is visiting an elderly Russian friend in beautiful sleepy New Denver when she meets a veteran of the US 104th, a member of the long-forgotten Indigenous Sinixt Nation returning to his homeland. They stumble on a shallow grave in the friend’s garden…is it the railroad baron missing since 1921? Her husband, Inspector Darling of the Nelson police investigates under a cloud of suspicion and vicious gossip that he is on the take. The action spirals into deadly violence and arson, imperiling everyone connected with the case.

“Whishaw nicely pulls off the dynamics of small-town life while maintaining suspense. Maisie Dobbs and Phryne Fisher fans will be pleased.” - Publisher’s Weekly.  “Excellent.” - Toronto Star

Moscow - 2042

By Vladimir Voinovich,

Book cover of Moscow - 2042

Vladimir Voinovich was probably the greatest Russian satirical writer since Gogol. After the fall of the U.S.S.R., he was asked if it was still possible to write satire in Russia. He insisted that it was. “The Soviet Union was a giant mental hospital but it was organized,” he explained. “Now, the inmates have been told that they can do whatever they want. So Russia is funnier than ever.”

In this novel, published in 1986, Voinovich demonstrated his stunning ability to divine the future. He described a new Russian regime dominated by state security and based not on Marxism-Leninism but on the teachings of the Orthodox Church. Like Russia today, the regime of his novel tells its citizens that they are surrounded by “three rings of hostility.” The first is the former Soviet republics; the second, the former Soviet satellites, the third, the West – the former “capitalist enemy.” This makes…

Moscow - 2042

By Vladimir Voinovich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Moscow - 2042 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this satire that pokes fun at the future of communism, socialist life, and the Kremlin, an exiled Soviet writer enters a time warp and lands in Moscow in the year 2042.

Who am I?

David Satter is a leading commentator on Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of five books on Russia and the creator of a documentary film on the fall of the Soviet Union. He has been affiliated with the Hudson Institute and the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He is presently a member of the academic advisory board of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.


I wrote...

Never Speak to Strangers and Other Writing from Russia and the Soviet Union

By David Satter,

Book cover of Never Speak to Strangers and Other Writing from Russia and the Soviet Union

What is my book about?

When David Satter arrived in the Soviet Union in June 1976 as the correspondent of the Financial Times of London, he entered a country that resembled a giant theater of the absurd. From 1976 to 1982, the Soviet Union was at the height of its world power and its people were in thrall to an absurd ideology. With the advent of Gorbachev’s perestroika, the Soviet population was liberated from the ideology and the state hurtled to its inevitable collapse. When independent Russia emerged, the failure to replace the missing ideology with genuine moral values led to Russia’s complete criminalization.

The articles in this unique collection are a chronicle of Russia from the day David Satter arrived in the Soviet Union until the present. He was banned in 1982, allowed back during perestroika, and finally expelled from Russia in 2013 on the grounds that Russian intelligence regarded his presence as “undesirable.” He is the only American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the end of the Cold War.

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