29 books directly related to Moscow 📚

All 29 Moscow books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

A Gentleman in Moscow

By Amor Towles,

Book cover of A Gentleman in Moscow

Why this book?

I brought a paperback copy with me on an overseas long-haul flight. My friend recommended it after I returned from reporting in Ukraine. From the opening pages, the pithy repartee had me, for the first time in ages, stitched. Holding and reading Towles’ book in public was a pleasure all my own, like being swaddled next to a fire as a friend recounted his life in full, learning from how he handled drudgery, disappointment, fellowship, and love. It left me feeling like I’d made a new friend. I didn’t want to share it with anyone. I never wanted it to end.

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

By Vesselin Nedkov, Paul Wilson,

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

Why this book?

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. 

The One and Only

By Julia Ash,

Book cover of The One and Only

Why this book?

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.

A Year Without Mom

By Dasha Tolstikova,

Book cover of A Year Without Mom

Why this book?

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.

Moscow, 1937

By Karl Schlogel,

Book cover of Moscow, 1937

Why this book?

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 - 2042

By Vladimir Voinovich,

Book cover of Moscow - 2042

Why this book?

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 it easier to impose the rule of a new leader, “Serafim the First, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias.”

The Master and Margarita

By Mikhail Bulgakov, Christopher Conn Askew (illustrator), Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky

Book cover of The Master and Margarita

Why this book?

The searing soul of his characters is explored, from a talking black cat to witches, demons, and Pontius Pilate's dog. The blasted heath of the human mind is laid bare, and the reader transported to ancient, familiar realms. 

I am haunted by Bulgakov's tale and by himself, by all the spirits, demons, ghosts, and apparitions he somehow conjured here, and which have never ceased to live in my imagination since. I had never heard of the book, saw its dark spine on a bookshop shelf 20 years ago, and was lured over to it, drawn to the thick, heavy-inked pages. I did not expect all the universe to be depicted there, in a frenzied, swirling maelstrom that would never surrender me since. 

1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow

By Adam Zamoyski,

Book cover of 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow

Why this book?

When I first read this book I found it unputdownable. It is a riveting account, based on a huge number of original sources and testimonies, of the watershed defeat of Napoleon’s career: his invasion of Russia, capture of Moscow, and the disastrous winter retreat that destroyed his army of half a million men. Its evocation of the accompanying horrors is often harrowing, but underlines one sobering and always relevant fact: the amount of human suffering the folly of one man can bring about.

Moscow 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March

By Adam Zamoyski,

Book cover of Moscow 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March

Why this book?

Adam Zamoyski writes with rare lucidity and grace. In this book, my favorite in his distinguished oeuvre, he takes on an epic subject and triumphs—unlike Napoleon in 1812. We understand the unfolding tragedynot only of the Grande Armée, but of the people in its pathjust as we are scorched by the sun, drenched by the rain, and frozen by the early onset of winter.

A Chapter of Accidents

By Goronwy Rees,

Book cover of A Chapter of Accidents

Why this book?

The writer and academic, Goronwy Rees, was one of Burgess’s closest friends and this volume of memoir best conveys Burgess’s character and charm. The two men saw much of each other during the 1930s, and Rees was one of Burgess’s first recruits, but the relationship foundered when Rees decided during the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 to stop spying and threatened to betray his friend. After Burgess surfaced in Moscow, Rees penned a series of sensational articles about Burgess’s dissolute private life, probably as a damage limitation exercise, which backfired and led him to losing his academic post but he soon was to have his revenge.

Russian Disco

By Wladimir Kaminer,

Book cover of Russian Disco

Why this book?

In 1989 when the Wall fell, Kaminer moved from Moscow to Berlin in a lucky wave of emigration. Russian Disco catches the euphoria and vodka-fueled madness of a city adrift in the flux of reunification with contract killer on the trams, black marketeers in sushi bars and artists dreaming of success as another week passes them by in non-stop, techno clubs.

Archangel: A Novel

By Robert Harris,

Book cover of Archangel: A Novel

Why this book?

A brilliant novel set in 1990s Russia. The plot involves Stalin and one of his deep secrets. The author seamlessly moves the story from the 1930s to 1990s and back. One rarely sees a historical novel so accurate in capturing the historical events and so utterly captivating. It is on par with some of the best thrillers.

Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality

By Edward Frenkel,

Book cover of Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality

Why this book?

Love and Math is a mathematical autobiography, seamlessly interweaving an inspiring personal journey with profound mathematical ideas. Born in the Soviet Union, Frenkel aspired to become a professional mathematician, only to see his hopes crushed by entrenched antisemitism at Moscow State University – home to the premier mathematics program in the country. While sitting for the entrance exam, he was confronted by two advanced graduate students who were sent to question him personally and make sure he failed. Rejected but undeterred, Frenkel turned instead to an informal network of top-flight but marginalized Soviet mathematicians, who like him were denied employment in the field they loved. With the end of the Cold War he was invited to Harvard on a fellowship that later turned into a permanent job. In one of the book’s emotional highs, he confronts his old tormentor from Moscow State, who unsuspecting American academics had invited to give a talk.

Frenkel’s love of mathematics oozes from every page of this book. His field is the Langlands Program, an ambitious effort to unify the disparate fields of research in mathematics. Using vivid analogies he conveys to the reader the essence (though not the details) of such constructs as Galois groups, Kac-Moody algebras, and Hitchin moduli spaces. Beneath these seemingly unrelated objects, he believes, lies a single mathematical order, a deep truth unifying them all.

In Love and Math the personal and the mathematical unite. For Frenkel, mathematics is not just an object of fascination, or love. It is also a perfect world of rationality, order, and beauty, a world which the bullies of Moscow State can never touch.

George F. Kennan: Memoirs, 1950-1963

By George Kennan,

Book cover of George F. Kennan: Memoirs, 1950-1963

Why this book?

Diplomat and historian George Kennan wrote with unmatched elegance and clarity. His memoirs, especially the first volume, covering his time in the U.S. embassy in Moscow in the 1940s and the beginning of the Cold War, are a pleasure to read. Kennan sincerely loved Russia but his alarmist view of the communist party profoundly shaped the apocalyptic view of American policymakers of a worldwide communist conspiracy on the march. Kennan later attempted to correct what he saw as a misinterpretation of his views. There is no better introduction to the American policy of containment that began with the Truman administration and continued until 1989.

Anna Karenina

By Leo Tolstoy,

Book cover of Anna Karenina

Why this book?

While this mammoth work by Tolstoy has various plot threads, the one involving the title character is perhaps its most thorough and tragic, as Anna (a wife and mother) struggles in her marriage and embarks on an affair, only to find it no more gratifying and ultimately only serves to question her very purpose. The book is a thoughtful meditation on what so many of us live for and what recourse there is when our aspirations are shattered.

Anastasia (The Ringing Cedars, Book 1)

By Vladimir Megre,

Book cover of Anastasia (The Ringing Cedars, Book 1)

Why this book?

A fascinating series with many insights and inspirations for how to live more deeply aligned and in co-creation with nature. While the writing doesn't flow particularly well, the content and magic that is carried within have a palpable effect. It is worth the journey and will leave you inspired to connect in broader and deeper ways. 

The Black Russian

By Vladimir Alexandrov,

Book cover of The Black Russian

Why this book?

This book brings to life the story of the little-known Frederick Bruce Thomas, born in 1872 to ex-slaves who had become successful farmers in Mississippi. I was amazed at how the entrepreneurial Frederick found employment in various cities across Europe before becoming a successful nightclub owner in Moscow and then in Istanbul after the Bolshevik Revolution. Well-researched and documented, the book critiques American racism and, in my opinion, offers a new and refreshing insight into the politics and society of Russia and Turkey.

Agent in Place

By Helen MacInnes,

Book cover of Agent in Place

Why this book?

Published in 1976, this book has aged well. We are still spying on Russia, and Russia is still spying on us. Spy stories are often travelogues. This book starts in New York and Washington but then goes to France, not far from Monaco and Nice. That interested me since I've been to all of those places. The plot involves the theft of sensitive documents engineered by a Russian spy who is the agent in place of the title. People get killed, but most of the violence is off-screen. One of the interesting facets of the book is descriptions of tradecraft--showing how spies preserve their covers and prevent their enemies from unmasking them. There is also a detailed description of planning and executing a caper designed to fool the enemy.  

Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames

By Pete Earley,

Book cover of Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames

Why this book?

Pete Earley, one of America’s best spy writers, authored two excellent books on espionage: Confessions of a Spy and Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring. But for my money, the Ames book is the better of them because Earley – one helluva reporter – talked his way into a long series of exclusive interviews with the disgraced CIA officer.

Ames, who betrayed to Moscow the identities of Russian spies secretly working for the U.S. (causing at least 10 of them to be killed), gave Earley more than 50 hours of his time behind bars. He did not race to print with the story (as other authors had), but interviewed Ames’s Russian handlers and the brilliant CIA team that identified him as the mole in its midst.

The Spy Who Got Away

By David Wise,

Book cover of The Spy Who Got Away

Why this book?

David Wise became the first Western journalist to interview former CIA officer Edward Lee Howard, who defected to Moscow on the KGB’s dime. Wise penned a slew of excellent nonfiction spy books before his death in 2018, but I believe his keen-eyed narrative skills and vivid portrait of Cold War espionage make The Spy Who Got Away his best in show.

Wise recounts Howard’s career in the CIA, which fired him in 1983 for alleged drug abuse, and the FBI’s subsequent investigation of his illegal ties to the KGB. But his story takes a cool, cinematic turn as he describes the way Howard slipped FBI surveillance – propping up a dummy in the front passenger seat of a speeding 1979 Oldsmobile – and jumping out of the car to escape to Moscow.

Declare: A Novel

By Tim Powers,

Book cover of Declare: A Novel

Why this book?

A Cold War Era Spy Thriller that draws heavily on real historical events and persons, Declare ups the stakes enormously with the inclusion of Weird entities of devastating power. The spy game between East and West is often centered around new technological superweapons, but in this novel the weapons are literally apocalyptic.

In a world where no one is what they seem to be and allies may become enemies in the blink of an eye, Andrew Hale learns that not all of the players are human and that the real Great Game has been going on since the creation of the world.

Russia at War, 1941-1945: A History

By Alexander Werth,

Book cover of Russia at War, 1941-1945: A History

Why this book?

This vivid history of the Soviet Union at war by BBC journalist Alexander Werth is worth picking up for the Stalingrad chapters alone. In January 1943, Werth set out by train from Moscow to Stalingrad with a small group of correspondents. His conversations with Russian soldiers, officers, nurses, and railwaymen about the fighting, the Germans, and the Soviet defense of the city are woven into these chapters and make for extremely engaging reading.

The Moscow Bombings of September 1999: Examinations of Russian Terrorist Attacks at the Onset of Vladimir Putin's Rule

By John B. Dunlop,

Book cover of The Moscow Bombings of September 1999: Examinations of Russian Terrorist Attacks at the Onset of Vladimir Putin's Rule

Why this book?

The Russian apartment bombings of 1999 consolidated the criminal system put in place by Russian president Boris Yeltsin and created the conditions for Vladimir Putin to take power. In this book, Dunlop describes in meticulous detail the story of the bombings and shows that they were carried out by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) which means that they rank as the greatest political provocation since the burning of the Reichstag.

Most Beautiful Princess

By Christina Croft,

Book cover of Most Beautiful Princess

Why this book?

Don't let the title fool you, this is not a bodice-ripping romance novel by any means. This is a wonderful - and serious - novelization of the life of Grand Duchess Elisabeth of Russia. Clearly well researched, well written, with realistic character development and dialog - a treat for any Russian history or Romanov history buff! 

A Diary of the Russian Revolution

By James L. Houghteling,

Book cover of A Diary of the Russian Revolution

Why this book?

Houghteling was a young Commerce Department official who was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Petrograd. He arrived in January 1917, by sleigh across the border into Russian Finland, seemingly full of American self-confidence. Traveling back and forth from Petrograd to Moscow, he was surprised at how openly Russians were talking about impending revolution, and maybe a little surprised at himself for being so taken by the country and its people. Over just weeks, from the run-up to the revolution to the collapse of the regime, his writing became less arch and more penetrating, his jokes less inane, and his perspective more complex even as he retained his optimism about Russia. Houghteling’s account features prominently in Helen Rappaport’s wonderful book from 2016, Caught in the Revolution.

In North Korea: First Eyewitness Report

By Anna Louise Strong,

Book cover of In North Korea: First Eyewitness Report

Why this book?

Strong was a US journalist who reported on Communist movements for 40 years, beginning in the 1920s. In 1949 she travelled to Korea to report on the birth of the new North Korean state. I love this book because it offers an on-the-ground view of why the state was created and what its founders were trying to accomplish—invaluable for understanding the country today.

The Architects

By Stefan Heym,

Book cover of The Architects

Why this book?

Set in 1955-56, The Architects by German-Jewish author Stefan Heym is a rare find. It delivers a stark portrait of East Germany in the period around Khrushchev’s “secret speech” denouncing Stalin, which Heym lived through. The author uses the politics of architecture to expose hypocrisy and personal jealousy in the new “anti-Fascist” German state. At the heart of the book is a devastating personal betrayal that gives the lie to communist claims of moral superiority. Written in the 1960s’, The Architects is a searing critique of the New Germany by a convinced socialist. This helps explain why Heym wrote it in English and did not publish it until 2000, a year before his death, in his own German translation.

The Siberian Dilemma: Volume 9

By Martin Cruz Smith,

Book cover of The Siberian Dilemma: Volume 9

Why this book?

Arkady Renko, a Moscow detective is a true hero, someone regarded as weak and hopeless to all around him, but ultimately redeemed by his principles and by his actions. Martin Cruz Smith is my favourite “cold places” writer, so when I heard that Renko was going to Siberia, I was hooked. (Before he goes, he shoots a bear in Moscow with a tranquilliser dart, but no more plot spoilers…)

He goes to the far, frozen east to record a police confession and to find his lost girlfriend, encountering bullets, corruption, frostbite, and more bears. His boss back in Moscow expects him to fail, as does nearly everyone he meets. But they all underestimate Arkady Renko, a hero underdog.

Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West

By Catherine Belton,

Book cover of Putin's People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West

Why this book?

This is a meticulously researched book by a former Moscow-based business journalist that documents Putin’s rise to power and how the siloviki (“security men and spies”) took over Russia’s economy as well as its political and legal system. “Parts of the KGB, Putin among them,” writes Belton, “embraced capitalism as a tool for getting even with the West.” She explains how laundering “black” money in the West began under the Soviets and became widespread and sophisticated during Putin’s rule. That laundered money was used to enrich powerful Russians but also for ideological purposes and for financing the 2014 takeover of Donbas and Crimea in Ukraine. Belton, who interviewed key players, has the skills and expertise necessary for understanding dealings in this murky business and political world.