The most recommended books on the Russian Revolution of 1917 (October Revolution)

Who picked these books? Meet our 7 experts.

7 authors created a book list connected to the Russian Revolution of 1917 (October Revolution), and here are their favorite Russian Revolution of 1917 (October Revolution) books.
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Book cover of Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917 1936

Kristen R. Ghodsee Author Of Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence

From my list on women and socialism.

Why am I passionate about this?

As an ethnographer, I have been studying the lives of ordinary women in socialist and post-socialist countries in Eastern Europe for over twenty-five years. I have always been fascinated by the differences in women’s life options in the presence or absence of robust social safety nets. As a scholar, I’ve spent decades working in archives and interviewing people across the region, and I have written eight books about the various gendered experiences of everyday life in Eastern Europe. As a professor, I have taught a course called “Sex and Socialism,” almost every year for eighteen years and I am always reading widely in this field to look for new material for my syllabi.

Kristen's book list on women and socialism

Kristen R. Ghodsee Why did Kristen love this book?

This deeply researched book explores the massive upheavals that followed the Bolshevik Revolution in the young Soviet Union. By mining a rich body of archival research, Goldman reveals just how radical Soviet policies to emancipate women really were in their historical context. More importantly, she uncovers the heated debates that characterized this early period of Soviet history before the rigidity and paranoia of Stalinism takes over and he reverses many of the early gains.

By Wendy Z. Goldman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, they believed that under socialism the family would 'wither away.' They envisioned a society in which communal dining halls, daycare centres, and public laundries would replace the unpaid labour of women in the home. Yet by 1936 legislation designed to liberate women from their legal and economic dependence had given way to increasingly conservative solutions aimed at strengthening traditional family ties and women's reproductive role. This book explains the reversal, focusing on how women, peasants, and orphans responded to Bolshevik attempts to remake the family, and how their opinions and experiences in…

Book cover of Lenin: A Biography

Geoffrey P. Nash Author Of Religion, Orientalism and Modernity: Mahdi Movements of Iran and South Asia

From Geoffrey's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Father Sunderland AFC supporter

Geoffrey's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Geoffrey P. Nash Why did Geoffrey love this book?

Robert Service’s unbiased analytical biography Lenin, discloses a range of important new insights about its subject, drawn from original research. Legends and erasures based on previous political hagiography are neatly set aside. The remarkably driven, intellectually acid, and in some ways autistic character that emerges comes across as one of the most influential political movers of the last century. If he was cold and austere when it came to dispensing affection to his family and closest companions, Lenin was surprisingly bourgeois in his habits while remaining disinterested in the real lives of the working classes of Russia.

Service shows how the execution of his brother by the Romanovs engendered in him a vindictive and unquenchable urge for payback, accomplished when in 1918 a local Bolshevik firing squad executed almost the entire royal family in Siberia. It was an act that Lenin endorsed but did not openly authorize.

The author eschews…

By Robert Service,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Lenin is a colossal figure whose influence on twentieth-century history cannot be underestimated. Robert Service has written a calmly authoritative biography on this seemingly unknowable figure. Making use of recently opened archives, he has been able to piece together the private as well as the public life, giving the first complete picture of Lenin.

This biography simultaneously provides an account of one of the greatest turning points in modern history. Through the prism of Lenin's career, Service examines events such as the October Revolution and the ideas of Marxism-Leninism, the one-party state, economic modernisation, dictatorship, and the politics of inter-war…

Book cover of The Black Russian

Gareth M. Winrow Author Of Whispers Across Continents: In Search of the Robinsons

From my list on social and family history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I became interested in social and family history when my Turkish friend, Ahmet Ceylan, told me amazing stories about his family. An academic by training, I used my expertise in the history of Turkey to explore the archives and uncover extraordinary details about the lives of the Robinsons. My field research took me to the wolds of Lincolnshire, the side streets of Istanbul, and the foothills of the Himalayas. I am keen to learn more about my own family, and for my next book, I am exploring the lives of people who owned/occupied the land/property where I live in Oxford, UK.

Gareth's book list on social and family history

Gareth M. Winrow Why did Gareth love 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.

By Vladimir Alexandrov,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The extraordinary story of Frederick Bruce Thomas, the son of former slaves who fled America to build a life in Tsarist Russia.

'A fascinating tale' Anne Applebaum
'Thoroughly enjoyable' Spectator
'Extraordinary and gripping' Adam Hochschild

After the brutal death of his father when he was a teenager, Frederick Thomas fled the stifling racism of the American South and headed for New York City, where he worked as a valet and trained as a singer. Through charisma and cunning, Thomas emigrated to Europe, where his acquired skills as a multilingual maitre d'hotel allowed him to travel from London to Monte Carlo…

Book cover of Russka: The Novel of Russia

Ken Czech Author Of The Tsar's Locket

From my list on the triumphs and tragedies of Russia's Romanovs.

Why am I passionate about this?

The Romanov saga has intrigued me since I was an undergraduate student in history many moons ago. Three hundred years of Romanov rule were filled with exotic beauty, violence, and tragedy. I went on to teach Russian history at university and was able to share some of the stories of the tsars and tsarinas with my students. Having authored books and articles in my academic field, my teaching career has ended. Now it is historical fiction that has captured my imagination and spurred me to pen my own novels set in 19th-century Africa and Afghanistan, as well as Russia during the reign of Ivan the Terrible.

Ken's book list on the triumphs and tragedies of Russia's Romanovs

Ken Czech Why did Ken love this book?

Rutherford's Russka was the first novel about Russia that I read nearly thirty years ago, and its descriptions and plotting still resonates. Through the lens of four families divided by ethnicity, the book sweeps the reader from Russia's Slavic origins to the Bolshevik Revolution. The chapter in which Tsar Ivan the Terrible plays a major role is especially riveting. What impressed me the most was how the author crafted a story of Russian rule and culture spanning 1,800 years and its impact on the characters. 

By Edward Rutherfurd,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this vast and gorgeous tapestry of a novel, serf and master, Cossack and tsar, priest and Jew are brought together in a family saga which unrolls through centuries of history to reveal that most impenetrable and mysterious of lands - Russia. Through the life of a little town east of Moscow in the Russian heartland, Edward Rutherfurd creates a sweeping family saga from the baffling contradictions of Russia's culture and her peoples - bleak yet exotic, brutal but romantic, land of ritual yet riddled with superstitious fears. From Russia's dawn and the cruel Tatar invasions to Ivan the Terrible…

Book cover of Memoirs of a British Agent

Jonathan Schneer Author Of The Lockhart Plot: Love, Betrayal, Assassination and Counter-Revolution in Lenin's Russia

From my list on a historian's view about spies.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a modern British historian who loves to read thrillers and non-fiction histories of spies. I’ve done it all my adult life. Moreover, I’ve always been fascinated by the Russian Revolution: its early idealism, the curdling of idealism. When the daughter of Moura von Benckendorff, (R.H. Bruce Lockhart’s great love) told me about her mother and Lockhart, I realized I had an opportunity to combine my vocation and my avocation. The result is my book, The Lockhart Plot.

Jonathan's book list on a historian's view about spies

Jonathan Schneer Why did Jonathan love this book?

And finally, this is Lockhart’s own recounting of his adventures in Russia during 1917-18. He was a liar, but the cameos he provides are brilliant, e.g. of Cheka leader, Felix Dzerzhinsky: “he never blinks, he never smiles.” Here it is, from the horse’s mouth: complete with descriptions of revolutionary Petrograd, and clandestine meetings with counter-revolutionaries, and shootouts with police, and above all, the torrid romance he conducted with alluring, mysterious Moura von Benckendorff, who may have been a spy herself. 

By R.H. Bruce Lockhart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Memoirs of a British Agent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This extraordinary book, which I obtained through the Folio Society, is compiled from the personal daily journals of a British diplomat and emissary who was in Russia from 1905 through 1918. He was personally acquainted with many of the principal participants in the Bolshevik Revolution, including Trotsky, whom he visitied almost daily in the early stages of that event, and even Lenin. His eye-witness accounts of many of the events surrounding the entire history of this cataclismic tranformation of Russia from a Tsarist Empire into a Soviet one is like no other. It is in the first person throughout, and…

Book cover of Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy

Michael Khodarkovsky Author Of Russia's 20th Century: A Journey in 100 Histories

From my list on Russia and USSR in the 20th Century.

Why am I passionate about this?

History has always been my passion. Since I was 16, I tried to understand the world around me and the forces that shaped it. I thought that history as a discipline provided the best answers. In the 1970s, because of the official anti-Semitism, it was impossible to get into the history department programs at the Soviet universities. Nonetheless, I resolved to study history after my emigration to the US in 1979 and joined a graduate program at the University of Chicago. For four decades I have been writing about Russian history, although I also read, teach, and write on global history.

Michael's book list on Russia and USSR in the 20th Century

Michael Khodarkovsky Why did Michael love this book?

Beautifully written, the book follows the lives of Russia’s two great aristocratic families in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. Their fate was typical of the entire Russian aristocracy. It is a story of the Bolsheviks' cruelty and a painful survival of their many victims.

By Douglas Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The riveting and harrowing story of the Russian nobility caught in the upheaval of the Revolution

Winner of the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize
Named a Best Book of the Year by The Kansas City Star and Salon

Epic in scope, precise in detail, and heartbreaking in its human drama, Former People is the first book to recount the history of the aristocracy caught up in the maelstrom of the Bolshevik Revolution and the creation of Stalin's Russia. It is the story of how a centuries-old elite, famous for its glittering wealth, its service to the tsar and empire, and…

Book cover of Communist Movement in Iran

Johan Franzen Author Of Red Star Over Iraq: Iraqi Communism Before Saddam

From my list on Middle Eastern communism and leftist movements.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up during the Cold War, I became interested in Communism early. I read about how the Communist International worked to spread the world revolution. Despite its Eurocentrism, Communism appealed to people in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. However, it failed to make meaningful inroads in the Middle East. I wanted to know why. When I trained to become a historian, my curiosity turned towards the Arab world. I decided to combine my two interests and research the history of Arab Communist movements. I discovered a fascinating world of firebrand activists struggling against the tide of nationalism, fascism, and religious bigotry. I hope you find these books as gripping as I did.

Johan's book list on Middle Eastern communism and leftist movements

Johan Franzen Why did Johan love this book?

This is the go-to book for the early Communist movement in Iran. Unlike the Arab countries of the Middle East, where Communism slowly spread in the early decades of the twentieth century, Iran experienced Communism as Soviet foreign policy in a direct manner. Bordering the Soviet Union, northern Iran was the subject of early attempts to spread the Communist creed in the aftermath of the October Revolution. Zabih’s book tells the story of those early inroads and the Iranian activists supporting the new ideology. The early attempts failed, but by the 1940s, the Communist Tudeh Party had emerged as a popular mass party. Zabih’s narrative is lucid, and his research is based on Soviet and Iranian materials.