The best books on the Russian Revolution of 1917 (October Revolution)

Many authors have picked their favorite books about the Russian Revolution of 1917 (October Revolution) and why they recommend each book.

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The Black Russian

By Vladimir Alexandrov,

Book cover of The Black Russian

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.

Who am I?

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.

I wrote...

Whispers Across Continents: In Search of the Robinsons

By Gareth M. Winrow,

Book cover of Whispers Across Continents: In Search of the Robinsons

What is my book about?

This book focuses on the amazing life of the surprisingly little-known Hannah Rodda/Robinson. Raised in the slums of London’s East End in the 1850s and a housemaid of one of Queen Victoria’s doctors, the self-made Hannah later marries a former Lincolnshire farmer who owns tea estates in the Darjeeling district. After his death, Hannah becomes one of the first women in Victorian England to convert to Islam, marries a supposed Afghan warlord, and relocates to Constantinople. The marriage is a disaster but, astonishingly, the Sultan himself comes to Hannah’s rescue. One of Hannah’s sons, Ahmet Robenson, becomes a sporting legend in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, playing as goalkeeper for the Galatasaray soccer team and introducing basketball and the Scouting movement.

Former People

By Douglas Smith,

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

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.

Who am I?

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.

I wrote...

Russia's 20th Century: A Journey in 100 Histories

By Michael Khodarkovsky,

Book cover of Russia's 20th Century: A Journey in 100 Histories

What is my book about?

Michael Khodarkovsky's innovative exploration of Russia's 20th century, through 100 carefully selected vignettes that span the century, offers a fascinating prism through which to view Russian history. Each chosen microhistory focuses on one particular event or individual that allows you to understand Russia not in abstract terms but in real events in the lives of ordinary people. Russia's 20th Century covers a broad range of topics, including the economy, culture, politics, ideology, law, and society. This introduction provides a vital background and engaging analysis of Russia's path through a turbuturbulent 20th century.

Women, the State and Revolution

By Wendy Z. Goldman,

Book cover of Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917 1936

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.

Who am I?

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.

I wrote...

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence

By Kristen R. Ghodsee,

Book cover of Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence

What is my book about?

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism explores the expansive empirical research showing that women living in socialist countries experienced certain forms of gender emancipation well before women living in the West. By examining women’s roles as mothers, workers, leaders, citizens, and yes, even lovers, this book synthesizes decades worth of studies to show that “lean in” or #girlboss feminism has not been enough to undermine the persistence of sexism embedded in competitive labor markets.

Instead of blaming themselves for not being able to “have it all,” women need to take a long hard look at our economic system and understand how the unpaid labor of caregivers in the home subsidizes the profits of the business leaders who rely on families to bear and raise the next generation of consumers and taxpayers for free. The problem is with capitalism, not with us.