The best books on Russia 📚

Browse the best books on Russia as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Sakhalin Island

Sakhalin Island

By Anton Chekhov

Why this book?

The writer’s account of a journey across Siberia and into the Russian Far East to investigate prison conditions on an island in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan. A book of investigative journalism and a finely worked travel narrative conjuring spongy mud, ‘smoky, dreamy mountains’ and ‘lithe’ rivers while the author dreams of turbot, asparagus and kasha.
From the list:

The best books to read when visiting Russia

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Book cover of On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers

On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers

By Kate Marsden

Why this book?

Also published in 1893, the same year as Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island. Marsden, a London-born nurse, found her vocation tending to sick and abandoned Russians. The book offers a remarkable portrait of the remotest reaches of the Russian Empire, as well as the author’s indomitable spirit.
From the list:

The best books to read when visiting Russia

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Book cover of Guy Burgess: A Portrait With Background

Guy Burgess: A Portrait With Background

By Tom Driberg

Why this book?

The journalist  and Labour politician Tom Driberg had known Guy Burgess in London. After Burgess appeared publicly at a press conference in February 1956 five years after his flight to Russia, Driberg approached him asking to write his authorised life and Burgess agreed. In the absence of a memoir, this biography, based on a series of interviews, is our nearest insight into the spy’s mind set tracing his alienation from the Establishment from his school days at Eton, his politicisation at Cambridge University, concerns about McCarthyism whilst in Washington to the escape to Russia.

From the list:

The best books on Guy Burgess of the Cambridge Spy Ring

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Book cover of Between the Lines: Diaries and Letters from Elsie Inglis's Russian Unit

Between the Lines: Diaries and Letters from Elsie Inglis's Russian Unit

By Audrey Fawcett Cahill

Why this book?

History is just “one damned thing after another” is a common phrase. For me this is the book which has led me to my next project. Cahill traces the story of the women who went to Russia in 1916 with the voluntary outfit the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. Set up by a Scottish surgeon, Elsie Inglis, the SWH became the biggest women’s medical organisation serving abroad in the war. The SWH women ran hospitals in France, Serbia and Russia. Here Cahill tells the story of their astonishing adventures in Russia – driving ambulances close to the firing line, retreating with the…

From the list:

The best books on women’s experiences in WW1

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Book cover of The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia

By Peter Hopkirk

Why this book?

Filled with larger-than-life characters risking life and limb in the quest for empire, Hopkirk recounts the contest between Britain and Russia for influence in remote inner Asia in the 19th century. Appropriate derring-do abounds as spies and soldiers traverse steppe, mountains and desert in search of glory, only to become entrapped in the ultimate folly of imperial designs. Hopkirk’s sharp eye for the epic would make Kipling proud.

From the list:

The best Asian history books for a Sunday afternoon

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Book cover of East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

By Philippe Sands

Why this book?

Among many books on the Holocaust, this one stands out. The story focuses on three people, the author’s grandfather and two lawyers who all hailed from the same city, Lviv (Lemberg). The lawyers were Raphael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht, who respectively introduced the concepts of genocide and crime against humanity. All three lives are inextricably connected to the fate of Eastern Europe in the 1930s and 40s. The author is a well-known professor of international law who writes with extraordinary precision and elegance. The book is remarkably well researched, and it is often through small and little-known episodes that one…

From the list:

The best books on Russia and USSR in the 20th Century

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