The best Russian Revolution books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Russian Revolution and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of Red Winter: One Woman's Struggle to Survive the Russian Revolution

Red Winter: One Woman's Struggle to Survive the Russian Revolution

By Kyra Kaptzan Robinov,

Why this book?

I love books that include unusual locations and little-known events. Red Winter takes place in the 1920s in Siberia when the pogroms came and disrupted the peaceful existence of a small town in the frozen north. Like my book, which is about the creation of a Scottish colony in Central America, Red Winter offers the reader an opportunity to learn about a largely unknown history.  

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Book cover of Untimely Thoughts: Essays on Revolution, Culture, and the Bolsheviks, 1917-1918

Untimely Thoughts: Essays on Revolution, Culture, and the Bolsheviks, 1917-1918

By Maxim Gorky, Herman Ermolaev (translator),

Why this book?

Gorky, the author of The Lower Depths, was appalled by czarism and by Russia’s conduct in the First World War, yet this series of essays communicates a profound disillusionment with revolution. Russia, he wrote, was “splitting all along its seams and falling apart like an old barge in a flood.” He lamented “our stupidity, our cruelty, and all that chaos of dark, anarchistic feelings, that chaos which has been cultivated in our souls by the monarchy’s shameless oppression, by its cynical cruelty.” The old regime, he wrote, had successfully suppressed the human spirit in its subjects, and now that…

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The best books by witnesses to Russia’s February Revolution

Book cover of A Diary of the Russian Revolution

A Diary of the Russian Revolution

By James L. Houghteling,

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…

From the list:

The best books by witnesses to Russia’s February Revolution

Book cover of A Countess Below Stairs

A Countess Below Stairs

By Eva Ibbotson,

Why this book?

This is my favorite comfort read, the perfect book for days when life has too many sharp corners. I must have read this one at least twenty times. It has all the virtues of a classic fairytale: a pure-hearted, brave heroine; an honorable, steadfast hero; and a happy ending earned through suffering and effort and against all the odds. It tells the story of Countess Anna Grazinsky, a young refugee from the Russian Revolution, who finds work as a maid at a stately home in the English countryside, where she falls in love with the gallant war hero who owns…

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Book cover of History of the Russian Revolution

History of the Russian Revolution

By Leon Trotsky, Max Eastman (translator),

Why this book?

Of the hundreds of books on revolutions I have read in a decades-long career, this remains the most powerful and enthralling of them all.  Unfolding like a grand Russian epic in the manner of War and Peace, Trotsky tells the story of the Russian Revolution and the triumph of the Bolshevik Marxists over every challenge and tribulation.  No other book gives you the feeling of being a revolutionary like this one, as Trotsky takes you from the meetings of workers in the factories of St. Petersburg to the halls of the Winter Palace, all the while debating whether the…

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Book cover of The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution

The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution

By Yuri Slezkine,

Why this book?

This is a long book, but easy to read and worth the investment in time. It is about the USSR primarily in the 1920s and 1930s as seen through the lives of people who lived and worked in the House of Government in Moscow. The book traces the lives of people as they (and their children) rose and fell in power and grace. It uses interviews of many of the people so you get the real human story here with all the passion and pain.

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Book cover of Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited

Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited

By Vladimir Nabokov,

Why this book?

Out of all Vladimir Nabokov’s books, Speak Memory -- this rebellion “against the two eternities of darkness which bookend a human life” -- is the one I return to most often.  Exiled and dispossessed by the Russian Revolution of 1917, Nabokov manages to escape the snares of nostalgia. He does not grieve the lost past, but revisits the very heart of his Russia, the people, the sites, the tastes of his childhood and adolescence. Speak Memory does not end with exile. Nabokov chronicles the lives of the Russian emigres in Berlin and Paris, the necessary adjustments and transformations of…

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Book cover of The Fall of Tsarism: Untold Stories of the February 1917 Revolution

The Fall of Tsarism: Untold Stories of the February 1917 Revolution

By Semion Lyandres,

Why this book?

Amazingly, in the spring of 1917 an Interview Commission was formed in Russia to obtain oral histories of the revolution that led to the abdication of Czar Nicholas II. Thirteen key players were interviewed about their role in the sweeping and often violent events that had occurred just two months earlier. You can sense the ambivalence that they were struggling with. Of special note is Alexander Kerensky, who would become the leader of the Provisional Government, describing how he called Nicholas’ brother Michael in the middle of the night, waking him up, and persuading him to renounce the throne.

From the list:

The best books by witnesses to Russia’s February Revolution

Book cover of Stalin: A Biography

Stalin: A Biography

By Robert Service,

Why this book?

If How to be a Dictator gives you an overview of the great tyrants of the 20th century, then Service’s biography of Joseph Stalin provides a close analysis of one of the great monsters of the 20th century. Everybody knows about Hitler’s terrible crimes, but Stalin’s are less familiar, due to a mystifying reluctance on the part of several generations of educators to teach “the youth” about the USSR. What I especially admire about Service’s book is that he really engaged with Stalin’s own writings (which are awful) and so he provides a lot of insight into the ideas…

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Book cover of The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921

The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921

By Mark D. Steinberg,

Why this book?

There are many excellent histories of the Russian Revolution that chronicle the main events, but none convey the complexity of experiences in Tsarist Russia during its final years and the Soviet regime in its initial phase as Mark Steinberg’s short but powerful and original work. This book gives us the bird’s-eye view of developments as they unfold, but also places them under the microscope to give us personal stories and experiences from different wakes of life. Using contemporary journalism and diaries, Steinberg recovers the voices of a range of ethnic groups in various regions of the empire—Jews, Ukrainians, and Central…

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Or, view all 13 books about the Russian Revolution

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