27 books directly related to Siberia 📚

All 27 Siberia books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia

By Benson Bobrick,

Book cover of East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia

Why this book?

For readers venturing into the history of Siberia for the first time, East of the Sun is an excellent introduction to this Asian side of Russia, stretching 5,000 miles between the Ural Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The book's narrative covers four centuries, from the conquest of Siberia by Russians in the late 16th century through the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 20th century—including early expeditions into the uncharted lands east of the Urals and the Russians' push toward the Pacific Ocean; native people in Siberia; Russian expansion into North America, from Alaska to California; Siberia as a place of prison and exile, but also a land of opportunity for millions of voluntary settlers; the impact of the Trans-Siberian Railroad; and the effects of modernization under the Soviets in the 20th century. If you're an armchair traveler interested in history, or planning a trip to Siberia yourself, this book is one of the best for gaining an overview of this fascinating part of Russia.


To the Great Ocean: The Taming Of Siberia And The Building Of The Trans-Siberian Railway

By Harmon Tupper,

Book cover of To the Great Ocean: The Taming Of Siberia And The Building Of The Trans-Siberian Railway

Why this book?

A highly readable and well-illustrated history of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, from the earliest Russian railways to the construction of the Trans-Siberian route to the modern railway of the mid-20th century. Built between 1891 and 1916, it was the longest passenger line in the world and one of the greatest engineering feats of its time. But few people riding on Trans-Siberian trains today are aware of the immense obstacles the builders had to overcome, from tunneling through snow-covered mountains and draining dangerous swamps, to coping with deadly diseases and attacks by bandits and Siberian tigers.

In 1916, when the last railroad bridge was constructed over the Amur River in Russia's Far East, the trip by train from Moscow to Vladivostok took 14 to 16 days. Today it takes only 7 days to cover the 5,771 miles between Russia's capital and the Pacific Ocean—but it's still the railway journey of a lifetime. Although Tupper's book covers the Trans-Siberian's history only up to the mid-1960s, it remains the best introduction to that legendary line. Read it before you go!


The Princess of Siberia: The Story of Maria Volkonsky and the Decembrist Exiles

By Christine Sutherland,

Book cover of The Princess of Siberia: The Story of Maria Volkonsky and the Decembrist Exiles

Why this book?

A fascinating account of the remarkable lives—and wives—of several Russian aristocrats who were sentenced to prison, hard labor, and exile in Siberia after participating in a failed attempt to overthrow Tsar Nicholas I in December of 1825. Eleven wives (two of them princesses) of those unfortunate noblemen voluntarily followed their husbands to Siberia, even though the women were forced to give up their own lands, titles, and children back in Moscow and St. Petersburg. 

The Princess of Siberia focuses on one family in particular, the Volkonskys, who settled in Irkutsk, the capital of eastern Siberia, after Prince Sergei Volkonsky's years of hard labor in the silver mines in Russia's Far East. His wife, Maria—a princess from a distinguished family in European Russia—stayed with him throughout his imprisonment and exile in Siberia. She later became known in Irkutsk as "The Princess of Siberia" because of her many charitable works and cultural contributions there. Today you can still visit the wooden house that belonged to the Volkonsky family in the mid-1800s, as well as the house of another notable Decembrist family, the Trubetskoys. Nearly 200 years after those Decembrists lived in Irkutsk, Russians still honor them by leaving little gifts on their graves in a local churchyard.


Tent Life in Siberia

By George Kennan,

Book cover of Tent Life in Siberia

Why this book?

An intrepid traveler and talented journalist, George Kennan (1845-1924), is better known for his second book about Russia, published in 1891: Siberia and the Exile System, a two-volume study of Siberian penal colonies and exile conditions. But his first book, published 20 years earlier, is among my favorites about Russia. In his introduction to a 1968 reprint of Tent Life in Siberia, American author Larry McMurtry called it "one of the most appealing classics of nineteenth-century travel [writing]."

In 1865, 20-year-old Kennan, an accomplished telegrapher, was hired by Western Union to survey part of Siberia for the possible construction of a telegraph line across Russia, connecting Alaska to Europe. This memoir of his two years in Siberia is a rousing tale of his adventures among the native people and the Russian settlers he encountered there, as well as the many hardships that he and his partner endured, from eating frozen raw meat in their tent during blizzards with temperatures of 60 degrees below zero, to traversing hundreds of miles on foot over wild terrain with no roads. But he never wallows in self-pity, instead tackling those formidable obstacles with good humor and youthful enthusiasm. No wonder McMurtry described Kennan's book as "breezy, confident, irreverent, and wonderfully readable."


In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

By Hampton Sides,

Book cover of In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

Why this book?

This is another history that drew me in with a tightly focused story — an 1879 expedition to reach the North Pole — then overwhelmed me with a slowly dawning realization: The expedition was sheer insanity based on assumptions that are whacky beyond belief but were state-of-the-art thinking less than a century and a half ago. George Washington De Long and his crew aboard the Jeanette left San Francisco expecting to spend a single winter trapped in the polar ice before popping into a temperate Arctic Sea and steaming their way straight to the apex of Planet Earth. Instead, the crew endured more than two years of almost unimaginable hardship. That any of them survived to tell the tale testifies to the indomitability of the human spirit.


The Great Soul of Siberia

By Sooyong Park,

Book cover of The Great Soul of Siberia

Why this book?

Sooyong Park spends years in the wilderness to monitor and track the last remaining Siberian tigers. He spends weeks in the middle of a freezing winter in a dug-out shelter to photograph these magnificent animals in their ever-diminishing wilderness. But neither the freezing weather nor climate change is the immediate problem for the tigers - poaching and human encroachment are destroying the habitat they need to live in to prevent interbreeding.  You could cry reading this book.


My Sister's Mother: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Stalin's Siberia

By Donna Solecka Urbikas,

Book cover of My Sister's Mother: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Stalin's Siberia

Why this book?

My Sister’s Mother is a family memoir set against the backdrop of forced evictions and deportations of Poles to forced labor camps in frozen Siberia. Russia invaded Poland two weeks after Germany did, and the two powers divided Poland between their countries. Soviet communists murdered thousands of Polish citizens, Polish military, and in 1940 deported hundreds of thousands of civilian Poles, in freezing cattle cars, to forced labor camps in Siberia.

Urbikas’ mother and older sister faced impossible circumstances imposed by Stalin’s brutal policies against Poles. The core theme focuses on motherhood, the relationship between a mother and her daughter, and how far a woman will go to survive and protect her child. Then, the story transitions into the epilogue of war for thousands of Poles: life in a displaced persons camp and growing up with inherited trauma and the challenges common to first-generation Polish immigrants.


Quartered in Hell: The Story of the American North Russia Expeditionary Force 1918-1919

By Hayes Otoupalik, Dennis Gordon,

Book cover of Quartered in Hell: The Story of the American North Russia Expeditionary Force 1918-1919

Why this book?

A well-researched and fascinating story of the little-known American intervention in the North Russia/Siberia campaigns between the Red Bolshevik forces and the “White Russian” forces with small American and British units essentially caught in the middle.


The Shaman: Voyages of the Soul - Trance, Ecstasy and Healing from Siberia to the Amazon

By Piers Vitebsky,

Book cover of The Shaman: Voyages of the Soul - Trance, Ecstasy and Healing from Siberia to the Amazon

Why this book?

Because of its beautiful presentation of this complex topic, the stunning illustrations and the superb, world-class knowledge the author brings to an enigmatic subject, in which the ability of certain individuals to access the spirit world is discussed. The theatre in which the author performs is worldwide, and, although shamanism differs hugely from the Americas to Siberia, from India to southern Africa, and way beyond, he brilliantly presents a cohesive and totally enthralling picture of the essential ingredients of shamanism: shape-shifting, ‘soul-flight’, healing through contact with the spirits, are just some of the themes covered in this short volume. The book engages academics as a sound starting-point for the understanding of what a shaman is but its concise style and gorgeous colour images will engage anyone remotely interested in world religions.


Comrade Pavlik: The Rise And Fall Of A Soviet Boy Hero

By Catriona Kelly,

Book cover of Comrade Pavlik: The Rise And Fall Of A Soviet Boy Hero

Why this book?

This book is intriguing as it reads like a historical detective mystery. Pavlik Morozov was murdered in Siberia and the Soviet state used the murder to further its propaganda effort to inculcate youth into proper modes of socialist behavior. He was turned into a martyr for the Soviet cause and some relatives were railroaded into confessing to his murder, however the author sheds considerable doubt that the true culprits were caught. The whole story reeks of cynicism and fickleness on the part of the powers that be as they tried to make an example of the life of Morozov.


The Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga

By Sylvain Tesson, Linda Coverdale (translator),

Book cover of The Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga

Why this book?

“Fifteen kinds of ketchup. That’s the sort of thing that made me want to withdraw from this world”.  So French nomad Sylvain Tesson retreated to a cabin in the woods on the edge of Lake Baikal, in the middle of Siberia. He took a lot of dried pasta with him, and Tabasco sauce, along with litres and litres of vodka. His account of six months cabinning in the taiga are poignant and sublimely poetic. His book is replete with leisurely ruminations on, amongst other topics, French literature, testosterone-fuelled herd behaviour (his words), messy love affairs, alcoholism, and the joys of solitude amidst the magnificent and sometimes terrifying beauty of Siberia.


The Baron's Cloak: A History of the Russian Empire in War and Revolution

By Willard Sunderland,

Book cover of The Baron's Cloak: A History of the Russian Empire in War and Revolution

Why this book?

This is a book of uncommon imagination and historical reconstruction. It focuses on the life of the eccentric Baron von Ungern-Shternberg and uses the Baltic German aristocrat’s adventures to reveal key characteristics of the late Russian Empire and the early Soviet years. Especially striking is the book’s geographical scope, which ranges from Austria to Mongolia and stops at many places in between. Written in engaging and fluid prose, the book is a truly original work of historical imagination that allows one to understand Russia and its place in the wider world—and in Asia, in particular.


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

By Kyra Kaptzan Robinov,

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

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.  


Polar Star

By Martin Cruz Smith,

Book cover of Polar Star

Why this book?

Glasnost. Honestly, I was expecting to pick Gorky Park for this list. The first installment of the Arkady Renko series made a significant impression on me as a teenager, as I was completely immersed in the gritty life in the Soviet Union. But then I found Polar Star in my library and remembered what I loved about this story. It is as tightly woven as the weirs of the net spun by the fishing boat where the murder investigator Renko now has to work. It's set on a fishing boat that mimics Russian society. And even during the liberalization of the late eighties, it becomes clear: the Soviet Union is the Soviet Union is the Soviet Union.


Sakhalin Island

By Anton Chekhov,

Book cover of Sakhalin Island

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.


On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers

By Kate Marsden,

Book cover of On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers

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.


Among the Russians

By Colin Thubron,

Book cover of Among the Russians

Why this book?

To me, it was an enthralling journey written with unusual literary craftsmanship. Such a pleasure to read, but it made me feel inadequate because my travel writings are rough and raw in comparison. It doesn’t stop me from admiring Colin’s skill with words. 

Reading the book, I was immersed in another world - the final years of the Soviet Union seen through the eyes of a poetic traveller who weaves history and love of art, architecture, and culture into his tale. I loved the insights – mostly into the people and their struggle to interpret the outside world, and his own insights through the experiences of the journey, written so beautifully it’s a joy to read.


Talking with Bears: Conversations with Charlie Russell

By G.A. Bradshaw,

Book cover of Talking with Bears: Conversations with Charlie Russell

Why this book?

Russell, who died far too young, talks, in particular, about a bear in a remote mountain area of Russia (the Kamtchatka Peninsula) who had young by her side when she came upon Charlie. Convinced he was going to die (who is more protective of their young than a mother bear?), he was surprised, shocked, then delighted when she left her two cubs in his care while she foraged for food nearby. Explanation: She had observed him taking care of orphaned cubs and releasing them in the wild and realized he would make a good babysitter.

This book changed the way people think about bears. It also created a whole new genre: authors who had not been to university, who had no academic credentials, could yet write compelling books about animals because they had first-hand experience with them. Revolutionary. You will come away with a whole new understanding of the bear/human relationship. Just don’t go to Russia to study them! If you read the book, you will see why. 


Between Shades of Gray

By Ruta Sepetys,

Book cover of Between Shades of Gray

Why this book?

This is Ruta Sepety’s debut novel and is so powerful, I can still remember the chills it gave me on my first read. While it came out in 2011 its message today seems ever more poignant. History is the story of individuals. Lina’s story of survival in Lithuania during World War Two, against impossible odds, gives voice to the countless thousands who never had a chance to have their stories told. And hopefully ensures that it never happens again.

Caught up in the events of World War Two, Lina and her mother and brother are arrested one night and forced into a harrowing journey from Lithuania to Siberia. Barely fifteen, Lina discovers bravery and courage, as well as the hope and resistance that she’ll need to keep herself and her brother alive. The cold, both in the harsh weather, life, and situation is stark, yet Ruth Sepetys’ writing brings such life and love to her characters, their story will stay in your heart for a long, long time.


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.


Kolymsky Heights

By Lionel Davidson,

Book cover of Kolymsky Heights

Why this book?

Written in 1994 after the collapse of the USSR, it is a spy story, but much more than that, a Homeric quest. A letter is smuggled out of Siberia, addressed to Jonny Porter, a Canadian of indigenous extract and who is then recruited by the CIA to go into Russia, posing as a Korean sailor to undertake a rescue mission. Porter’s journey into Russia is layered with unremitting tension as near his final destination, his identity is discovered, and he is hunted across the frozen tundra by Soviet forces.

Kolymsky Heights is my first port of call when I’m preparing to write my novels. It is a masterclass in plotting and immersing the reader into a world and country we still know so little about. Davidson is a very underrated writer and deserves a wider audience, this is the perfect introduction to his work.


The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

By Piers Vitebsky,

Book cover of The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia

Why this book?

My favorite book about reindeer and their relationship with the nomadic native people who herd them over the tundra of northern Siberia. The author is not only a renowned anthropologist at Cambridge University, but also a gifted writer who brings his field research to life on the page. He writes beautifully about the history of reindeer in northern Asia, their lives from birth to death, their uses by the herders who care for them, the disastrous attempts by the Soviets to collectivize the herders' lives and livelihood, the spiritual significance of reindeer to many native Siberians even today, and why people have long believed that reindeer can fly. As one reviewer wrote, "Like the reindeer themselves, this book takes wings."


The Cowboy and the Cossack

By Clair Huffaker,

Book cover of The Cowboy and the Cossack

Why this book?

This is one of my all-time favorite novels. A group of Montana cowboys must drive a herd of cattle across Russia in the early 1880s or a village will starve. You’re thinking, dude, this is Lonesome Dove set in Russia. Fair point, but this book came out a decade before the McMurtry novel. And in my humble opinion, it’s a better book. Yes, that’s a bold statement. The scenes are so beautifully written and executed, that you feel like you’re there. Fantasy readers will appreciate the clash of cultures as well as the coming-of-age story that gives the book its heart. I envy those of you who get to meet Levi, Shad, Rostov, and the rest for the first time. This is a book to be treasured and re-read.


White Wolf (Sons of Rome)

By Lauren Gilley,

Book cover of White Wolf (Sons of Rome)

Why this book?

My best/worst book hangovers are thanks to Lauren Gilley. She can wring every emotion out of me, but I’ll come back for more every time. As a massive fan of her outlaw bikers Dartmoor MC series, I wasn’t sure how she’d translate to fantasy, but shame on me for doubting. Gilley doesn’t half-ass things, so Sons of Rome with its Russian history, Roman legends, incredible character building, diverse, engaging casts, and meaty plotlines comes together in four big books (with a 5th on the way). Be warned; you don’t emerge from a Gilley book the same person you went in.


The Noise of Time

By Julian Barnes,

Book cover of The Noise of Time

Why this book?

In 1936, Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich is spending every night in a hallway by the elevator, ready for the secret police he’s sure are coming for him. By the end of the novel, he’s publicly celebrated, but the requirements of government approval weigh as heavily on him as government threats. What, both Barnes and Shostakovich himself ask, might his music have been like under different circumstances? “The last questions of a man’s life do not come with any answers; that is their nature. They merely wail in the head, factory sirens in F sharp.” Barnes’s slim, swift novel offers no easy answers as it examines how moral compromise corrodes a life and deforms that life’s work.


The Long Walk: The True Story Of A Trek To Freedom

By Slavomir Rawicz,

Book cover of The Long Walk: The True Story Of A Trek To Freedom

Why this book?

A brutal and harrowing tale of what men will endure to find freedom. Polish cavalry lieutenant Slavomir Rawicz is taken prisoner by Russian “liberators”. Tortured, convicted, and sent to a labor camp, Rawicz refuses to break. What if he and a small group of friends can escape along the route the Russians will least expect? What if they flee south, through Russia, Mongolia, China, Tibet, and finally, into India? An epic tale of survival and loss, this is a true story that deserves to be remembered.


Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy

By Mircea Eliade,

Book cover of Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy

Why this book?

When I say to you ‘Religions of Asia’ you will automatically think of the usual suspects: Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and so on. Here is something different from Prof Eliade one of the great scholars of his generation. Shamanism is a major influence across the whole of the northern hemisphere from Canada through Siberia and into eastern and central Asia. The cover of the paperback has an Eskimo ceremonial mask. The shaman is medicine man, magician, miracle worker, priest, mystic and poet. We immediately think of the drum and the ecstatic body, but think also of eagle feathers, rattle, and robe of an animal. Shamanism is still practiced but has suffered from commercial exploitation and the general erosion of native cultures. As a religion of fire and ice, climate change may be its final blow.