The most recommended books about the Siege of Leningrad

Who picked these books? Meet our 17 experts.

17 authors created a book list connected to the Siege of Leningrad, and here are their favorite Siege of Leningrad books.
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Book cover of The Madonnas of Leningrad

Susan Garzon Author Of Reading the Knots

From the list on women slogging through turbulent times.

Who am I?

Foreign cultures have always intrigued me. I am a Midwesterner who lived for several years in Latin America, teaching English and later doing field work in anthropology. As a young woman, I lived through a violent coup d’état in Chile, and I drew on that experience when I later wrote about political upheaval in Guatemala. A Ph.D. in anthropology gave me the opportunity to spend time in Guatemala and Mexico, some of it in Mayan towns. My love of historical fiction stems from my desire to enter and understand other worlds, and I am grateful to authors who spin their magic to bring far-off places and times to life. 

Susan's book list on women slogging through turbulent times

Why did Susan love this book?

Some books allow us to experience the unendurable—at a safe distance, of course. This story takes us to Leningrad during World War II, when the city is under siege, its inhabitants freezing, starving, and worn down from German bombardments. Through it all, Marina shows up every day at the magnificent Hermitage Museum to help safeguard the precious artwork and the building that housed it. Even as I ached for Marina, it was clear that her devotion to the museum elevated her life. This is what made the book memorable for me. Marina and her co-workers created meaningful lives, even in the midst of terrible hardship.

By Debra Dean,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“An extraordinary debut, a deeply lovely novel that evokes with uncommon deftness the terrible, heartbreaking beauty that is life in wartime. Like the glorious ghosts of the paintings in the Hermitage that lie at the heart of the story, Dean’s exquisite prose shimmers with a haunting glow, illuminating us to the notion that art itself is perhaps our most necessary nourishment. A superbly graceful novel.”  — Chang-Rae Lee, New York Times Bestselling author of Aloft and Native Speaker

Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. An elderly Russian woman now living in America,…

The Siege

By Helen Dunmore,

Book cover of The Siege

Kate Innes Author Of The Errant Hours

From the list on young women in big trouble.

Who am I?

I grew up in small-town America, very far from where I was born (London), with a strong desire to travel and explore. I also developed a thirst for history—the older the better! At eighteen, I went to work on European digs before studying Archaeology in the UK and teaching in Southern Africa. Across these adventures I both experienced and witnessed the victimization of young women—an even more common ordeal in the past. So now I write historical fiction about resourceful, brave women who strive to be the active, powerful centres of their own stories. I hope you find the books on my list as inspiring as I do!

Kate's book list on young women in big trouble

Why did Kate love this book?

When I teach creative writing, I often use this excellent historical novel set in the USSR during WW2 as an example. There are scenes from this book seared into my memory—they are so powerful, visceral, and moving.. Helen Dunmore is able to put the reader in the centre of the most harrowing circumstances, where people are starving, freezing, and dying in the thousands, and yet allow us to care about the individual and feel uplifted by their struggle. In Leningrad, Anna has already lost her mother, who died giving birth to her baby brother, Kolya. During the brutal siege of 1941-44, Anna must somehow keep her young brother alive without losing her humanity. A story of one ordinary woman pushed to extraordinary braveryrepresenting so many.

By Helen Dunmore,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Called "elegantly, starkly beautiful" by The New York Times Book Review, The Siege is Helen Dunmore's masterpiece. Her canvas is monumental -- the Nazis' 1941 winter siege on Leningrad that killed six hundred thousand -- but her focus is heartrendingly intimate. One family, the Levins, fights to stay alive in their small apartment, held together by the unlikely courage and resourcefulness of twenty-two-year-old Anna. Though she dreams of an artist's life, she must instead forage for food in the ever more desperate city and watch her little brother grow cruelly thin. Their father, a blacklisted writer who once advocated a…

The 900 Days

By Harrison Salisbury,

Book cover of The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad

Steven H. Jaffe Author Of New York at War: Four Centuries of Combat, Fear, and Intrigue in Gotham

From the list on cities at war.

Who am I?

I am a historian, curator, and writer born and raised in New York City, a place whose history intrigued me from an early age. With a mother who moved from small-town New Jersey to Greenwich Village in the 1950s, and a father who had childhood memories of World War I in the Bronx, I think my interest was sort of preordained. I remain fascinated by cities as engines of change, as flashpoints for conflict, and as places that are simultaneously powerful and vulnerable. 

Steven's book list on cities at war

Why did Steven love this book?

Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) endured one of history’s great sieges when Hitler’s armies surrounded it in 1941. By the time the Red Army liberated it in 1944, the city’s thriving population of 2.5 million had been reduced by evacuations, bloodshed, and starvation. Salisbury brings to life the harrowing experiences of ordinary men and women who managed to survive with their dignity and devotion to civilization intact. The book casts an ironic shadow forward to the ordeal of Ukraine’s city dwellers today. And if you want to understand Vladimir Putinwhose childhood was shaped by family traumas in wartime Leningradthis is a good place to start.

By Harrison Salisbury,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The 900 Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Nazi siege of Leningrad from 1941 to 1944 was one of the most gruesome episodes of World War II. Nearly three million people endured it just under half of them died. For twenty-five years the distinguished journalist and historian Harrison Salisbury pieced together this remarkable narrative of villainy and survival, in which the city had much to fear-from both Hitler and Stalin.

The Bronze Horseman

By Paullina Simons,

Book cover of The Bronze Horseman

Emma Lombard Author Of Discerning Grace

From the list on unforgettable characters who stay with you.

Who am I?

I’ve been described as ‘the Energizer bunny,’ so it’s no surprise that I’m drawn to colorful and passionate fictional characters—especially historical ones who have not only life’s circumstances to deal with but societal limitations too. My personality is such that if I’m told I can’t achieve something, I grit my teeth and say, ‘Watch me!’ So, it’s only natural that I draw on this sheer bloody-mindedness to breathe life into my own historical fiction ensembles. Creating characters who are as limp as wet lettuces is one of my biggest challenges. I want everyone to have gumption, but I also understand that good balance in a story is important.

Emma's book list on unforgettable characters who stay with you

Why did Emma love this book?

A toast to Tatiana and Alexander! *throws back a shot of vodka*

Compounded by Simons’ exquisitely detailed storytelling, which waxes lyrical about the siege of Leningrad during the summer of 1941, these lovebirds from The Bronze Horseman sit high on my list of unforgettable historical fiction characters.

The superb languor of Alexander’s courtship with Tatiana during a time of terrible hardship helped me overlook both of their faults, and become wholly invested in them as a couple.

He is unrelenting in his desire to take care of Tatiana and her family, and while she is young and at times incredibly naïve, she is also brilliantly resilient.

The character I love to hate: Dasha. Ugh! How can a sister be so cruel?

Boy, did my emotions run the gauntlet with this one!

By Paullina Simons,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Bronze Horseman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A magnificent epic of love, war and Russia from the international bestselling author of TULLY and ROAD TO PARADISE

Leningrad 1941: the white nights of summer illuminate a city of fallen grandeur whose palaces and avenues speak of a different age, when Leningrad was known as St Petersburg.

Two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha, share the same bed, living in one room with their brother and parents.

The routine of their hard impoverished life is shattered on 22 June 1941 when Hitler invades Russia. For the Metanov family, for Leningrad and particularly for Tatiana, life will never be the same again.…

The Hunger Between Us

By Marina Scott,

Book cover of The Hunger Between Us

Amanda McCrina Author Of Traitor: A Novel of World War II

From the list on unusual YA books about WWII.

Who am I?

I have a degree in history and political science, with a particular interest in military history—especially World War II history, and most especially Eastern Front history. My family has Polish roots, and my own stories tend to focus on the Polish and Ukrainian experiences, but I keenly feel the need for more YA books not only about the Eastern Front but about other, even lesser-known theaters of World War II.

Amanda's book list on unusual YA books about WWII

Why did Amanda love this book?

Marina Scott’s The Hunger Between Us fills a curious gap in YA fiction about World War II: This is the only YA novel I’ve ever read that deals with the Siege of Leningrad.

But it’s not really about the Siege of Leningrad; it’s about a girl searching doggedly for her lost friend, refusing to give up hope in a city where hunger has turned neighbor against neighbor, father against daughter, and nobody can be trusted. A profoundly character-driven war novel.

By Marina Scott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In a city ruled by hunger, the black market is Liza's lifeline, where she sells or steals whatever she can get her hands on just for enough food to survive. Morality, after all, has become a fluid thing during the brutal year her city has been under siege. But when Liza's best friend proposes that they go to the secret police, rumored to give young women food in exchange for 'entertainment,' Liza thinks there surely must be some other way. Then her friend disappears, and Liza devises a plan to find her, entangling herself with two dangerous young men -…


By Elise Blackwell,

Book cover of Hunger

Tyler Mcmahon Author Of One Potato

From the list on the science of food.

Who am I?

I’m a novelist and a teacher of writing. My books are fueled by curiosity above all else. I have no expertise in science, so I stand in wonder at complicated systems that remain mostly hidden to me. My interest in food is similarly recreational. I’m married to a great chef and cookbook author, so I’ve learned a lot by osmosis. But when I think back on the process of writing One Potato, I have to give a lot of credit to my students. They seem to be part of a generation that’s genuinely passionate about eating in healthy, equitable, and sustainable ways. Much of my book was sparked by conversations in the classroom.

Tyler's book list on the science of food

Why did Tyler love this book?

Set during Hitler’s siege of Leningrad, the story centers on a group of botanists at a Russian institute that collects rare seeds. The scientists are forced to choose between preserving the wealth of genetic diversity in their collection or eating the seeds to survive. As starvation sets in, their consensus breaks down. It’s a heartbreaking account of the struggle between ideals and appetites. 

By Elise Blackwell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Scouring the world's most remote fields and valleys, a dedicated Soviet scientist has spent his life collecting rare plants for his country's premiere botanical institute in Leningrad. From Northern Africa to Afghanistan, from South America to Abyssinia, he has sought and saved seeds that could be traced back to the most ancient civilizations. And the adventure has set deep in him. Even at home with the wife he loves, the memories of his travels return him to the beautiful women and strange foods he has known in exotic regions. When German troops surround Leningrad in the fall of 1941, he…

Book cover of Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

Christine Kohler Author Of No Surrender Soldier

From the list on going beyond bombs and how war affects families.

Who am I?

As a lover of history, when I lived in Hawaii, Japan, and Guam, I visited World War II sites. I had a fascinating career as a political reporter. I reported on a “Christmas Drop,” a tradition since WWII. On Johnston Atoll, I did photojournalism on the incineration of chemical weapons from East Germany. I interviewed a Kuwaiti sheik and human shields during Desert Storm. I covered negotiations when the Philippines didn’t renew US military base leases. While at the San Antonio Express News, I researched the WWII Japanese soldier, Shoichi Yokoi, who hid on Guam for nearly 28 years. That was the seed for my novel No Surrender Soldier

Christine's book list on going beyond bombs and how war affects families

Why did Christine love this book?

Symphony for the City of the Dead is a riveting nonfiction story, written in novel style, about the Siege of Leningrad and the role played by Russian composer Shostakovich and his Leningrad Symphony. The story gives a glimpse of life for people trapped inside the Russian city for nearly three years, from 1941, when Nazis surrounded Leningrad. One million people died from bombings or starvation. After reading the moving account in MT Anderson’s book, I listened to Symphony for the City of the Dead. It will move you to tears. I love MT Anderson’s writing and depth, but this book is one of my all-time favorites due to the fact that it is nonfiction. It’s difficult to fathom how people could survive such horrific conditions. Yet, Shostakovich created such powerful haunting music from the tragedy.

By M.T. Anderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Symphony for the City of the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“This ambitious and gripping work is narrative nonfiction at its best. . . . The book has all the intrigue of a spy thriller. . . . A must-have title with broad crossover appeal.” — School Library Journal (starred review)

In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, writing a symphony to rouse, rally, eulogize, and commemorate his fellow citizens: the Leningrad Symphony.…

Notes from the Blockade

By Lydia Ginzburg,

Book cover of Notes from the Blockade

Catriona Kelly Author Of St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past

From the list on modern St Petersburg.

Who am I?

I particularly enjoyed writing this book about a city that I love and have visited many times (starting in the late 1970s, when I was a student), and whose history I know well too. Most books, by foreigners anyway, talk about the city from a distance; I wanted to write something visceral, about sounds and smells as well as sights, and above all, how locals themselves think about their city, the way in which its intense and in some respects oppressive past shapes St Petersburg’s life today – yet all the same, never gets taken too seriously. Readers seem to agree: as well as an appreciative letter from Jan Morris, whose travel writing I’ve always admired, I treasure an email message from someone who followed my advice and tramped far and wide – before ending up in the room for prisoners’ relatives to drop off parcels at Kresty (the main city prison) when he wrongly assumed he was using an entrance to the (in fact non-existent) museum.

Catriona's book list on modern St Petersburg

Why did Catriona love this book?

You can’t understand modern St Petersburg without an awareness of its wartime history, and among many searing accounts of the Siege of Leningrad, this has the greatest philosophical depth. The translation by Alan Myers is excellent, and there are helpful notes by Emily van Buskirk.

By Lydia Ginzburg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Notes from the Blockade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 900-day siege of Leningrad (1941-44) was one of the turning points of the Second World War. It slowed down the German advance into Russia and became a national symbol of survival and resistance. An estimated one million civilians died, most of them from cold and starvation. Lydia Ginzburg, a respected literary scholar (who meanwhile wrote prose 'for the desk drawer' through seven decades of Soviet rule), survived. Using her own using notes and sketches she wrote during the siege, along with conversations and impressions collected over the years, she distilled the collective experience of life under siege. Through painful…

City of Thieves

By David Benioff,

Book cover of City of Thieves

Christie Nelson Author Of Beautiful Illusion

From the list on life and love in San Francisco as the world quakes.

Who am I?

I tend to see the events that affect people and countries in the shape of a narrative. Is it any wonder then that I would try my hand at literary fiction, which confers wholeness to stories of turmoil and division? I think not. Finally settling into historical fiction as if I’d found my true home came as a welcome surprise. Without sounding grandiose, it didn’t hurt to be born and raised in a magnificent American city built on seven hills on the edge of the Pacific with deep traditions in literature, music, the arts, and damn good drinking establishments. I wish you happy reading and the thrill of discovery.

Christie's book list on life and love in San Francisco as the world quakes

Why did Christie love this book?

City of Thieves occupies the top shelf in my library. Why? Is it because now I’m watching the people of Ukraine battle a merciless enemy or because David Benioff has packed a tale that swings between unlikely comrades, a tender courtship, and the Nazis’ siege of Leningrad in WWII? Maybe both answers. But I read this book years ago. The deep humanity of the story is also a thriller that made me laugh and shudder through its short length of 258 pages. It doesn’t hurt that Benioff is a gifted screenwriter, too.

By David Benioff,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked City of Thieves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour and When the Nines Roll Over and co-creator of the HBO series Game of Thrones, a captivating novel about war, courage, survival - and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.

During the Nazis' brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in…