The most recommended books on the Soviet Union

Who picked these books? Meet our 293 experts.

293 authors created a book list connected to the Soviet Union, and here are their favorite Soviet Union books.
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Book cover of Laika

David Hitt Author Of Homesteading Space: The Skylab Story

From my list on for a graphic novel exploration of space.

Who am I?

When I was five years old, my father sat down with me in front of the television and we watched together as the Space Shuttle Columbia launched for the first time. Four decades later, I’ve authored a history of those early shuttle missions, been a part of developing future space missions, and, most importantly of all, watched several space firsts with my own son. Space exploration is humanity at its greatest – working together using the best of our abilities to overcome incredible challenges and improve life here on Earth – and I’m always grateful for the opportunity to share that inspiration with others.

David's book list on for a graphic novel exploration of space

David Hitt Why did David love this book?

Beyond the science and technology that it takes to launch something into space, there’s a story with a deeply human heart. That human heart is very much the center of “Laika,” the story of the Soviet dog that was the first living creature to orbit Earth. This book is a glimpse into how space history was made, but also a sweet tribute to the dog that made it. (And if you like this book, consider picking up First in Space by James Vining, the story of space-chimp Ham, who helped pave the way for America’s Mercury 7 astronauts to fly!)

By Nick Abadzis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Laika as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Nick Abadzis masterfully blends fiction and fact in the intertwined stories of three compelling lives. Along with Laika, there is Korolev, once a political prisoner, now a driven engineer at the top of the Soviet space program, and Yelena, the lab technician responsible for Laika's health and life. This intense triangle is rendered with the pitch-perfect emotionality of classics like Because of Winn-Dixie, Shiloh, and Old Yeller. Abadzis gives life to a pivotal moment in modern history, casting light on the hidden moments of deep humanity behind history. Laika's story will speak straight to your heart.


Book cover of This Rebel Heart

Lyn Miller-Lachmann Author Of Torch

From my list on for tweens and teens on Russian/Soviet aggression.

Who am I?

I’m the author of multiple middle grade and YA historical novels, including Torch, which won the 2023 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature. Torch takes place in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and it is especially timely in the face of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Bear (a popular symbol of the Russian Empire) has mauled many of its neighbors in the past century, not only Czechoslovakia and Ukraine but also the Baltic countries that, like Ukraine, were incorporated into the Soviet Union and the other Eastern European countries that were part of the Soviet bloc until the fall of Communism in 1989. 

Lyn's book list on for tweens and teens on Russian/Soviet aggression

Lyn Miller-Lachmann Why did Lyn love this book?

For those who like their history infused with magic, this historical fantasy set in Hungary in 1956 introduces Jewish folklore and history along with the lives of Hungarians fighting for their freedom.

Csilla and her aunt have tickets out of the country, but news about her parents—executed by the previous Soviet-backed regime—along with the student uprising and two beautiful and mysterious strangers compel her to stay despite the specter of a bloody Soviet invasion.

By Katherine Locke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Rebel Heart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

A tumultuous tale of the student-led 1956 Hungarian revolution—and an all too timely look at the impact of Communism and the USSR in Eastern Europe—set in a fabulist, colorless post-WWII Budapest from Sydney Taylor Honor winner Katherine Locke.

“A haunting, beautiful read that centers queer Jewish characters.” —BuzzFeed

In the middle of Budapest, there is a river. Csilla knows the river is magic. During WWII, the river kept her family safe when they needed it most--safe from the Holocaust. But that was before the Communists seized power. Before her parents were murdered by the Soviet police. Before Csilla knew things…


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

Kristen R. Ghodsee Author Of Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence

From my list on women and socialism.

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.

Kristen's book list on women and socialism

Kristen R. Ghodsee Why did Kristen love this book?

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.

By Wendy Z. Goldman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women, the State and Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, they believed that under socialism the family would 'wither away.' They envisioned a society in which communal dining halls, daycare centres, and public laundries would replace the unpaid labour of women in the home. Yet by 1936 legislation designed to liberate women from their legal and economic dependence had given way to increasingly conservative solutions aimed at strengthening traditional family ties and women's reproductive role. This book explains the reversal, focusing on how women, peasants, and orphans responded to Bolshevik attempts to remake the family, and how their opinions and experiences in…


Book cover of Conquered City

Zeese Papanikolas Author Of An American Cakewalk: Ten Syncopators of the Modern World

From Zeese's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Grew up in Salt Lake City Left Salt Lake City Reader Writer

Zeese's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Zeese Papanikolas Why did Zeese love this book?

Why do utopias fail? Why does the world of human dignity and equality they aspire to so often ossify into a mechanism of repression that strangles the very people revolutionaries attempted to liberate? 

Victor Serge is, for me, one of the essential writers of the 20th and now 21st centuries. A rebel since adolescence, he watched the revolution he had become part of in Russia begin to devour itself through internal terror, while at the same time fighting against the White terror of its opponents.

This novel gives an insider view of St. Petersburg, once the Czarist capital of Russia under the Bolsheviks in 1919-1920. What is remarkable in all of Serge’s writing, both fiction and non-fiction, is that in spite of being nearly killed by the revolution he worked for, he never turned away from his ideals and belief that a new form of society was possible.

By Victor Serge, Richard Greeman (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

1919–1920: St. Petersburg, city of the czars, has fallen to the Revolution. Camped out in the splendid palaces of the former regime, the city’s new masters seek to cement their control, even as the counterrevolutionary White Army regroups. Conquered City, Victor Serge’s most unrelenting narrative, is structured like a detective story, one in which the new political regime tracks down and eliminates its enemies—the spies, speculators, and traitors hidden among the mass of common people. 

Conquered City is about terror: the Red Terror and the White Terror. But mainly about the Red, the Communists who have dared to pick up…


Book cover of Amidst the Debris: Humanitarianism and the End of Liberal Order

Julia F. Irwin Author Of Catastrophic Diplomacy: US Foreign Disaster Assistance in the American Century

From my list on the origins of modern humanitarianism and its consequences for the contemporary world.

Who am I?

I’m a historian and professor in Louisiana, in the southern United States. When I was an undergraduate in college (many years ago!), I embraced the opportunity to study diverse subjects, ranging from the natural sciences to the humanities. I became fascinated by medicine and health and their relationship to history, society, and international relations–and have remained fascinated ever since. These interests led me to study humanitarianism and its place in 20th-century US foreign relations and international history. Over the years, I have researched and written two books and more than 20 articles on these subjects, and I love sharing this history with readers and students alike.

Julia's book list on the origins of modern humanitarianism and its consequences for the contemporary world

Julia F. Irwin Why did Julia love this book?

Connecting the recent past with our contemporary moment, this book shows that humanitarian agendas have shaped the post-Cold War world in deeply unsettling ways.

I love this book because it brings together both academics and practitioners in a single volume, putting them into conversation with each other. All of the contributors are specialists in humanitarianism, but they approach this subject from very different angles and perspectives. Together, they raise provocative questions about humanitarian governance in the 21st century.

This book made me think deeply about the political and economic relationships involved in humanitarian activities. Above all, it invites us to learn from the less savory aspects of the history of humanitarianism in order to build a better humanitarian system in the future.

By Juliano Fiori (editor), Fernando Espada (editor), Andrea Rigon (editor) , Bertrand Taithe (editor) , Rafia Zakaria (editor)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For many liberal commentators at the turn of the 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a final victory for Western reason and capitalist democracy. But, in recent years, liberal norms and institutions associated with the post-Cold War moment have been challenged by a visceral and affective politics. Electorates have increasingly opted for a closing inwards of the nation-state, not just in the democratic heartlands of Europe and North America, but also on the periphery of the world economy. As the popular appeal of the 'open society' is thrown into question, it is necessary to revisit assumptions about the…


Book cover of The Akhmatova Journals: Volume 1, 1938-1941

Catriona Kelly Author Of St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past

From my 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

Catriona Kelly Why did Catriona love this book?

Akhmatova was one of the most important poets in the city’s history, and here she is brought to life by an exceptionally talented diarist: elusive, but at times extremely frank, hesitant, vulnerable, while at the same time demanding. It is a riveting portrait. Chukovskaya also draws a fraught picture of Leningrad during the Stalinist Great Terror, as evoked in Akhmatova’s famous cycle of memorial poems, Requiem. Look out also for Chukovskaya’s novel about the Terror, Sofia Petrovna.

By Lydia Chukovskaya, Sylva Rubashova, Milena Michalski

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Even in her own day Anna Akhmatova was ranked as one of the great Russian poets of the century. Yet she suffered scathing attacks from the Soviet establishment, was famously denounced as ""half-nun, half-whore"", and was finally expelled from the Writers' Union. Lydia Chukovskaya, an admirer who became the poet's close friend, kept intimate diaries that reveal the day-to-day life of a passionate artist forced to endure sorrow and oppression, yet still able to create poetry and friendship. This volume contains the journals kept between the years 1938 and 1941.


Book cover of Life and Fate

Paul Clark Author Of The Price of Dreams

From my list on life in the Soviet Union.

Who am I?

At the age of 16, I briefly joined the International Socialists, a small British Trotskyist party. Though I soon became disillusioned, it was a formative experience that left me with a lifelong fascination with communism and the Soviet Union. Over the following decades, I read everything I could about the subject, both fiction and non-fiction. In the years after the fall of communism, the ideas that eventually culminated in the writing of this book began to form in my head.

Paul's book list on life in the Soviet Union

Paul Clark Why did Paul love this book?

Grossman consciously attempted to write the War and Peace of the Second World War, and in this panoramic masterpiece, he pulled it off. Like War and Peace, the book focuses both on the travails of a single family and the broader sweep of history, as we witness events from the perspective of persecuted Jewish scientists, soldiers (both Soviet and German), partisans, peasants, and generals.

This is an intensely personal work – Grossman covered the battle of Stalingrad for the Soviet press and knew his subject matter firsthand. Writing it was also an extremely courageous act. The KGB confiscated the manuscript and Grossman never lived to see the book published.

By Vasily Grossman,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Life and Fate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based around the pivotal WWII battle of Stalingrad (1942-3), where the German advance into Russia was eventually halted by the Red Army, and around an extended family, the Shaposhnikovs, and their many friends and acquaintances, Life and Fate recounts the experience of characters caught up in an immense struggle between opposing armies and ideologies. Nazism and Communism are appallingly similar, 'two poles of one magnet', as a German camp commander tells a shocked old Bolshevik prisoner. At the height of the battle Russian soldiers and citizens alike are at last able to speak out as they choose, and without reprisal…


Book cover of The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine

Douglas Kellner Author Of American Horror Show: Election 2016 and the Ascent of Donald Trump

From my list on Russia invasion of Ukraine and threats to democracy.

Who am I?

My work since the 1970s has focused on the major political struggles of the day as they impact U.S. democracy and provide challenges for understanding and action. As a professional philosopher, I focused on ways that history, philosophy, and theory provide key tools for the interpretation and critique of salient issues. I've written books on U.S. politics and the media, the Gulf War and Iraq War, 9/11 and the War on Terror, and am particularly interested in the interaction between Russia, the U.S., and Europe; hence, the rise of Putin in Russia, the New Cold War, and the 2020s conflict in Ukraine and the response of Western democracies.

Douglas' book list on Russia invasion of Ukraine and threats to democracy

Douglas Kellner Why did Douglas love this book?

Plokhy’s engaging and well-documented study provides an excellent overview of the entire history of Ukraine and the repeated story of invasion, war, and occupation by its neighbors Poland and especially Russia. In particular, it provides sharp analyses of the complex relations between Ukraine and Russia from the time of its Czars through Stalin, the post-Stalinist Kremlin leadership, and Putin, providing contemporary readers penetrating insights into the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The book depicts in dramatic detail and narrative the century-long struggles of Ukraine for sovereignty, its century-long oppression by its neighbors, the terrible mass starvation and murder it suffered from both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in World War II, and its eventual independence—threatened by Russia in the 21st century through the present. In the contemporary context, Plotky’s text provides an illuminating understanding of Ukraine and its conflicted and often tragic history.

By Serhii Plokhy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ukraine is currently embroiled in a tense fight with Russia to preserve its territorial integrity and political independence. But today's conflict is only the latest in a long history of battles over Ukraine's territory and its existence as a sovereign nation. As the award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy argues in The Gates of Europe , we must examine Ukraine's past in order to understand its present and future.Situated between Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, Ukraine was shaped by the empires that used it as a strategic gateway between East and West,from the Roman and Ottoman empires to the Third…


Book cover of Four Soldiers

Matthew Parker Author Of Monte Cassino: The Hardest Fought Battle of World War II

From my list on less-well-known books about World War 2.

Who am I?

As a Brit growing up in the 1970s, I was obsessed with the Second World War as a heroic narrative and my country’s ‘Finest Hour’. Then I went out on the road and interviewed hundreds of veterans of the Battle of Monte Cassino and learned a somewhat different story…

Matthew's book list on less-well-known books about World War 2

Matthew Parker Why did Matthew love this book?

Not strictly speaking World War Two, this rather strange miniature masterpiece by a French author is set during the Russian Civil War and tells the story of the friendship of four very different soldiers. It is very short – it only takes about two hours to read – but its perfectly-drawn themes of life stripped bare, of comradeship, survival, and futility will stay with you for a very long time.

By Hubert Mingarelli,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

LONGLISTED FOR THE INTERNATIONAL MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2019

'I am astonished by Four Soldiers. I have never read anything like it, yet it is one of those books you feel must always have existed, a classic of writing about the human condition... A small miracle' Hilary Mantel

1919. The Russian Civil War. It is the harsh dead of winter, as four soldiers set up camp in a forest somewhere near the Romanian front line. There is a lull in the fighting, so their days are filled with precious hours of freedom, enjoying the tranquillity of a nearby pond and trying…


Book cover of Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan

Sean McMeekin Author Of Stalin's War: A New History of World War II

From my list on Stalin and the Second World War.

Who am I?

In 1992, I graduated high school and although I did not then know how to read or speak Russian, I interviewed six Soviet veterans who happened to live in a nursing home in Rochester NY. I was blown away by their stories; each was missing at least one limb and had a tale to tell about it. The timing was fortuitous in that there was an exhibition at the U.S. Library of Congress that summer on “Revelations from the Russian archives,” which has just opened to researchers. Although it took me some years to master Russian, I resolved then and there to go to the source and research Soviet history in Moscow itself. I am a historian now and I have been working in Moscow archives for nearly a quarter-century now. Stalin’s War is my eighth book to date, all of which draw on this work in the Russian archives.

Sean's book list on Stalin and the Second World War

Sean McMeekin Why did Sean love this book?

Using newly available Soviet sources, along with Japanese and American documents, Hasegawa fills a gaping hole in the vast literature on the dropping of the atomic bombs and the conclusion of the Pacific war in August-September 1945. For too long, western historians have told this story without reference to the immense Soviet role in the drama – or if they mention the Soviets at all, it is to use the Red Army’s last-minute intervention to argue either for or against the necessity of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to break Japanese resistance. What Hasegawa shows is how central Soviet neutrality – negotiated by Stalin in 1941 and still operative in summer 1945 – was to Japanese decision-making, right up to the moment Tokyo appealed to Stalin for mediation after Hiroshima, only to learn in horror that peace in the Far East was the last thing Stalin –…

By Tsuyoshi Hasegawa,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With startling revelations, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa rewrites the standard history of the end of World War II in the Pacific. By fully integrating the three key actors in the story--the United States, the Soviet Union, and Japan--Hasegawa for the first time puts the last months of the war into international perspective.

From April 1945, when Stalin broke the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact and Harry Truman assumed the presidency, to the final Soviet military actions against Japan, Hasegawa brings to light the real reasons Japan surrendered. From Washington to Moscow to Tokyo and back again, he shows us a high-stakes diplomatic game as…