The most recommended St. Petersburg books

Who picked these books? Meet our 42 experts.

42 authors created a book list connected to St. Petersburg, and here are their favorite St. Petersburg books.
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Book cover of The Madonnas of Leningrad

Susan Garzon Author Of Reading the Knots

From my list on women slogging through turbulent times.

Why am I passionate about this?

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

Susan Garzon 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,…

Book cover of Riddles in Mathematics: A Book of Paradoxes

Ian Stewart Author Of Flatterland: Like Flatland Only More So

From my list on to find out why math isn’t what you think.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a kid I read every popular math book I could lay my hands on. When I became a mathematician I wanted to do more than teaching and research. I wanted to tell everyone what a wonderful and vital subject math is. I started writing popular math books, and soon was up to my neck in radio, TV, news media, magazines... For 12 years I wrote the mathematical Recreations Column for Scientific American. I was only the second mathematician in 170 years to deliver the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, on TV with a live tiger. The University changed my job description: half research, half ‘outreach’. I had my dream job.

Ian's book list on to find out why math isn’t what you think

Ian Stewart Why did Ian love this book?

I was given this book when I was about 15, and devoured it. It is an eclectic collection of mathematical paradoxes, fallacies, and curiosities so strange that they seem impossible. Mathematical magic tricks, a proof that all numbers are equal, a proof that all triangles are isosceles, a curve whose length is infinite but whose area is finite, a curve that crosses itself at every point, a curve that fills the interior of a square. Infinities that are bigger than other infinities. The Saint Petersburg Paradox in probability, a calculation that you should pay the bank an infinite amount of money to play one fair coin-tossing game. The smallest number that cannot be named in fewer than thirteen words (which I’ve just named in twelve words).

By Eugene P. Northrop,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Two fathers and two sons leave town. This reduces the population of the town by three. True? Yes, if the trio consists of a father, son, and grandson. This entertaining collection consists of more than 200 such riddles, drawn from every branch of mathematics. Math enthusiasts of all ages will enjoy sharpening their wits with riddles rooted in areas from arithmetic to calculus, covering a wide range of subjects that includes geometry, trigonometry, algebra, concepts of the infinite, probability, and logic. But only an elementary knowledge of mathematics is needed to find amusement in this imaginative collection, which features complete…

Book cover of Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia

Prit Buttar Author Of The Reckoning: The Defeat of Army Group South, 1944

From my list on changed my view of history.

Why am I passionate about this?

"History can become a dull and uninteresting subject, but the stories of the past are far more interesting and inspiring than the very best fiction. These stories tell us about how our world came to be, and the paths that our predecessors travelled; and they show us that, despite the decades and centuries that separate us, they were driven and inspired by the same factors that drive and inspire us today." Prit Buttar was a doctor, first in the British Army and then a GP, until retiring in 2019. Less than a year later, he volunteered to go back to work during the current pandemic.

Prit's book list on changed my view of history

Prit Buttar Why did Prit love this book?

This is an unusual book, in that it is effectively a biography of a city – known through the years first as St Petersburg, then Petrograd, then Leningrad, and now once more St Petersburg. As he tells the story of the city that Peter the Great built in a desolate swamp, Lincoln brings together many of the different strands of Russian history and the strong-willed people who tried, with varying degrees of success, to direct that history in directions of their choosing. For anyone intending to visit St Petersburg, reading this book beforehand is an absolute must – it will make the experience of being there so much more valuable. If there is a flaw, it is that Lincoln sadly died when St Petersburg was perhaps at its lowest ebb following the end of the Soviet Union; it would be fascinating to know how he would have assessed the city…

By W. Bruce Lincoln,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For Russians, St.Petersburg has embodied power, heroism and fortitude. It has encompassed all the things that the Russians are and that they hope to become. Opulence and artistic brilliance blend with images of suffering on a monumental scale to make up the historic persona the late W. Bruce Lincoln's lavish biography of this mysterious, complex city. Climate and comfort were not what Tsar Peter the Great had in mind when he decided to build a new capital in the muddy marshes of the Neva River delta. Located 500 miles below the Arctic Circle, this area, with its foul weather, bad…

Book cover of War Without Garlands: Barbarossa 1941 - 1942

Richard Hargreaves Author Of Hitler's Final Fortress: Breslau 1945

From my list on page-turning narrative history.

Why am I passionate about this?

Narrative history isn’t about dates, kings, and queens. It’s about deeds, actions, experiences, decisions of people great and small. It’s about putting the reader in the middle of a drama and watching events unfold around them as if they were there so they can understand, observe, and perhaps ask: what would I have done? The best history writing shouldn’t just inform, but inspire you, make you feel: laugh, cry, feel angry, flinch at horrific sights, cheer the heroes, boo the villains, because history is made by ordinary people, good and bad, who possess many similar traits to the reader.

Richard's book list on page-turning narrative history

Richard Hargreaves Why did Richard love this book?

I’m an Eastern Front buffespecially the beginning of the war and its end. And this is the very best book on the first six or so months of the titanic clash between Hitler and Stalin. Robert Kershaw is one of the best (largely) WW2 historians because he gives the ordinary soldier a voice. There are other books that go into greater detail on specific actions, and it is more German than Russian focused, but for an overview from Leningrad to the Crimea, with the emphasis on the Moscow axis, it’s the best general read by some distance.

By Robert Kershaw,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked War Without Garlands as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by Kershaw, Robert J.

Book cover of The Eyes of Lira Kazan

Alex Cobham Author Of What Do We Know and What Should We Do About Tax Justice?

From my list on tax justice.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve worked for two decades as a researcher and campaigner to expose the tax behaviour of unscrupulous multinational companies and wealthy individuals, and the central lesson is that we only make progress when the narrative shifts: when the public and policymakers start to appreciate just how much damage is done to our societies by the professional enablers of tax abuse. These books are real narrative-shifters, showing the world to us in ways we need to see, and making it a pleasure. 

Alex's book list on tax justice

Alex Cobham Why did Alex love this book?

Eva Joly is one of the great heroes of tax justice, one of my heroes, a campaigning judge who faced down death threats in order to break the extraordinary corruption case of France’s biggest oil company.

But here, she joins forces with the novelist Judith Perrignon to tell a story of corruption that is sharp, ironic, and intelligent, as it runs from Lagos to London, by way of Paris and St Petersburg.

By Eva Joly, Judith Perrignon, Emily Read (translator)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The head of the Nigerian fraud squad is evacuated from Lagos by secret-service operatives. Meanwhile a junior prosecutor in Nice probes the mysterious death of the wife of a powerful banker and a crusading journalist in St Petersburg pursues a corrupt oligarch and his criminal business empire. The paths of all three cross in London, where they find themselves embroiled in violent events obviously linked to financial and political interests and hunted by the oligarch's men, the Western secret services and goons sent by Nigerian oil magnates. A satirical, intelligent and fast-paced thriller set in the world of high finance…

Book cover of A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia During World War I

Joshua A. Sanborn Author Of Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire

From my list on Russia in World War I.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professor of history at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, and I’ve been studying Russia ever since visiting the Soviet Union as a college student in 1990. I’ve been particularly interested in seeking connections between violence and other dimensions of historical experience. My first book (Drafting the Russian Nation) explored connections between political ideologies and violence, Imperial Apocalypse is in part a social history of violence, and my current project is examining the connection between literary cultures, professional communities, and the violence of the Cold War.

Joshua's book list on Russia in World War I

Joshua A. Sanborn Why did Joshua love this book?

There has been a revival of the study of the Russian experience in World War I over the last twenty-five years. Much of this can be explained by the opening of archives after 1991 and by the centennial of the war in 2014-2018. But the publication of this book was also enormously important. It recast the impact of the war by focusing on the experience of regular individuals rather than Petrograd elites and labor leaders. It also highlighted the massive scale of social dislocation – more than six million uprooted Russian subjects in all.

By Peter Gatrell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Whole Empire Walking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

". . . a signal contribution to a growing literature on a phenomenon that has become tragically pervasive in the 20th century. . . . This highly original account combines exemplary empirical research with the judicious application of diverse methods to explore the far-reaching ramifications of 'a whole empire walking.'" -Vucinich Prize citation

"An important contribution not only to modern Russian history but also to an ongoing repositioning of Russia in broader European and world historical processes. . . . elegantly written . . . highly innovative." -Europe-Asia Studies

Drawing on previously unused archival material in Russia, Latvia, and Armenia…

Book cover of Notes from the Blockade

Catriona Kelly Author Of St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past

From my list on modern St Petersburg.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

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…

Book cover of The Lost World

Robert Zwilling Author Of Asteroid Fever

From my list on science fiction books where the big break doesn't change anything.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been fascinated by science and everything mysterious. I love to read science fiction and mystery stories. I use art and literature to explore reality. Writing or painting allows me to link seemingly unrelated topics together to create my own explanations for why things are the way they appear to be. The biggest things in the universe are replicated on Earth right down to sub-atomic size. I call that life imitating stars. Life is an endless resource found everywhere in the universe, and it's not restricted to just light or heat to grow; it only needs energy.

Robert's book list on science fiction books where the big break doesn't change anything

Robert Zwilling Why did Robert love this book?

This book, the only sequel Michael Crichton wrote, is an action-adventure story that stands fully upright on its own two feet. It's a philosophical, exciting adventure with multiple stories beautifully wound around a central core with harsh flashes of reality when the dinosaurs make their appearances.

I was very impressed with Sarah Harding's story, a practical, intelligent, feet-on-the-ground hero caught up in a world where science has created new, bigger-than-life creatures. She contends with violent dinosaurs and handles smart men who supposedly should know better as she battles her way to surviving another Jurassic World adventure.

By Michael Crichton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Gripping' Sunday Express
'Action-packed' New York Daily News
'Another monster hit by a giant of a writer' The Daily Express
'The Lost World moves at a spanking pace. . . recommended as first-rate entertainment' The Spectator

The bestselling sequel to Jurassic Park

Something has survived.

Six years have passed since the secret disaster at Jurassic Park. In the years since the extraordinary dream of science and imagination came to a crashing end, the island has been indefinitely closed to the public, its park dismantled, the dinosaurs themselves destroyed.

Or so it was thought.

But something has survived. And when…

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 my list on cities at war.

Why am I passionate about this?

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

Steven H. Jaffe 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.

Book cover of The Siege

Kate Innes Author Of The Errant Hours

From my list on young women in big trouble.

Why am I passionate about this?

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

Kate Innes 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…