The most recommended books on Stalinism

Who picked these books? Meet our 18 experts.

18 authors created a book list connected to Stalinism, and here are their favorite Stalinism books.
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Book cover of Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial: Scenes from the Great Terror in Soviet Ukraine

Roger R. Reese Author Of The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution, 1856-1917

From my list on Stalinism from every angle.

Why am I passionate about this?

Roger Reese has studied, researched, and or taught Soviet history since 1984. He has been on the faculty of Texas A&M University since 1990. He has published five books and numerous articles and book chapters on the military history of Russia and the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr. book prize for his most recent book, The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution, 1856-1917.

Roger's book list on Stalinism from every angle

Roger R. Reese Why did Roger love this book?

This book is very interesting because it puts the reader inside the workings of the great terror at the local level with the words of the perpetrators themselves. The author uses the records of trials of numerous low level secret police interrogators to show how the regime created the conditions under which the policemen rationalized how they understood their work and made it possible for them to persecute innocent people.

By Lynne Viola,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stalinist Perpetrators on Trial as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between the summer of 1937 and November 1938, the Stalinist regime arrested over 1.5 million people for "counterrevolutionary" and "anti-Soviet" activity and either summarily executed or exiled them to the Gulag. While we now know a great deal about the experience of victims of the Great Terror, we know almost nothing about the lower- and middle-level Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (NKVD), or secret police, cadres who carried out Stalin's murderous policies.
Unlike the postwar, public trials of Nazi war criminals, NKVD operatives were tried secretly. And what exactly happened in those courtrooms was unknown until now.

In what has been…


Book cover of A History of the Grandparents I Never Had

Ari Joskowicz Author Of Rain of Ash: Roma, Jews, and the Holocaust

From my list on uncovering hidden and marginalized histories.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a scholar of European history who spent the last twenty years studying how minorities relate to each other and how their efforts to communicate their silenced histories are entwined. I remain fascinated by the many ways we think we know—and so frequently fail—to grasp the suffering and ambitions of others. All of this makes me ultimately a historian of the hidden stories of marginalized people and of the struggle to document and understand them.

Ari's book list on uncovering hidden and marginalized histories

Ari Joskowicz Why did Ari love this book?

Jablonka, a French historian, tells a story that is both personal and profound.

He traces the history of his grandparents, who fled to France in 1938 as communists and Jews. Jablonka reconstructs their attempts to evade arrest and deportation up to their eventual death at the hands of the Nazis in the most meticulous detail.

In his capable hands, the challenge of writing histories with limited documentation becomes a source of ingenuity. I learned from A History of the Grandparents I Never Had that there are ways to think about your family’s past in ways that are not merely sentimental but also surprising and illuminating. (It even made me briefly consider calling my own recent book The Stories My Grandparents Never Told). 

By Ivan Jablonka, Jane Kuntz (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A History of the Grandparents I Never Had as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ivan Jablonka's grandparents' lives ended long before his began: although Mates and Idesa Jablonka were his family, they were perfect strangers. When he set out to uncover their story, Jablonka had little to work with. Neither of them was the least bit famous, and they left little behind except their two orphaned children, a handful of letters, and a passport. Persecuted as communists in Poland, as refugees in France, and then as Jews under the Vichy regime, Mates and Idesa lived their short lives underground. They were overcome by the tragedies of the twentieth century: Stalinism, the mounting dangers in…


Book cover of Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish

Lewis Glinert Author Of The Story of Hebrew

From my list on the story of a language.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been a Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Linguistics at Dartmouth College since 1997. Previously: Professor of Hebrew at London University.  BA Oxford, Ph.D. London. Author/co-author of seven books, including The Story of Hebrew (Princeton, 2017) – one of CHOICE Magazine’s 'Outstanding Academic Titles for 2017', a Princeton University Press nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction – and (co-author Jon Schommer) A Screenful of Sugar? Prescription Drug Websites Investigated.  Over 80 papers on language and its social and political impact, in particular in pharmaceutical and financial literacy.

Lewis' book list on the story of a language

Lewis Glinert Why did Lewis love this book?

Many language stories have sad endings. I don’t like to over-personalize a language; it’s primarily the users that put the spice into a language or let it ‘die’. Or in the case of Yiddish, murdered in their millions.

Dovid Katz’s title evokes the extraordinary vitality of Yiddish – for centuries the language of Europe’s Jews and one of the major literary languages of the 20th century, until Nazism and Stalinism consumed all. Many survivors reached Israel, where Hebrew has taken its place. But Yiddish lives on. To me that matters.

For tens of thousands (and thriving) survivors’ descendants in the US and Europe, Yiddish is still a first language, preserving a traditional religious lifestyle  Many more, whose grandparents (like mine) migrated and raised children in other tongues, still cherish Yiddish for its songs and jokes. As do I. Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Larry David – scratch the surface and…

By Dovid Katz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From one of the world's foremost scholars of Yiddish, a sweeping history of the language, its culture, and its literature-with a provocative argument about its future as a living language. Words on Fire offers a rich, engaging account of the history and evolution of the Yiddish language. Drawing on almost thirty years of scholarship, prominent Yiddish scholar Dovid Katz traces the origins of Yiddish back to the Europe of a thousand years ago, and shows how those origins are themselves an uninterrupted continuation of the previous three millennia of Jewish history and culture in the Near East. Words on Fire…


Book cover of Skin in the Game

Vitaliy Katsenelson Author Of Soul in the Game: The Art of a Meaningful Life

From my list on that bring meaning to your life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an investor who happens to love writing, music, and simply life in general. I was born in Murmansk, Russia, where I spent my first 18 years. My family moved to Denver in 1991, and I have lived there since. I’m CEO of IMA, a value investing firm where I have creative freedom to focus on things I love. I was so fortunate to stumble into writing; it has completely rewired my mind by providing a daily two-hour refuge for focused thinking. I am constantly on the lookout for new stories and fresh insights. Writing is what keeps me in student-of-life mode, and there is so much to learn!

Vitaliy's book list on that bring meaning to your life

Vitaliy Katsenelson Why did Vitaliy love this book?

Taleb has been hugely important to me as an investor, thinker, and writer. I picked Skin in the Game because a chapter in it called “Soul in the Game” had a tremendous impact on me and even spilled into the title of my book. I would advise readers to start their journey into Taleb’s books with Fooled by Randomness, which is a very accessible and easy read. His later books, The Black Swan, Antifragile, and Skin in the Game, are packed with insight and wisdom but require patience and should be read slowly.

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A bold work from the author of The Black Swan that challenges many of our long-held beliefs about risk and reward, politics and religion, finance and personal responsibility

In his most provocative and practical book yet,one of the foremost thinkers of our time redefines what it means to understand the world, succeed in a profession, contribute to a fair and just society, detect nonsense, and influence others. Citing examples ranging from Hammurabi to Seneca, Antaeus the Giant to Donald Trump, Nassim Nicholas Taleb shows how the willingness to accept one’s own risks is an…


Book cover of Kallocain

Thomas Hylland Eriksen Author Of Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change

From Thomas' 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Anthropology professor Amateur musician Super reader Foodie

Thomas' 3 favorite reads in 2023

Thomas Hylland Eriksen Why did Thomas love this book?

Known in Scandinavia mainly for her intense poetry, the Swedish author Karin Boye wrote this novel in 1940, recently published in a new English translation. It is a dystopian novel written in the shadow of Stalinism and Nazism, depicting an authoritarian society where the individual is seen as a threat to the common good.

The protagonist, Kall, invents a drug which has an enormous impact. This novel defends its place between Huxley and Orwell, chronologically and thematically.

In some ways, it is superior to them, by incorporating gender relations and family life, neglected by the more famous authors. 

By Karin Boye, Gustaf Lannestock (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This classic Swedish novel envisioned a future of drab terror. Seen through the eyes of idealistic scientist Leo Kall, Kallocain's depiction of a totalitarian world state is a montage of what novelist Karin Boye had seen or sensed in 1930s Russia and Germany. Its central idea grew from the rumors of truth drugs that ensured the subservience of every citizen to the state.


Book cover of North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea

Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland Author Of Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights Into North Korea

From my list on the North Korean economy.

Why are we passionate about this?

We teamed up about fifteen years ago around a common interest in the political economy of North Korea; Haggard is a political scientist, Noland an economist. Both of us had spent our careers focused on Asia but looking largely at the capitalist successes: Japan and the newly industrializing countries of Korea, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. But what about the anomalous cases in the region that did not get on the growth train? The “Asian miracle” was hardly ubiquitous…what had gone wrong? North Korea was clearly the biggest puzzle, and we ended up researching and writing on the famine, refugees, and the complexities of international sanctions. 

Stephan and Marcus' book list on the North Korean economy

Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland Why did Stephan and Marcus love this book?

As a Russian, Lankov has a particular affinity for North Korea; he intuits how such economic systems work. A historian with some of the best work on the politics of the 1950s, he has more recently turned to projects interviewing refugees including on the economy of the North. He introduces the country’s weird political system, but also analyzes daily life, from personal status badges to schools, food and surviving in the underground market economy as well. 

By Andrei Lankov,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Kim dynasty has ruled North Korea for over 60 years. Most of that period has found the country suffering under mature Stalinism characterized by manipulation, brutality and tight social control. Nevertheless, some citizens of Kim Jong Il's regime manage to transcend his tyranny in their daily existence. This book describes that difficult but determined existence and the world that the North Koreans have created for themselves in the face of oppression. Many features of this world are unique and even bizarre. But they have been created by the citizens to reflect their own ideas and values, in sharp contrast…


Book cover of A Polish Woman's Experience in World War II: Conflict, Deportation and Exile

R. M. Mace Author Of Wolves of Russia

From my list on accounts of the Stalinist Siberian Deportations.

Why am I passionate about this?

I read modern history as an undergraduate and then trained as a primary school teacher. Unsurprisingly, our classroom topics were often historical. My interest in the experiences of people, especially children, in Europe during WWII stems from the fact that my own father grew up in Germany and had numerous tales to tell. My first book was a recount of his wartime childhood. My father gave a copy of his book to his friend and neighbor who happened to be a Polish wartime veteran with his own remarkable stories to tell and this led to three years’ intensive historical research for his book.

R. M.'s book list on accounts of the Stalinist Siberian Deportations

R. M. Mace Why did R. M. love this book?

This account covers pretty much the same period of history as in my own protagonist’s tale, beginning with revolution in Russia and its impact on the lives of privileged Polish families.

She describes her life in the family home between the wars and then the exile to Siberia. As a woman, her experiences were different from much of what I had read before and filled with the useful details of everyday life that help to create a vivid picture of a world that was in reality in colour, but we only ever see in the sepia of old photographs.

The book also contains original letters and depositions and is supplemented with valuable historical notes on the context.

By Irena Protassewicz, Hubert Zawadzki (editor), Meg Knott (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Polish Woman's Experience in World War II as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This hitherto unpublished first-hand witness account, written in 1968-9, tells the story of a privileged Polish woman whose life was torn apart by the outbreak of the Second World War and Soviet occupation. The account has been translated into English from the original Polish and interwoven with letters and depositions, and is supplemented with commentary and notes for invaluable historical context. Irena Protassewicz's vivid account begins with the Russian Revolution, followed by a rare insight into the life and mores of the landed gentry of northeastern Poland between the wars, a rural idyll which was to be shattered forever by…


Book cover of Yezhov: The Rise of Stalin's Iron Fist

Roger R. Reese Author Of The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution, 1856-1917

From my list on Stalinism from every angle.

Why am I passionate about this?

Roger Reese has studied, researched, and or taught Soviet history since 1984. He has been on the faculty of Texas A&M University since 1990. He has published five books and numerous articles and book chapters on the military history of Russia and the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr. book prize for his most recent book, The Imperial Russian Army in Peace, War, and Revolution, 1856-1917.

Roger's book list on Stalinism from every angle

Roger R. Reese Why did Roger love this book?

This is a great book because it is probably the only truly even-handed treatment of one of the most reviled people in Soviet history, Nikolai Yezhov, head of the NKVD during the great terror. The authors by no means treat him as a sympathetic character, but they convincingly dismiss the many myths about him that have gotten in the way of understanding his relations with Stalin and his true motivations and behavior during the purge. They show that he played a truly significant role in convincing Stalin to let him purge the party and then the whole Soviet population because he believed there was a vast conspiracy to undermine Stalin’s version of Soviet power. Rather than a psychophant who groveled at Stalin’s feet, it is clear that he exercised agency to accomplish a task he believed in. You almost get to know Yezhov as a real human being, which is…

By Oleg V. Naumov, J. Arch Getty,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The definitive study of Nikolai Yezhov's rise to become the chief of Stalin's secret police-and the dictator's "iron fist"-during the Great Terror

Head of the secret police from 1937 to 1938, N. I. Yezhov was a foremost Soviet leader during these years, second in power only to Stalin himself. Under Yezhov's orders, millions of arrests, imprisonments, deportations, and executions were carried out. This book, based upon unprecedented access to Communist Party archives and Yezhov's personal archives, looks into the life and career of the enigmatic man who administered Stalin's Great Terror.

J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov seek to…


Book cover of Free: Coming of Age at the End of History

Alec Ryrie Author Of Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt

From Alec's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Historian Professor Anglican Roundhead Family man

Alec's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Alec Ryrie Why did Alec love this book?

Lea Ypi is a political philosopher and she has, in effect, written a sly and subtle piece of political philosophy, but you only realise that when you close the book at the end.

It’s a memoir of her early life in Albania: under the ersatz Stalinism of Enver Hoxha’s regime as a small child; the sudden realisations when the regime fell that she had been surrounded by lies, not least the lies of her dissident family who could not take the risk of their child learning the truth about them; and the sickening stories of how ‘free’ Albania in the 1990s was overtaken by crooks and dangerous idealists.

She is unsparing on the evils of both the communist and post-communist worlds, without succumbing to any kind of cheap moral equivalence between them. But the story itself is also hugely compelling: you will remember her father in particular. The kind of…

By Lea Ypi,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

WINNER OF THE ONDAATJE PRIZE

'The best book I read last year by a mile. . . so beautifully written that anyone would be hooked' Laura Hackett, Sunday Times, Best Summer Books

'Wonderfully funny and poignant. . . a tale of family secrets and political awakening amid a crumbling regime' Luke Harding, Observer

'We never lose our inner freedom; the freedom to do what is right'

Lea Ypi grew up in one of the most isolated countries on earth, a place where communist ideals had officially replaced religion. Albania, the last Stalinist outpost in Europe, was…


Book cover of Post-Soviet Russia: A Journey Through the Yeltsin Era

David Satter Author Of The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin

From my list on contemporary Russia.

Why am I passionate about this?

David Satter is a leading commentator on Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of five books on Russia and the creator of a documentary film on the fall of the U.S.S.R. He is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. He has been a fellow of the Foreign Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, and an associate of the Henry Jackson Society in London.

David's book list on contemporary Russia

David Satter Why did David love this book?

Russian historian Roy Medvedev, who has written classic works on Stalinism, recounts in this detailed and highly informed book the true consequences for Russia of Yeltsin era "shock therapy," including the impoverishment of the people, the destruction of the nation's health, and the rise of a criminal business oligarchy which in the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn was totally indifferent to the Russian people or "even if they survived at all."

By Roy A. Medvedev,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Post-Soviet Russia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Roy Medvedev, one of the world's best-known Russian scholars and a former consultant to both Gorbachev and Yeltsin analyzes the main events that have transpired in the Russian federation since late August 1991. He looks at the plans that were meant to restructure a society in crisis but-for reasons both complex and obvious-were destined to fail. From the drastic liberalization of prices and "shock therapy" to the privatization of state owned property and Yeltsin's resignation and replacement by Vladimir Putin, this is an intricately fascinating saga of good intentions, philosophical warfare, and catastrophic miscalculations. Among the many compelling facts detailed…