We have a wide range of interviews recommending books on the history, politics and culture of Russia, and shed light on the reign of its current leader, Vladimir Putin, in power since 1999. For the latest book on Russia and where it's at, The Return of the Russian Leviathan by Russian academic Sergei Medvedev—who has already lost his job for writing critical of the current regime—won the 2020 Pushkin House Russian Book Prize and is a good place to start.
Looking back in time we have an excellent interview on Putin and Russian History with Edward Lucas, formerly a senior editor at the Economist, and now a security analyst. His recommendations include one of the best ever titles for a history book: It Was a Long Time Ago and it Never Happened Anyway. Our 2011 interview with British academic Simon Pirani on Putin's Russia is also an excellent insight into the late Yeltsin years and how Putin consolidated his power in his first decade.
Looking back to Russia's history, Andrei Maylunas chooses his best books on pre-Revolutionary Russia. Roland Chambers chooses his best books on the Russian Revolution and Thomas Keneally chooses his best books on Revolutionary Russia. Both recommend A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution by Orlando Figes. Francis Spufford chooses his best books on Russia in the 20th -century and Robert Conquest chooses his best books on Communism. Robert Service chooses his best books on totalitarian Russia. Anna Reid chooses her best books on the Siege of Leningrad.
Thomas de Waal looks at conflict in the Caucasus. A number of other interviews also deal with Russia’s relationship with its periphery. Vanora Bennett chooses her best books on Chechnya and the poet, Nigan Hasan-Zadeh, chooses her best books on Azerbaijan.
On more cultural and literary themes, we have a collection of recommended Russian literature including, Michael Nicholson chooses his best books on Solzhenitsyn and Maxim D Shrayer his best books on Vladimir Nabokov and on Vasily Grossman. Rosamund Bartlett chooses the best Russian short stories. Books by Leo Tolstoy are some of the most frequently recommended on Five Books, attesting to the country's role in producing some of the greatest novels ever written.
His father had clawed his way up into the minor aristocracy, but Fyodor Dostoevsky chose to live the life of an impecunious author. He was sentenced to death, but his execution was stayed and he spent years in a Siberian labour camp instead. His books are about human compassion, but he was a difficult man who had trouble with his own personal relationships. Alex Christofi, author of a brilliant new biography of Dostoevsky, one of Russia’s greatest novelists, recommends five books to learn more about the man and his work—including the novel of which Tolstoy said he ‘didn’t know a better book in all our literature’.
The Return of the Russian Leviathan
by Sergei Medvedev & Stephen Dalziel (translator)
Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait
by Bathsheba Demuth
Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future
by Kate Brown
Stalin's Scribe: Literature, Ambition, and Survival, the Life of Mikhail Sholokhov
by Brian Boeck
This Thing of Darkness: Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible in Stalin's Russia
by Joan Neuberger
An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent
by Owen Matthews
Every year since 2013 the Russian Book Prize run by Pushkin House, a UK charity, has carried out the important task of drawing attention to books that “encourage public understanding and intelligent debate about the Russian-speaking world.” Here, Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy, chair of this year’s judging panel, talks us through the books that made the 2020 shortlist.
The Russian revolution was the beginning of the modern age, says award-winning author Roland Chambers. He tells us what Solzhenitsyn imagined Lenin was like, and about the children’s author who led a double life as a spy in Bolshevik Russia.
Russia at War
by Alexander Werth
A Writer At War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945
by Vasily Grossman, translated by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova
Reflections on the Russian Soul
by Dmitry Likhachov
Less Than One
by Joseph Brodsky
Conversations with Stalin
by Milovan Djilas
Russian literature specialist Michael Nicholson, Emeritus Fellow at University College, Oxford, talks us through the best books to learn more about the great Soviet dissident and winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Robert Chandler, one of the best known translators of Russian literature, recommends some of his favourite tales of Soviet Russia. There’s the one about a dog in space and the one about the Soviet café which stocked nothing but champagne and Mars bars…
Reading about Russia’s 20th century is like finding another vision of how the world might have been. Francis Spufford, author of Red Plenty, recommends books that tell the story of Russia in the last century — from Soviet science fiction set in capitalist wastelands to Khrushchev as raconteur.
Robert Service, Professor of Russian Studies at Oxford, when forced to choose between Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, says Stalin was definitely the worst of the lot. He takes a look at the dynamics of totalitarian Russia, gleaning insights from Thucydides to Orwell.
Best-selling author Thomas Keneally explains that the Cold War biographies couldn’t afford to say that Stalin was attractive, or that Lenin was magnetic, but they were, because otherwise people wouldn’t have followed them. He picks some great introductions to Revolutionary Russia.