Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) was one of Russia’s great novelists. While best known as the author of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, several of his other novels have also been recommended on Five Books, including Memoirs from the House of the Dead, a fictionalized account of his time in a Siberian labour camp.
Dostoevsky’s life was an eventful one, and you can read more about it in our interview with novelist Alex Christofi, author of Dostoevsky in Love, a biography that blends his life and his writing. Christofi also offers some tips on which Dostoevsky books to start off with if you’re not ready for the philosophical heft of his last and greatest work, The Brothers Karamazov.
Books by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Memoirs from the House of the Dead
by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Jessie Coulson
Memoirs from the House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoevsky is written as fiction but is based on his time in a Siberian prison camp at Omsk. This is not a book about Kazakhstan, but we’ve included it because, on his release, Dostoevsky lived in exile (which included military service) in the Kazakh city of Semipalatinsk. You can visit one of the houses he lived in, which has been turned into a museum.
“I like this novel due to the extraordinary background on how it was written, at the same time as he was writing Crime and Punishment. He had a certain time frame and a page count of 160 pages to submit within four months. He had agreed a contract in September that he had to submit a new novel to the publishers, Stellovsky, by the first of November. In the event of failure to produce this book Stellovsky would be given the rights to reprint all Dostoyevsky’s past and future work at any time and without further payment. The result was The Gambler.“ Read more...
Lynda La Plante recommends the best Crime Novels
Lynda La Plante, Thriller and Crime Writer
“Dostoevsky was a devout Christian and The Brothers Karamazov, his last and possibly greatest novel, was a heartfelt plea for the necessity of faith. The phrase ‘If God does not exist, everything is permitted’ is often attributed to Dostoevsky. He actually never wrote that, but the sentiment certainly runs through much of his work, and most especially through The Brothers Karamazov.” Read more...
The best books on Morality Without God
Kenan Malik, Science Writer
“It’s a strange mixture of Christianity, the industrial revolution, the Russian national character. But it is also about 20th-century Russia. It’s about what is coming. All we were talking about from the days of Basil the Dark One, the 18th-century age of Enlightenment, Pushkin, Gogol, Lermontov, the golden age of Russian culture: it all culminates in Demons. Demons is Russia’s future… It gives you a flavour of the nascent 20th-century Russia with all its ups and downs: the literature, horrors, terrors, revolutions, bloodshed, the peaks, the depths – you already feel it.” Read more...
The best books on Tsarist Russia
Andrei Maylunas, Historian
“Crime and Punishment is probably Dostoevsky’s most conventional novel. It’s effectively a sort of literary crime novel, and is in some ways quite typical of its time. It’s got a fascinating structure, where a full 80% of the novel comes after he’s committed the crime but before he reaches the punishment. So for the majority novel, you are in suspense and, despite the title, a part of you genuinely believes he might get away with it.” Read more...
The Best Fyodor Dostoevsky Books
Alex Christofi, Literary Scholar
Interviews where books by Fyodor Dostoevsky were recommended
The Best Fyodor Dostoevsky Books, recommended by Alex Christofi
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’.
Irvine Welsh recommends the best Crime Novels
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The best books on Policing, recommended by John Timoney
The youngest four-star chief in the history of the NYPD, and a Medal of Valor laureate, chooses books that address the topic of policing from many angles – from the practical to the poetic
The best books on Totalitarian Russia, recommended by Robert Service
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.
The best books on Tsarist Russia, recommended by Andrei Maylunas
From the days it was known as Muscovy to the Russian Empire described by the great novelists of the 19th century, historian Andrei Maylunas recommends books that give a feel for the country. Two are works of history, one is notes from a visiting ambassador in the 16th century, two are novels. All are entertaining to read and key to understanding the present.
The best books on Morality Without God, recommended by Kenan Malik
Religion is often presented as the guardian of moral values. The problem with this, says the author and broadcaster, is that it diminishes what it means to be human. He picks the best books on morality without God.
Rachel Kushner on Books That Influenced Her
Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room, which has been shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, discusses the five books that have most influenced her writing, from Dostoyevsky to Marguerite Duras. She muses on the question of what fiction can offer: “A novel itself, if it is good, and effective at whatever its particular aesthetic and philosophical aim is, can answer the question best, so that a novelist doesn’t have to.”
The best books on Moral Character, recommended by Christian B Miller
Why do apparently ‘good’ people sometimes behave deplorably? Christian B Miller, professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University, selects five books that explore the subject of moral character and warns us to be cautious of making inferences about the underlying motives of others – and ourselves.
The best books on Christianity, recommended by Richard Harries
The former bishop of Oxford tells us about books that explore what it means to be a Christian – from St Augustine and medieval mysticism to grappling with Dostoyevsky and more modern dilemmas. He picks the best books on Christianity.
Lynda La Plante recommends the best Crime Novels
The writer of the hugely successful Prime Suspect television series, Lynda La Plante, selects her own favourite crime novels. We haven’t completed the interview with her yet, but her brief email comments appear beside her choices.