The Best Russian History Books of 2021

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Are you looking for the best books on Russian history?  Are you in need of books on soviet history for a project or upcoming report?  No matter the reason, we have you covered. Russian history is vast and, at times, not the brightest.  However, it is a story that must be told.

Imagine growing up and thinking leaders like Stalin “weren’t that bad” until reading a Russian history book that details the massacres they were responsible for.  If you have a love for history, an interest in learning more about Russia’s tumultuous past, or are merely in need of research material for a class, you’ve come to the right place. This list contains some heavily recommended texts for understanding Russia’s current state from historians and students like you.

Aside from simply providing you with texts which may suit your needs, we also want to ensure that you can choose your own.  We will be providing you with tips on how to select a text that fits your specific needs.  Although we have compiled a great list of books for you to start with, it is pertinent that you can choose your own.

Keep reading to gain insight on the best Russian history books as well as find tips for picking your own.

If you want to just get back to studying, get our top choice for russian history books here.

Our Top Favorite
A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924
Our Top Runner Up
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
Our Top Value Pick
A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, 1941-1945
Book Title
A People's Tragedy
The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, 1941-1945
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Favorite
A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924
Book Title
A People's Tragedy
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Runner Up
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
Book Title
The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Value Pick
A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, 1941-1945
Book Title
A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, 1941-1945
Prime Eligible?

Last update: 2021-08-31

Our Favorites for Best Russian History Books

A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes 

A People’s Tragedy is an account of the Russian Revolution from 1891 to 1924. It is a text which is loved by all historians and regarded as a page-turner. It is historically accurate, providing a thematic mix of personal, political, and social information. The text is written by Orlando Figes, who is a British historian, and initially published in 1996.

What Makes It Unique:

  • Many call this text a collection of misery. Through the book, Figes recounts the path which Russia took from autocracy to the Soviet’s dictatorial leadership.
  • A People's Tragedy is broken down into several sections, which make it much more manageable. It is a thick text with small font and is not for the faint at heart. It is a dense read and lengthy.
  • Figes leaves no stone unturned as he tells the history and personal stories of leaders, examines the famine of the 1890s, and touches on subjects like urbanization.
  • The author also puts great detail into the inhuman viciousness of the Bolsheviks and the Tsarists. Many readers look to Figes’s text, not for his personal opinion but the sheer level of detail it possesses.
  • The text sheds light on Stalin’s reign of terror.
  • A People’s Tragedy was written after the Soviet archives were opened. This information allowed for new material to be available to historians and changed the areas of the story that were missing this information.

Why Choose This Russian History Book:

  • Many readers seem to agree that though this text was written several years ago, it is far more relevant today and can be regarded as one of the best books on the Russian revolution. Figes paints a picture of the happenings surrounding the Bolshevik party and the tragedy of extremists.
  • This is also an excellent text to read if you have a love for Russian culture and its history.

On Sale
A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924
  • A people s tragedy
  • Figes, Orlando (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-08-31


A Concise History of Russia (Cambridge Concise Histories) by Paul Bushkovitch

A Concise History of Russia for a variety of consumer groups. It begins in the 9th century and goes forward from there. The book charts the path of Russia through not only politics but science and the arts. Paul Bushkovitch is an expert in Russian History and is excellent at explaining Russia and its people.

What Makes it Unique:

  • Within the beginning pages of the text, the author points out that though Russia is a real place with a rich history and culture, much of what they were known for was socialism. He examines life post-Soviet Union and the impact it had on the country.
  • The book includes a variety of maps of Russian during various periods. This allows you to see the changes and progression that occurred within Russia.
  • A Concise History of Russia beginning with the background of the Rus people. These people are the ancestors of Russia.
  • In the text, Bushkovitch zeros in on some of Russia’s most prominent figures in history, including Mikhail Gorbachev and Stalin.
  • At the end of the text, readers are presented with a Further Reading section, which provides extensive details on books that you should read if you are interested in learning more about Russian history. These books are divided by theme.
  • Within the text, the author tends to jump around in time. This jump is because when he tells the historical events leading up to a significant event, he wants to provide a full account.
  • The author also emphasizes how Russian arts and literature were intertwined with the push to the revolution.

Why Choose This Russian History Book:

  • This is an excellent text for students who are looking for a more general overview of Russian history concerning its most notable events.
  • The text provides a great introduction to topics and events which are often overlooked by more general narratives of Russia’s history.

On Sale
A Concise History of Russia (Cambridge Concise Histories)
  • Bushkovitch, Paul (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 518 Pages - 12/05/2011 (Publication Date) - Cambridge University Press (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-08-31


Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941 by Stephen Kotkin

Stalin: Waiting for Hitler is a biography of Joseph Stalin. The text places great emphasis on collectivization, which was the conversion of the peasant economy to socialist modernity. The book goes into details of Stalin’s obsession, which led to the deaths of millions as well and generally told the story of Russia and the Soviet Union through Joseph Stalin’s eyes.

What Makes It Unique:

  • The text covers the periods of 1929-1941 and is the second text in a 3-volume series. This edition provides readers with a background on Stalin’s need for absolute power and adequately covers the topics of dekulakization and collectivization.  With this comes the terror which Stalin reeked over his people.
  • Stalin: Waiting for Hitler shows just how underhanded Stalin was. It describes in full Stalin’s murderous reign and his desire to protect it from imagined enemies. The author explores Stalin’s relationship with Germany and its aftermath.
  • Each chapter is generally broken out by topic. This gives readers a natural breaking point in the text as well as time to collect their thoughts on what has been read.
  • Like many historical Russian texts, Waiting for Hitler is a dense read with much attention given to detail. If you can get through its pages, it is a highly informative read with ample footnotes for reference.

Why Choose This Russian History Book:

  • Though the text is rather lengthy, it is comprehensive and was carefully researched. This is an excellent text for individuals with a vested interest in Stalin and in Russia’s history itself. This is not a text for the newest historian.
  • If you are looking to understand totalitarian dictatorship, following the life of Joseph Stalin is an excellent place to start.

Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941
  • Kotkin, Stephen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1184 Pages - 11/20/2018 (Publication Date) - Penguin Books (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-08-31


Runner Ups for Best Russian History Books

The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen

The Man Without A Face is the biography of Vladimir Putin. Author Masha Gessen provides insight on how Putin, a KGB operative, could reach his height at the Russian Presidency. Gessen tells Putin’s story and includes her narrative as she is watching his story play out as a resident in Moscow. With the text, the author debunks several myths written regarding Putin in this heavily researched account.

What Makes It Unique:

  • Throughout the text, Gessen provides psychoanalysis of Putin like no other as she recounts the details of him and his regime. She gives an interior perspective as she has written for both Western and Russian publications. Masha Gessen also brings an inside view to Putin.
  • The Man Without A Face gives much insight into Post War Russia. This is the period where we see Putin serving as a low-level KGB operative.  The text also provides excellent insight into post-Soviet Russia as it showcases the events happening around Putin.
  • The text is one of the few excellent books about life in the Soviet Union. The pages bring to light just how inhumane and dysfunctional communism is, as well as how damaging it has been to Russia.
  • Many readers feel that this text has the potential to be on ant credible Russian history reading list and should be required for anyone undertaking Russian history.

Why Choose This Russian History Book:

  • Many individuals found this to be a constant page-turner and commend the author for her bravery in producing this book in a climate that “disposes” of journalists for saying the wrong things.
  • No matter what political party you support, this is an excellent text to read to gain insight into Putin. Many readers with no prior knowledge of Russian history found themselves engrossed with this book due to the sheer familiarity with Putin in today’s media.
  • If you are looking for insight into Putin and his rise in status, this is one text you should pick up. If you are looking for a book that will provide details regarding Putin and how he rose from the shadows, this is the book for you.

On Sale
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
  • Great product!
  • Gessen, Masha (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-08-31


The Russian Revolution by Sheila Fitzpatrick

The Russian Revolution is a favorite among Russian revolution books.  The text begins in 1917 and continues through the 1930s.  Through its pages, Shelia Fitzpatrick tells the story of the Marxist Revolution, which was aimed at converting the world. Fitzpatrick uses her expertise in Modern Russian history to bring forth this novel.

What Makes It Unique:

  • The text opens by providing readers with information on what occurred before Russia’s revolution. This includes brief accounts of the actions of Bolshevik and Lenin, though it doesn’t go into full detail of the horrors.
  • Some readers feel that the text may be too short for its good. Instead of elaborating on specific events, the author stops and carries on to the next events. Though some readers enjoy that specific details are lacking, this is a point of contention within the text.
  • Fitzpatrick provides information on political events in Russia in a manner that is engaging and captivating. She also recounts what happened after the Russian Civil War.
  • The text provides information on many of the Revolution’s key characters as well as information on communism and the various factions which make up the communist party.

Why Choose This Russian History Book:

  • This is a text which is often included in many college reading lists. It provides an excellent overview of the revolution. The book is a great starting point for anyone without prior Russian History knowledge.
  • The text provides readers with an unbiased account and analysis of the Russian Revolution. This is an excellent text to start with if you are not prepared to handle more in-depth and graphic books.
  • Many students say that the text is not the easiest read and can be compared to that of a collection of lecture notes; however, once you are done, you will find it extremely informative in content.

The Russian Revolution
  • Fitzpatrick, Sheila (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages - 11/28/2017 (Publication Date) - Oxford University Press (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-08-31


Value Picks for Best Russian History Books

A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, 1941-1945 by Vasily Grossman & Antony Beevor

A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army tells the story of the journalist who served as a special correspondent for Red Star. Red Star was the Soviet’s newspaper, which was written from the war’s frontlines. Vasily Grossman witnessed things that many never will nor will they want to. He was first hand for the Battle of Kursk and even the defense of Moscow. This text details the truths of the war.

What Makes It Unique:

  • A Writer at War begins with a brief introduction to Vasily, his life before the war, and ultimately his entry into the Red Army. Though many journalists reported from the headquarters, Vasily was in the trenches with troops. He reported solely based on his experiences in combat. Much of Grossman’s writing was considered a threat to the totalitarian regime, yet somehow, he managed to miss Stalin’s many lethal attacks.
  • Within the text, Vasily describes the countless murders experienced around him as well as in Ukraine. He also reports of narrowly being captured, which as a Red Army Jewish man, would have sealed his fate.
  • Throughout the text, Vasily praised the work of Russian medical staff for their efforts to ensure everyone was adequately cared for.
  • Vasily talks of the Battle of Stalingrad, which took place between 1942 and 1943, as well as the street fighting and the Stalingrad Academy for snipers.

Why Choose This Russian History Book:

  • The text forces readers to face the brutality of war and Russian history. Vasily details the horrendous conditions of what it’s like being at the front line and even interviewed other soldiers at the front lines. This is an excellent example of war journalism.
  • A Writer at War includes Vasily’s diaries as well as his writing during the war. This is an excellent reference text for historians and researchers seeking first-hand accounts of what transpired during his four years with the Red Army.

On Sale
A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army, 1941-1945
  • Grossman, Vasily (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 03/13/2007 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-08-31


How to Choose the Best Russian History Book for You

There are several sides to Russian history. Some of these sides are far more gruesome than others; however, all provide information that should be accessible for all. Choosing a research text can be hard and sometimes overwhelming if you aren’t sure of what you are looking for. Russian history books come in many forms and types.  These types include biographies, narratives, collections of essays, first-hand accounts, and even fact-based fiction novels.

With so many options available to you, how will you know what to choose?  Well, initially, you won’t know, and that’s okay.  We are here to provide you with several questions you should ask yourself when looking for Russian historical literature. Use these tips to help narrow your search and find books that are beneficial to you.

How much am I willing to read? 

One thing that you will notice about the texts within this list is that with more detailed comes more text. Though that should be a given, I would assume that most students are not reading one thousand page texts like A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes.

You will need to ask yourself how much you are willing to read and how much time you can devote to reading.  Figes’s text is one that is one that is highly regarded by many historians for accuracy and level of detail. This is a level of detail you will not find in a two-hundred-page text.

What am I using this Russian History text for, and how will it be used?

If you are looking for a book for a class, your search may be a little bit easier. Most times, professors provide students with a list of texts to choose from or even simply give them a required book to purchase.

However, if you are looking for a text which is being used for a project or as a reference text, you hold the key to finding the perfect book. In this scenario, you will need to drill down to the intent of your research and what precisely you are looking to reference. For example, you wouldn’t be reading a biography of Putin to gain insight into the people of Russia. Though specific texts may be helpful, it would not be the focus of a Putin biography.

Have I explored the references of past Russian History books that I have read? 

One great way to find great books on similar topics is to look in the reference section of a book that contains the information you are seeking.  Some authors even go as far as providing details on the texts they used and what areas they are helpful in researching.

Wrapping Up the Best Russian History Books

If you are looking for the best Russian history books, you are sure to find it within this list. The texts within this list have been handpicked for their various levels of depth and insight. There are texts which cover multiple areas of Russian history, including the Russian Revolution and even dekulakization and collectivization.

However, before you can begin to pick the perfect textbook, you must determine precisely what you are looking for.  To come to this conclusion, you must ask yourself a series of questions regarding your intent. Once you have taken the answers to these questions into account, you are ready to pick a resource.

If you are looking for the best general Russian history book, A Concise History of Russia, a great option, it is highly recommended by readers as it provides an excellent general overview of Russian history. Two other great options that provide a different perspective on Russian history include A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Both texts provide Russian history from two very different perspectives.

No matter what text you choose, we hope that you are fully prepared to enter the historical world of Russia.  Remember, there is no perfect text. Instead, you must figure out what fits your needs and go with it.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll like our history book reviews here.

Here are a few other history book reviews you may find interesting:

> The Best Books about Canada

> The Best Chinese History Books

> The Best Greek History Books

> The Best Japanese History Books

> The Best Korean History Books

> The Best Roman History Books

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