Books About Russian History

Stalin: The Court of The Red Tsar

Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore

If you want to get an understanding of how the Soviet Union was ruled during Stalinism, this is probably the best book out there. The author is one the one hand not afraid to take a stand, yet, at the same time, he doesn’t oversimplify. He describes the multifacetedness of Stalin. Recommended to anyone who has an interest in contemporary Russian history.

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Young Stalin

Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore

This book was actually written after Montefiore’s above-mentioned book about Stalin when he was in power. In this book, the author looks closely at Stalin before he became one of the most powerful men in the world. If you want to know more about the background of the person who came to rule Russia, this is a very interesting read. The book offers a lot of new insights and makes you look at Russian history from an entirely different perspective.

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The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia

Author: Orlando Figes

What was it like to be a citizen in the Soviet Union, a state in which, according to orthodox communist ideology, people were not entitled to a private life? That is the main question the author of this book aims to answer.

A lot of books have offered a general description of Russian history in the twentieth century, there are also many biographies of key figures. But how did the regime affect people’s private life? If you want to really understand Russian society, this is an important book to read.

The title of the book refers to the fact that, during Stalinism, people would only whisper about what they were really thinking. They were always afraid that they would be overheard and this, of course, could have the most serious consequences.

What makes this book unique is that it makes use of family archives like letters and diaries. Many of the stories are really heartbreaking and the reader gets a taste of the tragedy that families were forced to endure during Stalinism.

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Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia

Author: Orlando Figes

Writing a cultural history about the biggest country in the world is, of course, a challenge, to say the least. The title of the book refers to a scene from Tolstoy’s famous novel ‘War and Peace’ in which the aristocratic Natasha Rostova sees some simple village people make some folk dances and she, without having ever been taught these dances, somehow feels their essence and is able to join in on the dance and dance as well or even better than any villager.

With the Russian aristocracy speaking French and not Russian at the time, the question what it meant to be Russian became urgent when Napoleon’s huge army invaded Russia (the time in which Tolstoy’s novel was set).

This eternal soul searching of the Russian people is basically the topic of this cultural history by Orlando Figes. I very much enjoyed reading it, but found it a bit overwhelming in details. And that is while I have a university degree in Russian Language and History. So, probably the layman will be even more bothered by the book’s heaviness in detail.

Usually this book is very reasonably priced on amazon, check it out here.

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