Books on History of Russia and Soviet Union

Recommended by Various Sources

The list of books on the history of Russia and Soviet Union was compiled from various sources. The readers of this post may find useful reference about these books made by the known reviewers and from the comments by the people who read them.

New Book: Catherine The Great: Portrait of a Woman

The New York Times Books Update

On the Cover of Sunday’s Book Review, November 18, 2011, appears the headline and the picture of a cover of the new book Catherine The Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie, Reviewed by Kathryn Harrison: “Mounted on a white stallion, Catherine the Great led 14,000 soldiers to arrest and unseat her feckless husband…”

Empress of All the Russias


Published: November 16, 2011

“How delightful to discover that Robert K. Massie, 82 years old, hasn’t lost his mojo. At a heft befitting its subject, his long-awaited “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman” is a consistently nimble and buoyant performance,…”

Bookreporter: Catherine The Great: Portrait of a Woman “The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of ‘Peter The Great,’ ‘Nicolas and Alexandra,’ and ‘The Romanovs’ returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.”

Publishers Weekly: Catherine The Great: Portrait of a Woman “Massie once again delivers a masterful, intimate, and tantalizing portrait of a majestic monarch.”

Book Recommendations on the History of Russia Forum

In a forum the members of recommended the following books on the History of Russia:


Does anyone have a good recommendation of a book discussing the history of Russia?


I am currently reading A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1917 which is quite good. Probably a better book to start with is Peter the Great by Robert Massie, one of the most interesting history books I ever read. Booth books cover different periods of time (do not overlap).


A little different take, check out the book Behind the Urals. It’s the story of John Scott, an American who went over and worked in the steel mills in the 1930s i9n the USSR. The book is a little bit of an autobiography, but more of a detailed account of life in the USSR at that time.


Russka by Edward Rutherford is a good historical fiction novel set in Russia over the ages. Not a history book perse but fun to read …and you can learn a bit… I like Rutherford and Michener types of books where I can learn about a country or geographical areas while being entertained at the same time…


Read Nicolas and Alexandra: Nicolas was a cousin of Prince of Wales… Also read some of Tolstoy novels, long and short. Read also some Solzhenitsin novels.

Patchy Groundfog

I recently read George, Nicolas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to War by Miranda Carter. It was fascinating…


I like Robert Service A History of Modern Russia, but it does not cover the entire Romanov dynasty… It does do a nice job with 20th century. Figes is good too, treating the revolutionary period nicely… Service might be a nice start. Later, if you want a (much) more conservative view, try Richard Pipes.


I just finished reading the latest book on Russia, The Return about Russian history from Gorbachev to the present. It gave a lot of new information.


Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum; The Long Walk; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.


Nicolas and Alexandra by Massie. Richard Pipes A Concise History of Russian Revolution …it is a good start for the Russian Revolution and Gulag by Applebaum is another good one.


For relatively modern Russian history, I recommend Sale of the Century: Russia’s Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism by Chrystia Freeland. It describes how Russia went from communism to kleptocracy.

From the Amazon review:
“In well-written first-person accounts, Freeland goes on to describe how scrappy entrepreneurs made overnight fortunes and then lost them just as quickly to widespread corruption and the 1998 Russian stock market crash. By the end of the 1990s, the economy was half what it had been at the start of the decade, producing less than Belgium and only 25 percent more than Poland. Meanwhile, power blackouts, wildcat strikes, and water shortages had become commonplace. Additionally, the ordinary citizen often grew worse off than before the fall of communism, while a powerful few came to own nearly everything.”

Valuethinker 1552-1917-Enlarged/dp/0674781198/ref=pd_sim_b_22…

I can’t vouch for readability but Hosking is very well respected. … 491&sr=1-1

“By the way, this is fascinating. In 1946 the world knew that the USSR had beaten Hitler, and that we were the minor player. 2 factors combined to obscure that truth:

The Cold War – not nice to admit that the war against fascism was won by the people who were now our mortal ideological enemies and it suited our stereotypes to cast the Red Army as big, dumb, brutal, advancing in terror with KGB troops behind to pick off stragglers (true, but an oversimplification: they became masters of modern mobile warfare, and German accounts complain of the ’savage cries of joy from Russian soldiers when they reach our lines. The barbarians lust for blood’. The Red Army became one of the great armies of modern history and won the most titanic war of modern history. ‘The Stalin Front’ as the German soldiers called it was never more nor less than the decisive campaign of WWII.

Russian embarassment – 28 million Soviet citizens died in WWII, and Stalin’s errors cost the lives of millions. It was in the USSR’s interests to hide the amount of damage done to the Soviet Union: physical and in terms of a ‘lost generation’, to make them seem stronger as a country against capitalism and the USA than they really were. Glantz found a whole offensive by Zhukov that failed, which was simply excised from history– a Soviet non-event.

Perhaps its no surprise that the country which invented ‘The Potemkin Village’ became a sort of Potemkin Village of communism.

It’s only since 1990 that historians have begun to redress that balance. German archives have told us just how much resources German put into fighting USSR (never less than 70% of their total war effort post June 1941, and sometimes much more). Recent historiography by western historians like David M Glantz have prompted a reappraisal of the Red Army (generally much better than we thought, particularly from late 1942 onwards) and of Russian losses (far, far bigger than we had estimated).

8 million military personnel and 20 million civilians are estimated to have died in the Great Patriotic War. I don’t believe that number includes all the people who died of disease or starvation in Siberia, say, because the resources were just not available to feed them ie an elevated civilian death rate during the war.

One of history’s most odious regimes (Comrade Stalin’s) beat what was probably history’s most systematically evil regime (since at least Genghis Khan). Proof that history loves an irony.

Glantz is the meister-historian of the Russian Army (in English) and Bellamy’s tale of that war is thorough and gripping.

If you want revolutionary Russian history as cinema, then the movie Reds (sympathetic to the Bolsheviks) and the excellent British spy series ‘Riley Ace of Spies’ (about a British agent who opposed them) is gripping.” … 143&sr=1-2


Xlibris Publishers has a new book that is being published now: “Voices From the Past: A Collection of Short Stories Preserving Facts and Thoughts for Posterity to Pause and Ponder” by Orest M. Gladky. If you are interested to know how the people lived in Russia/Soviet Union, you find there “pictures in words” of real history from 1917 to 1971 written by the witness of those terrible years in Russian history when the Bolsheviks were building the first socialist “paradise” on Russian soil. It will be available soon from Xlibris and from Amazon in soft, hard and eBook editions.


You’ve received about fifteen replies, but not one of them has provided you with what you asked for. Almost all of them deal with the 1917 revolution or its aftermath, up to the 1989 revolution: Russia’s Thermidor.

Here are a few suggestions, in descending order of excellence, that will give you what you want and more, which is to say that they go back further than 300 years–all the way to Kievan Rus:

Paul Milukov, A History of Russia (three volumes);

George Vernadsky, A History of Russia;

Bernard Pares, A History of Russia;

Nicholas v. Riasanovsky, A History of Russia;

Jesse D. Clarkson, A History of Russia

These authors’ English-speaking publishers obviously weren’t very imaginative and original in choosing their titles.

You also might want to read, in conjunction with one or more of these books, Marc Raeff’s Russian Intellectual History, an anthology.

Perhaps a more sure-footed guide such as Victoria will be able to improve on or augment my list.


I put in the 2 Hosking books. Imperial Russia and Bolshevik Russia.

Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917, Enlarged Edition [Paperback]

The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within, Second Enlarged Edition [Paperback]

Hosking is newer than some of those below, and he’s head of the School of Slavonic Studies at the University of London (which was the largest university in the world, at one point).

I did add the History of Russia in WWII, but that’s because I think it is a story that is under-told.


Russia at War by Alexander Werth


The Russians by Hedrick Smith (1975), the gold standard on the subject.


The Russians by Hedrick Smith (1975), the gold standard on the subject.
My brother worked for a French company that had a branch in the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles) in the seventies, and this company sent him to the former Soviet Union three times on business trips. He read Hedrick Smith’s book to familiarize himself with the culture, I guess. I say “I guess,” because my mother and father were Russian immigrants, so he just could have talked with them.


I am on the receiving side of this thread. The Russian history I was taught had been greatly distorted by the Soviet ideology. Now I am more interested in the Western topics than in the Russian past. Eventually, I may get back to this discussion and use it a reference to fill some of my knowledge gaps.

Having said that, War and Peace provides an excellent historical background.


Yes, War and Peace is a wonderful book (long though).

Of course, the Soviet distortion of Russian history is, in itself, an important aspect of history.


I’m no expert on Tolstoy, but I have read quite a bit of his output.

War and Peace is not so daunting if you decide in advance to skip the general discourses on history that punctuate the story. You’ll know when you run into one.

A couple of shorter, lesser-known works are Sevastopol and The Raid. The former is an early form of war journalism about the city’s siege during the Crimean War. The latter is a short story about a clash between government forces and rebels/terrorists/freedom fighters in Chechnya. Yup, those Chechens have been making trouble for a long time.


I would not recommend War and Peace as a history book. Love, drama, romance, war battles, etc. But history? Where did you see history there? In the skies that Volkonsky was looking at?


I will only add that if [one] is going to undertake a comprehensive survey of Russian history, he might as well begin at the beginning–about 500 years before Ivan the Terrible appeared on the scene.

(To be continued) (Page editing in progress)

Voices of Our Readers

Please add the books you recommend to other readers in the comments below

Please write your comments below:

Thank you for your comment.
The summary of excerpts from your comments may be shared on: Facebook,
Twitter, LinkedIn and other forums and websites/blogs and our Summary Report.