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11 Books To Read To Truly Understand Russian History

Photo by Nikita Karimov on Unsplash

Given the current political climate, it’s now, more than ever, important to understand the vast and, in places, quite complicated history of Russia. Here are 11 books you should read to truly understand Russian history.

#1 All the Kremlin’s Men by Mikhail Zygar

This is a truly gorgeous book on Russian history from 1995 till 2015 which traces the transformations of Putin and his inner circle during these years. It documents Vladimir Putin's ascent to become the most powerful Russian president in decades. It took the author seven years to collect the documents, interview current and former members of Moscow’s power elite and compile it into the book.

The Guardian called the book "one of the most compelling” reads written about Vladimir Putin.

It even mentions that Russia had some plans for annexation of Crimea back in 2013!

Want to read more reviews of this book or buy it? Check out the links below:

Contributors: Daria Prokopenko from Goat Digital

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#2 Red Famine by Anne Applebaum

Red Famine is a compelling read about the Soviet famine and Russia's attempt to starve Ukraine into submission. While there is much debate over what actually took place Applebaum offers a strong case full of historical perspective while also cataloging the many tragedies the Ukrainians suffered under Soviet subjugation.

Want to read more reviews of this book or buy it? Check out the links below:

Contributors: Caleb Backe from Maple Holistics

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#3 The Russian Revolution by Richard Pipes

Pipes was a breakthrough scholar and professor of Soviet/Russian studies. Not only a brilliant writer, but a brilliant scholar. If you're only going to read one book about the (complex and bloody) Russian Revolution, this is it.

Want to read more reviews of this book or buy it? Check out the links below:

Contributors: Carlota Zimmerman from Carlotaworldwide

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#4 The Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie

As someone who extensively studied Soviet and Russian history, I personally have no love for the final Romanov rules. They were incompetent rulers. (A joke in Soviet Russia was that the Soviets should have bestowed on the final Tsar a medal for his service to the creation of the Russian state.) But this book is utterly compelling in bringing to life a destroyed world. Compulsively readable.

Want to read more reviews of this book or buy it? Check out the links below:

Contributors: Carlota Zimmerman from Carlotaworldwide

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#5 A Course in Russian History by Vasili O. Kliuchevsky

A description of the Russian court life in the 18th century. Klyuchevski writes about Catherina the Great's rise to power, her personal life and her (inter)national policies. The book is based on memoirs of Catherina herself and other writings from people who lived during her time. A colorful book for those interested in a less well-known part of the Russian history.

Want to read more reviews of this book or buy it? Check out the links below:

Contributors: Arie Helderman from Learn The Russian Language

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#6 War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' is a great historical novel because it covers large chunks of the Franco-Russian conflict and its deep developments of characters gives one a good glimpse into that generation's psyche.

Want to read more reviews of this book or buy it? Check out the links below:

Contributors: Diana Stelin from The Plein-Air Art Academy

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#7 The Last of the Tsars by Robert Service

In his book Service describes the events which ultimately lead up to the Bolshevik revolution. The Last of the Tsars covers global events while maintaining intimacy by chronicling Tsar Kerensky’s personal life.

Want to read more reviews of this book or buy it? Check out the links below:

Contributors: Caleb Backe from Maple Holistics

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#8 Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Russia had been a burgeoning bastion of radical philosophy for generations, displayed perfectly by their literature. Russian literature offers depth almost if not unparalleled anywhere else. Well displayed in Dostoevsky's masterpiece Demons. Demons were modeled around the political turmoil of the 19th century and is rife with intensity and Dostoevsky predictions on how it will all turn out.

Want to read more reviews of this book or buy it? Check out the links below:

Contributors: Caleb Backe from Maple Holistics

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#9 Icon and Axe by James H. Billington

Consider it a highly-readable summation of a survey course to Russian culture. (Trump would do well to read this book, and thus understand that Putin's aspirations aren't so much friendship, as restoring historical Russia's mighty empire.) A bible of Russian culture and myth, what matters to the Russian soul and why.

Want to read more reviews of this book or buy it? Check out the links below:

Contributors: Carlota Zimmerman from Carlotaworldwide

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#10 Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Can't have a list of Russian history without talking about that pock-marked bastard who gleefully killed millions. Montefiore has written a book for layman and historians alike, a book that goes a long way towards making novices understand what it was like to live, and die, in the depths of his psychopathology, i.e. Soviet Russia.

Want to read more reviews of this book or buy it? Check out the links below:

Contributors: Carlota Zimmerman from Carlotaworldwide

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#11 The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Bulgakov's Master and Margarita ' is another amazing classic that teaches one a ton about the Russian society. Though written as a parody, it uncovers important elements about life in the USSR in the early 20th century.

Want to read more reviews of this book or buy it? Check out the links below:

Contributors: Diana Stelin from The Plein-Air Art Academy

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