There are many great books about the Soviet Union worth reading if you’re into history and keen to learn more. This is a guide to eleven detailed and informative USSR books that we think will give you a better understanding of the Soviet Union. Many are accounts and contain a lot of insight while the rest offer a different perspective (architecture and food).
TABLE OF CONTENTS
11 Insightful Books about the Soviet Union Worth Reading
The history of the Soviet Union has long fascinated me- from the start of the empire when the peasants rose up against the establishment and Lenin’s Bolshevik Red Army stormed the winter gardens to the fall of the empire and the events that led up to its collapse.
I can’t pinpoint what spurred my fascination from such a young age because I don’t agree with the principles and political ideologies of those that were in charge. Maybe my fascination came from growing up in the United States and being born during a time when the Cold War was at its height.
The fear of all-out nuclear war and destruction led me to be intrigued by this secretive empire and filled me with the urge to know everything there is to know about it.
About the USSR
Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was little information about what was happening inside of the empire. Rulers died and were replaced by upper members of the communist party who may have had different ideas of the future but still kept the union shrouded in secrecy.
The lengths the Central Committee went to keep secrets was insane, even trying to cover up the world’s worst nuclear disaster from western powers and those within a small vicinity of the powerplant. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, information suddenly started freely flowing with people no longer in fear of the authorities in charge.
The best way to learn all about the Soviet Union is via books about the USSR and thankfully, these are now in abundance. I have spent days on end absorbed in books about the Soviet Union covering a magnitude of topics- from books about Chernobyl and bioweapons to those about the Caucuses and even books about Soviet architecture. I am constantly craving more information and often I’ll procrastinate searching for books on Amazon to fulfill my insatiable need for more knowledge and information.
This guide will take you through the eleven best books about the Soviet Union to help you get as much knowledge as possible. I have tried to include books that cover a broad range of topics, from the books that inspired Lenin to those that detail the once kept secrets of this powerful regime.
Books That Inspired The Soviet Union
The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition (Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels)
The Communist Manifesto is probably one of the books that has impacted the world the most. The book is an introduction to Marxism, an ideology that inspired Lenin to lead the masses to rise up against the ruling elite and try to work for a fairer society for the working classes.
This eventually led to the creation of the Soviet Union and the world splitting into two political ideologies. Marx was born in Trier and formed his views on the Proletariat rising up and creating a communist state while learning about the way the industrial revolution impacted the lives of the lower classes in countries like France and the United Kingdom.
However, I imagine that little did he realize how much of an impact he would have on the modern world and the lives of the people within the republics of the Soviet Union.
Essential Works of Lenin: “What Is to Be Done?” and Other Writings
To fully understand the build-up to the Russian revolution and how the Soviet Union formed, you need to read the works of Lenin. Lenin shaped the world like no other politician. His political and philosophical standing was backed up with a dogged determination to change the standing of the working classes.
The Essential Works of Lenin is the best insight into the world Bolshevism and the makings of one of the world’s most important revolutions. The Works of Lenin, in some way, superseded that of Marx as in many ways he was able to create the Marxist dream of a Dictatorship of The Proletariat that Marx believed was the only way for the world to be truly equal.
Books About The History Of The Soviet Union
Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History (Orlando Figes)
Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History is a great book to learn about the Soviet dream from its roots in the 1891 famine to its eventual demise as the dreams of Lenin and collapsed into a world of corruption and pseudo capitalism.
As many other books do not cover the early start of Socialism in Russia, you often do not get the full story of how Marxism spread throughout Russia and led to split into two different factions of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.
The USSR book also looks at the years after Lenin took control of Russia and the Soviet Union was formed and how the powers tried to keep the Communist dream alive until the USSR eventually collapsed in 1991.
Red Star over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the Death of Stalin (David King)
David King’s book Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the Death of Stalin covers the first part of the Soviet Union from the creation to the death of the tyrannical leader Stalin. Over the years, he has collected images, posters, and literature from the Soviet Union and became the owner of one of the most extensive collections of Soviet-era printed artifacts.
In this book, he looks at how the government used the printed form to push the Communist message to the workers and citizens of the republics. He also looks at how Stalin used to propaganda to not only keep workers on track, but also strike fear into the hearts of everyday people who were already living in a state of paranoia and fear as Stalin’s purges became more and more extreme.
The mixture of stunning images and posters from the era and David King’s informative writings make this one of the best accounts of early Soviet history.
The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union (Serhii Plokhy)
There is an abundance of rumors that swirl around when it comes to how the Soviet Union broke apart. Serhii Plokhy looks to cut through these rumors in his book The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union and tell you the true story from those who were part of the fall. Using interviews and recently declassified documents, he was able to paint the perfect picture of the final six months of the Soviet Empire.
As the book about the Soviet Union details almost a day by day blow of the last months, you gain a further understanding of just how the collapse happened and that maybe it wasn’t the dreamy allure of democracy that really brought down the Soviet Union. The USSR book also takes a look at how the collapse continues to affect the world today, especially in the context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Eight Pieces of Empire: A 20-Year Journey Through the Soviet Collapse (Lawrence Scott Sheets)
Eight Pieces of Empire: A 20-Year Journey Through the Soviet Collapse takes a fascinating look at how the collapse of the Soviet Union impacted various republics across the empire. As the Union’s tight grip loosened, people started to gain new freedoms and governments and national borders had to be reestablished and once tightly controlled countries need to forge their own national identity.
The author takes an in-depth look at how various republics emerged from the chaos of the collapse into new and, in some cases, more destructive chaos as civil and national wars broke out in the Caucuses, authoritative regimes took power in Central Asia, and Ukraine was left to deal with the world’s worst nuclear disaster clean up.
The book is a thrilling read from start to end and has a more personal feel to it compared to many other books about the collapse of the union.
Books About The Hidden Soviet Union
Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World- Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It (Alibek & Handelman)
Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World- Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It is the story of the USSR’s biological warfare program from the man who ran it. Despite Biological weapons being banned in 1972, in agreement with all the world powers, the Soviet Union continued to produce bioweapons on a massive scale. They were driven by the paranoia that the Americans were producing them in just as high volumes and planned to use them to destroy the empire.
The enthralling book details how the weapons were produced and the great lengths the central committee went to cover up this illicit activity, including the fact that an accident at a plant caused an anthrax leakage into a small town killing many people.
Along with covering the more industrial side of biological warfare, the author details the personal effect his career had on him and how he grappled with his conscious over creating such weapons. The book will keep you captivated from start to finish, as you sit astounded at how ruthless and paranoid the regime really was.
Voices from Chernobyl (Svetlana Alexievich)
There is plenty of information out in the public domain about the Chernobyl disaster and how it came to happen, but the story of normal people and especially those located in what is now Belarus is often unheard.
The Nobel Prize in Literature book Voices from Chernobyl looks to provide a voice to those whose lives were turned upside down by the disaster and the ongoing health problems it causes. The author, Svetlana Alexievich, dedicated years interviewing those affected by the tragedy in Belarus. Those interviewed often have had nowhere to direct their anger at the powers that allowed the disaster to happen and attempted to hide it from the public, endangering thousands of lives as radioactive matter fell around them.
The book is so important that the writers of the hit TV show Chernobyl used it to help write the human elements of the show’s characters. Sadly, the fallout from Chernobyl is still making people sick, with the author of the book now suffering from immune deficiencies developed while researching the book. This is a great book to read before going on a tour of Chernobyl.
For my suggested reading about the Chernobyl disaster, check out my guide to the best books on Chernobyl.
Books About Soviet Architecture, Art, and Cooking
CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed (Frédéric Chaubin)
Frédéric Chaubin’s fantastic book, CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed, is an amazing collection of photographs of some of the most outlandish buildings of the Soviet Union. When people think of the Soviet Union’s architecture, they often stereotype large, grey housing blocks that are simply functional eyesores.
However, this is not the full story- there are many fantastic buildings that are often seemingly shaped like something out of this world. The architectural feats of the buildings is truly amazing, although many of these buildings are pretty ramshackle these days.
Luckily, this fantastic book shows the buildings in their full glory with gorgeous photographs and short descriptions of each building. Although the book is more of a coffee table book, it is a great resource for those interested in the architectural stylings of the time and it is a great asset when planning a trip to a former republic.
If you are looking for more books about Soviet architecture check out my guide about Soviet architecture books.
CCCP COOKBOOK: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine (Olga Syutkin)
The food of the Soviet Union has two stories- that of the common worker and that of the political elite, both of which contained more dill than you can imagine (sorry, had to throw that in there). While the USSR often failed to provide enough food for the country, those that suffered were the average citizens while those at the top of the supposedly equal pile ate opulent banquets and delicious meals.
The CCCP Cookbook: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine looks at both sides of the menu and provides recipes used by the working classes, such as simple soups utilizing the limited ingredients available and the recipes that fed the rich and powerful that had no limits.
Each recipe comes with an anecdotal story from the time, placing some fascinating context around these intriguing recipes. Unlike most modern cookbooks, the book uses illustrations from old cookbooks of the time to give a more authentic and rustic feel to the USSR book.
Russian Revolutionary Posters: From Civil War to Socialist Realism, From Bolshevism to the End of Stalinism (David King)
David King has spent years collecting Soviet propaganda posters, dating back from the start of the Russian revolution and throughout the rest of the Soviet Union’s history. The book about the Soviet Union provides an amazing glimpse at the lengths the powers went to control the thoughts and actions of the masses using in your face propaganda.
The posters, once common throughout the republics, are now considered works of art in their own right. Russian Revolutionary Posters is a stunning collection of some of the best posters produced at the time. Each poster has some information around it along with translations from Russian to English so you can fully understand the message trying to be conveyed.
The book is more of a coffee table book than one you would read on your way to work, but it is still an amazing resource for those wanting to understand more about the use of propaganda at the time.
I hope you found something in this guide to books about the Soviet Union guide that can help you understand things more (or cook tasty dishes!) If you have any good USSR books that you recommend, please drop them in the comments for readers. Thanks!