Read before you go! Russia has always been a mysterious draw for Americans, enjoying a steady popularity among travelers, artists and journalists alike. Check out some of our favorite literature from the area:
Peter Waldron. Russia of the Tsars. Waldron recounts the exploits of Peter the Great, the Tsars and the splendor of their capital city, St. Petersburg, in this lively, well-illustrated and compact overview of the largest and most diverse empire of its day.
Masha Gessen. The Man Without a Face, The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. A Russian-American journalist living in Moscow, Masha Gessen demolishes the many myths and legends surrounding Vladimir Putin and his transformation from unexceptional KGB bureaucrat to the most powerful man in Russia. No fan of the man, who she calls a “hoodlum turned iron-handed ruler,” Gessen is brave — and optimistic that his time will soon come.
Robert Chandler. Russian Short Stories. This fine collection of tales captures the sweep and soul of Russian literature, including works by Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Tolstoy along with lesser-known greats.
David Remnick. Lenin’s Tomb. A gripping eyewitness tale of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Remnick, the Washington Post reporter on the scene, combines fine historical scholarship with great storytelling.
Clifford Gaddy. Mr. Putin, Operative in the Kremlin. Drawing on a range of sources, including their own personal encounters, two fellows at the Brookings Institution describe six of Putin’s most essential idetities: the Statist, the History Man, the Survivalist, the Outsider, the Free Marketeer, and the Case Officer.
Orlando Figes. Natasha’s Dance, A Cultural History of Russia. In this lively cultural history, Figes looks at both the great works by Russian masters and longstanding folk traditions. The title is drawn from a scene of Tolstoy’s War and Peace in which a European-educated countess performs a peasant dance.
Michael Farquhar. Secret Lives of the Tsars, Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia. A scandalous tell-all about Russia’s ruling class. Farquhar skips over the dryer parts of history to deliver the jaw-dropping morsels about Catherine the Great’s affinity for young lovers and Peter the Great’s proclivity for beheading his subjects.
W. Bruce Lincoln. Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia. A wonderfully written, informative portrait of St. Petersburg, focusing on the city’s development in the 18th and 19th centuries as Russia’s “window on the West.” Highly recommended for travelers with an interest in the character and significance of the city and its monuments.
Patricia Herlihy. Vodka, A Global History. A professor of history at Brown, Herlihy tracks our fascination with this most versatile of spirits from its mysterious 14th-century Slavic origins to today’s global dominance in this brief yet thoroughly entertaining, erudite and illustrated history. A volume in the lively Edible History Series.
George Hamilton/Judith Gordon. The Art and Architecture of Russia. An elegantly written introduction to the art and architecture of Russia. Published in 1954, it’s a good handbook for the traveler that goes beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg. Includes 314 black-and-white illustrations.
Olegs Yakovlevichs Neverov. The Hermitage Collections. This sumptous visual survey celebrates the museum, its history and collections.
Robert Massie. Peter the Great, His Life and World. In this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Massie portrays the giant of history who transformed Russia from backwater tsardom into a major empire.
Robert Massie. Catherine the Great. Eager readers of Massie’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Peter the Great will not be disappointed by this latest, an old-fashioned tale of politics, power and 18th-century Europe, drawing effectively from the ambitious Catherine’s own memoirs.
Vladimir Nabokov. Speak, Memory. Nabokov’s richly imagined memoir wonderfully evokes cultural life among the well-to-do in turn-of-the-century St. Petersburg. Nabokov called his childhood home, now a museum off St Isaac’s Square, “the only house in the world.”
Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin. The Captain’s Daughter and Other Stories. This collection of short stories from the Russian poet and master storyteller opens with his famous novella, The Captain’s Daughter, set against the events of the Pugachov uprising during the reign of Catherine the Great, and contains eight additional tales, all rendered in Pushkin’s simple, elegant prose and beautifully evocative of the caprices of Tsarist Russia.
Debra Dean. The Madonnas of Leningrad. Dean effortlessly interweaves two epochs of a woman’s life — Marina’s wartime experiences as a young guide at the Hermitage during the Siege of Leningrad and her life as an 82-year-old Seattle resident struggling with Alzheimer’s. A remarkable debut novel.
Boris Akunin/Andrew Bromfield. The Winter Queen. Akunin sets a suspected murder among the glitterati of late 19th-century Moscow in this first book in the series of clever detective novels starring the rascal Erast Fandorin, wildly popular in Russia.