So many books, so little time. ~Frank Zappa

Originally published in February 2018 / Updated May 2018

Before shipping from South Korea to Russia I shared the Russia content on my Kindle here. During the past two months I bought more books about Russia and read some of them, so I thought an update would be in order.

Guidebooks & Phrasebooks about Russia

Insight Guides sent us:

I always like to have a second guidebook, preferably in Dutch because they may include different issues, particularly when it comes to Dutch history. During our colonial history – of which we learn way too little in school – our ancestors have left footsteps, from tiny to giant, in many countries all over the world. Unfortunately, there is not a Dutch guidebook to be had about Russia.

My second favorite option is Bradt Guides, but while they supply a rich selection of books about the Stans and Mongolia, Russia is not (yet) on their list.

Lonely Planet is last on my list as I find their books too heavy on lists with Best Places to Eat, Sleep, which are not of interest to us. But alas, I like to have more than one guidebook so I bought the Lonely Planet Russia Guidebook, published in March.


Russia: A Short History, by Abraham Ascher

I found this a very readable, fascinating overview of Russia’s history from its early age to modern time with a focus on the last 300 years. Updated after Putin’s third election as president it includes very recent history.

Russia, what everyone needs to know, by Timothy J. Colton

Apart from an introduction to Russia’s history, this book gives an introduction to Russia’s political climate. Colton has written several books about Russia, so if I like this one, other titles may follow.

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, by Masha Gessen

Hopefully this book will help me understand the workings of Russia’s autocracy.

Secondhand Time; the Last of Soviets, the Unwomanly Face of War; history of women in WWII, and Voices from Chernobyl; the Oral History of Nuclear Disaster, by Svetlana Alexijevitsj.

This author and investigative journalist won the Nobel Price for literature in 2015 and her books have been recommended to us by various people.

Russia: Putin’s Playground: Empire, Revolution, & the New Tsar, by Anastasia Edel.


Alaska, by James Michener

While the focus of this book is on the history and development in Alaska, the first part of the book includes Russia, particularly the colonization of East Siberia and the hunt for sea lions in that region. I find it one of this author’s most engaging books.

Why is the Hanging Noodles book in a search on Russia in my Calibre Library? Well, the intro of the book goes like this: “‘I’m not hanging noodles from your ear.’ In Moscow, this curious, engagingly colorful assertion is common parlance, but unless you’re Russian your reaction is probably ‘Say what?’ The same idea in English is equally odd: ‘I’m not pulling your leg.’ Both mean: ‘Believe me’.”

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: A Novel, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

In the madness of World War II, a dutiful Russian soldier is wrongfully convicted of treason and sentenced to ten years in a Siberian labor camp. I’d like to read The Gulag Archipelago as well, his most controversial work (non-fiction) but it’s not available on Kindle.

borsh, beet soup

(Travel) Memoirs

Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys across a Changing Russia, by Lisa Dickey

Lisa’s three journeys across Russia, in 1995, 2005, and 2015, detail the lives of people and their changes over those years in various parts of the country.

Off the Rails: 10,000 km in fourteen months – Russia, Siberia, Mongolia, and China, by Tim Cope and Chris Hatherly

This story had me captivated from beginning to end. What a feat to cycle on recumbent bikes in all seasons through such wilderness. Kudos to them.

Prisoner of the OGPU: Four Years in a Soviet Labor Camp, by George Kitchin

After hearing from a couple of Russians that they doubt whether it was really that bad in the gulags, or if it did happen it needed to be done for a greater good, I figured I had some reading to do. Unable to buy the above-mentioned Gulag Archipelago, I bought this.

What can I say? It’s a harrowing story and reading it with the critical notes from locals in my mind, I’d argue that even if only ten percent were true and the rest lies or exaggerated, this kind of treatment is still unacceptable for a greater good of a country.


Time to read up on some classic Russian literature by Leo Tolstoy such as War and Peace, and Anna Karenina.

In Dutch

Rusland voor Gevorderden, by Jelle Brandt Corstius

Jelle woonde en werkte in Rusland als correspondent voor Trouw en RTL Nieuws. Dit boek gaat over zijn reisen in Rusland, is makkelijk te lezen en vol met leuke anecdotes die bizarre aspecten van het land laat zien op een respectvolle manier. Andere titels die ik mogelijk ga lezen zijn Kleine Landjes (over de Kaukasus)  en Van Moskou tot Medan.

Jelle Brandt Corstius heeft ook documentares gemaakt over Rusland: Van Moskou tot MagadanGrensland, en Van Sochi tot Yerevan.

The Zolotoy Rog Bay Bridge (Golden Horn Bridge)

All this should provide me some insights into the history, politics, and culture of Russia, although I am well aware that a handful of books and traveling in such a vast country for merely a year will only allow me to scrape the surface. But it’s a beginning. Next, I’d like to find a couple of good movies about Russia.

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What book (or movie) on Russia do you think we should add to our list? Please share in the comment section below. Thanks!

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