This essay first appeared in the February 2024 issue of Choice (volume 61 | issue 6)
After a two-decade hiatus following the end of the Cold War, demand for books about Russia has exploded in the last decade. Ever since the 2014 occupation of Crimea, the efforts to influence the 2016 US elections, and now the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, books about Vladimir Putin’s Russia are a hot commodity. This essay seeks to guide readers wishing to explore this burgeoning literature by offering a survey of those works that will be most useful for offering historical perspective and understanding of the invasion of Ukraine and the nature and origins of Putin’s regime. It is by no means comprehensive, in terms of both the books included and the topics covered. Rather, it seeks to provide nonspecialists, undergraduates, and general readers with a starting point for research, one that helps guide the reader toward useful and accurate works and away from instant books and sensationalism.
The books featured in this essay share one major characteristic. All of them have been published since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the vast majority have been published in this century. There was an extensive selection of books published regarding Russia and/or the USSR during the course of the twentieth century. However, none of those authors enjoyed access to archives controlled by the Soviet state. Authors working since 1991 have had access to these archives and other previously unavailable primary sources, and as a result have developed a much richer and more sophisticated understanding of modern Russian history. Readers who want to explore the older literature on twentieth-century Russia will find plenty of citations to it in the works referenced below.
David M. Durant is Associate Professor/Federal Documents & Social Sciences Librarian at East Carolina University, in Greenville, NC. He holds a Master of Science in Library & Information Services from the School of Information, University of Michigan, and an MA in Russian and Soviet History from the University of California, Los Angeles. He has written two books: Reading in a Digital Age and Congress and Countersubversion in the 20th Century: Aspects and Legacies. He has also published articles in portal: Libraries and the Academy, Library Journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Against the Grain, as well as numerous book reviews for Choice.
“Russia is a country with a certain future; it is only its past that is unpredictable.”
— Soviet era joke. (Quoted in Galeotti, A Short History of Russia, 9)