In recent years, Americans have come to view Russia under Vladimir Putin with growing alarm. Phrases like “the new Cold War” and “the return of the Soviet Union” have been cropping up in the press and social media. And recent revelations about Russian hacking of elections in the United States and Western Europe have exacerbated the fears.
To gain perspective on the reality behind the conventional wisdom, I recommend the following seven nonfiction books. You might gain additional perspective from the seven novels listed farther below. Each title is linked to my review, the headline of which appears within parentheses. Within each of the two groups, the books are listed in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names.
7 nonfiction books about modern Russia and the Russian Oligarchy
A History of Future Cities by Daniel Brook—Urbanization, globalization and the future of humanity
Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder (A true story of high finance and murder in Putin’s Russia)
Bill Browder was one of the first and biggest Western investors in Russia after the fall of Communism. His success there turned into a nightmare, which he describes in this book.
The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée—How a novel helped speed the collapse of the Soviet Union
The CIA printed thousands of copies of Boris Pasternak’s epic novel Doctor Zhivago and smuggled them into the Soviet Union in the 1950s in an effort to undermine the Communist regime.
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen (Vladimir Putin, the KGB, and the restoration of Soviet Russia)
The Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen is an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Her biography of Putin is unsparing but informed by intimate knowledge of Putin’s Russia.
Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win by Luke Harding, and
The Steele Dossier: Trump Intelligence Allegations by Christopher Steele (Collusion exposed, but is there more? Is Donald Trump a Russian agent?)
I reviewed these two books together. (The Steele Dossier is just 34 pages long.) Christopher Steele is the former MI6 officer who reported shocking collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian hierarchy. Guardian reporter Luke Harding offers evidence to prove that collusion between Trump and Putin is far more serious than the crimes that led to Watergate. (Robert Mueller and his team concluded they could not prosecute the case for collusion, but the evidence was abundant nonetheless—and obvious to any discerning observer.)
Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump by Michael Isikoff and David Corn (200 Russian hackers, Vladimir Putin and the 2016 election)
Russia Without Putin: Money, Power, and the Myths of the New Cold War by Tony Wood (Why is the Russian oligarchy hostile to the West?)
British journalist Tony Wood, who writes for Britain’s New Left Review, offers a perspective on Vladimir Putin and the oligarchy surrounding him that is at odds with what is widely believed—and, for the most part, he’s convincing.
7 novels about modern Russia and the Russian oligarchy
The Deceivers (John Wells #12) by Alex Berenson (Russia takes the next step in the latest John Wells spy novel)
Single & Single by John le Carre (Money-laundering and the Russian mob)
Defectors by Joseph Kanon (A superb new novel about defectors in Moscow)
The Kremlin’s Candidate (Red Sparrow Trilogy #3) by Jason Matthews (The gripping conclusion to the Red Sparrow Trilogy)
Breaking Cover (Liz Carlyle #9) by Stella Rimington (Russian agents under cover in the UK)
Three Stations (Arkady Renko #7) by Martin Cruz Smith (In an Arkady Renko novel, a look inside Russia under Putin)
On a much lighter note, check out Make Russia Great Again by Christopher Buckley (Satirizing Donald Trump is a tall order).
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