20 Books to Read Before Visiting Russia

This morning I booked a solo July trip to Russia. I’ve long been fascinated by the country (the Hermitage! the Bolshoi!) and can’t wait to experience it first hand. I’ll be there for six days, splitting my time between Moscow and St. Petersburg, and want to visit all the best sites. In preparation for my Russian adventure I’m going to be doing a lot of reading. Below is a rather ambitious Russia reading list (the only one I’ve tackled thus far is Anna Karenina–so good!). Any additions you’d suggest…? Have you been to Russia? As always, I would love to hear your tips on what to see and do!

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

The Romanovs: 1613-1918

A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel

Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia

Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia

War and Peace

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra

St. Petersburg: Architecture of the Tsars

The Girl from the Metropol Hotel: Growing Up in Communist Russia

Anna Karenina

Peter the Great: His Life and World

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing

The Hermitage Museum: Treasures from the Complete Collections (the malachite!)

The Chosen Maiden

The Empress of Art: Catherine the Great and the Transformation of Russia

The Madonnas of Leningrad: A Novel

Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today

The Hermitage Collections

Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty

Doctor Zhivago

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10 comments on “20 Books to Read Before Visiting Russia

  1. Angela

    For a memoir of the gulag, read Journey into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

    I haven’t read it myself, but everyone raves about The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

  2. varya

    Wow! That is a daunting list to finish before your trip but probably all worth while in one way or another. I would add Nadezhda Mandelstam’s memoirs to it.(especially Hope Against Hope) When I am in Russia,bits and pieces of it clearly echo….even after all this time. Sincerely wishing you a wonderful trip full of beauty and insight.

  3. Kelly

    Hi Katie, I went to Moscow for the first time ever in October. We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton which was super luxurious and very close to Red Square. We booked a private walking tour which even took us inside the Kremlin. The tour guide was great because in many of the museums the plaques are not in English so you wouldn’t be able to read them. Dinner at the White Rabbit was a highlight, so if you’re able to get a reservation, you must go!! It is the best view of Moscow. Hope this helps. Enjoy the trip!

  4. Sarah

    I’m actually currently reading The Romanovs, and it is an extremely well-written book. It is extremely interesting and sometimes the details and writing is so good that you forget you’re reading a non-fiction book! I definitely recommend reading it.

  5. Alison

    Great list! The only one I’ve read is Gentleman in Moscow which I highly recommend. It takes place in The Metropol Hotel so I was intrigued to see The Girl From The Metropol Hotel on your list.

    Enjoy your trip!

  6. Katherine

    I spent 10 days in Russia a year ago (5 days in Moscow and 5 days in St Petersburg) and it was absolutely my favorite trip I’ve ever taken. My boyfriend and I had it on our bucket list for the history and art, and the trip exceeded every expectation. We stayed in airbnbs, did a ton of museums, and had some incredible meals (we still dream of the pelmeni!) I have tons and tons of recs and tips if you want them! So excited for you! xx

  7. Ksu

    I am from Russia, just found your post, while doing some research for my University essay. It ‘s very interesting to read this – a lot of books we’ve hardly know here.
    Yes, I recommend The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and if you like short novels you can choose Anton Chekhov or Ivan Bunin short stories – you find there native russian spirit.
    Wish you enjoy this trip, hope you won’t be disappointed!

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