Below are six books that shed light on the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, a shocking event, which may seem inexplicable, but only to those of us who don’t know the context. The titles are linked to their Amazon page; I also include a link to the lists that each comes from, which feature many more books on the subject.
Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine
Anne Applebaum, a writer for the Atlantic Magazine and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag, examines Stalin’s disastrous policy starting in 1929 of pushing peasants off their land and onto collective farms, arguing that more than three million of the people who died from the resulting famine were Ukrainians who perished not because they were accidental victims of a bad policy but because the state deliberately set out to kill them.
This is one of the books recommended in lists on the Ukraine crisis by BookRiot, the Brooklyn Public Library, Literary Hub and the New York Times
The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy, one of the foremost experts on Ukraine and the former USSR as director of Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute. A concise, authoritative history of Ukraine.
This is one of the books recommended in lists on the Ukraine crisis by the Brooklyn Public Library, Literary Hub and the New York Times
Serhii Plokhy has put together his own list.
Ukraine and Russia: From Civilied Divorce to Uncivil War by Paul D’Anieri. “He starts in the late the 1980s and goes up to when the book was published in 2019, so when the war had already started, and the first stage of the war had passed. His argument is basically twofold. Firstly, that the roots of this story are in the history of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and how it fell apart. He stresses the importance of Ukraine in that process…His other big argument is that the war became almost inevitable…Ukraine becomes a democratic state; Russia moves in an authoritarian direction.” This book is on Plokhy’s list on FiveBooks.com
Ukraine: What Everyone Needs to Know®
A basic primer, originally written in 2015, and updated in 2020. “If people are interested in the subject,” Plokhy says, “that’s where I suggest they start.” This book is on Plokhy’s list on FiveBooks.com and the Brooklyn Public Library,
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen, the brilliant Russian-born journalist for The New Yorker Magazine, one of the first ever books in the West about Putin, “the chilling account of how a low-level, small-minded KGB operative ascended to the Russian presidency and, in an astonishingly short time, destroyed years of progress, making his country once more a threat to her own people and to the world. Handpicked as a successor by the “family” surrounding an ailing and increasingly unpopular Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin seemed like the perfect choice for the oligarchy to shape according to its own designs…” This is one of the books recommended on the lists of the Brooklyn Public Library and Literary Hub
Jews and Ukrainians in Russia’s Literary Borderlands: From the Shtetl Fair to the Petersburg Bookshop (Studies in Russian Literature and Theory) by Amelia Glaser.
This book is recommended by Yale historian Marci Shore in FiveBooks.com’s The best books on Ukraine. (evidently put together before the 2022 invasion.) In an interview with Eve Gerber, Prof. Shore explains: “’Ukraine’ means borderlands. In the territory that is now present-day Ukraine, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Yiddish and German languages, literatures, humors, cultures, joys and despairs intermingled for hundreds of years. In this study spanning the century from 1829 to 1929, Glaser leads us into encounters among the most variegated characters. The book takes us through the First World War, the fall of the tsarist empire, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the Civil War that followed. In these years, Kyiv alone was occupied by five different armies; the confusion was breathtaking—the literature as well.”