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Beyond the Headlines: Reading Russia, Ukraine, and the West

If you're a news junkie like me, there are times when even the cornucopia of journalism available isn't enough to sate your curiosity or answer all of your questions. It's just too hard to fit the history of the Cold War or the shifting boundaries of Eastern Europe into a six-minute news segment on NPR, or even into the more lavish spread of a newspaper or magazine article. The escalating tensions between Russia, Ukraine, and the West are haunted by the complex specters of the Tsarist Empire and Soviet Russia, with their attendant histories of annexation, persecution, and battling ideologies both within their borders and with the West. If you're feeling lost in the news, or simply want to learn more, try one of the excellent books below. 
Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman — from World War to Cold War
by Michael Dobbs

This clear and scholarly account of the sixth-month period between the end of World War II and the dissolution of the alliance established by FDR, Stalin, and Churchill is the first book in Dobbs's masterful Cold War Trilogy. Critics would be justified in pointing out the author's Western bias (Roosevelt definitely gets more love than Stalin), but a more accessible, character-driven examination of the lead-up to the Cold War is hard to find.

Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
by Anne Applebaum

Applebaum's account of the creation of the Soviet Bloc is meticulously researched and gracefully written. A prizewinning journalist with familial and professional ties to Eastern Europe, Applebaum is uniquely situated to observe the political and cultural consequences of totalitarian rule. Iron Curtain can be unrelenting in its exposure and condemnation of midcentury Communist regimes, but Applebaum provides scrupulous support for her arguments, and readers will be rewarded with a much deeper understanding of policy and daily life under Stalin.

Russians: The People behind the Power
by Gregory Feifer

Feifer's stated goal in this fascinating cultural history is to explain what "makes Russia Russian." Using both his family history and hundreds of conversations with locals ranging from Siberia to the North Caucasus, Feifer examines vodka, oligarchy, poverty, and Putin's surprising popularity in an attempt to nail down the Russian character. Feifer's (critical) enthusiasm for Russian culture provides a nice foil for the more pessimistic titles in this reading list.

Man without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
by Masha Gessen

Gessen is the now-famous Russian expatriate author of Words Will Break Cement, which tells the story of the imprisoned punk protest group Pussy Riot. But before Pussy Riot she turned her discerning gaze on the rise and reign of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The result is a fearless insider account of autocracy and oligarchy in today's Russia.

Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition
by Orest Subtelny

Subtelny's Ukraine: A History is easily the definitive English-language history of Ukraine. The fourth edition carries the reader through the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution and Yushchenko presidency, and Subtelny's quiet hope for a more democratized Ukraine linked with Europe is fascinating in light of current events.

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Rhianna is Powell's history and social science book buyer.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin,... New Trade Paper $16.95
  2. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of... Used Trade Paper $10.00
  3. Russians: The People Behind the Power Used Hardcover $14.00
  4. The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely... Used Trade Paper $10.95
  5. Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition Used Trade Paper $47.00
  6. Words Will Break Cement: The Passion...
    Sale Trade Paper $7.98

One Response to "Beyond the Headlines: Reading Russia, Ukraine, and the West"

    Barbara May 1st, 2014 at 9:06 am

    This says it: "...even the cornucopia of journalism available isn't enough to sate your curiosity or answer all of your questions." I hope you will share other recommendations with the news, please. Thank you for this blog!

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