I’ve collected 21 of my favorite books — both fiction and non-fiction — read for you by engaging and entertaining narrators.
Get Out Your Headphones!
The end of summer is here and with it a return to the normal routine — or whatever passes for normal now. Perhaps you are carpooling, doing housework, or contemplating tackling those nagging DIY projects, or completely Marie Kondo-ing the garage? Whatever you’ve got planned, these are great opportunities to get stuck into a long, absorbing audiobook. And what could be longer or more absorbing than a book about Russia?
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Book # 1
Putin's People | by Catherine Belton, Narrated by Dugald Bruce-Lockhart
Investigative journalist and former Moscow correspondent Catherine Belton’s meticulously researched examination of the rise to power of Vladimir Putin and his inner circle reads like a thriller. There are a lot of moving parts in “Putin’s People,” but Belton deftly juggles them to produce a vibrant picture of the reassertion of Russian power and the suppression of any opposition. The book was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Pushkin Prize.
Book # 2
The Romanovs |
by Simon Seabag-Montefiore
Narrated by Simon Beale
Simon Seabag-Montefiore’s account of the twenty tsars and tsarinas who ruled Russia from 1613 to 1918 is an engaging and entertaining listen. Simon Beale’s narration only enhances this excellent account of a dazzling and opulent dynasty that ruled the world’s largest country. Montefiore’s research is superb, drawing on new archival information that offers new insights into pre-revolutionary Russia.
Book # 3
Have Personality Disorder, Will Rule Russia | Written and Narrated by Jennifer Eremeeva
My own humble contribution to the cannon offers a quick and entertaining look at almost two millennia of Russian history, from the early Slavic tribes inviting a Varangian Prince to rule over them to Vladimir Putin’s second administration. The book also offers an extensive reading list to explore Russian history further.
Book # 4
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra | by Helen Rappaport, Narrated by Xe Sands
Veteran Russian historian Helen Rappaport delves into the lives of the doomed four Grand Duchesses of Russia: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia to paint a portrait of four individuals rather than a two-dimensional collective. Drawing on diaries and letters and first-person sources, Rappaport fleshes out the lives of these four daughters of Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. For any Romanov devotee, this is a must listen, very well narrated by Xe Sands.
Book # 5
Russia in Flames: War, Revolution, Civil War 1914-1921 |
by Laura Engelstein, Narrated by Anne Flosnik
In this compelling account of the tumultuous years of 1914 – 1921, Laura Engelstein considers the seismic events of the seven years in terms of a struggle for power on many levels as Russians became emancipated from the authoritarian yoke of Romanov rule only to become ensnared by a total takeover of society by the Bolsheviks. Anne Flosnik’s narration enhances this exceptional work of scholarship.
Book # 6
Rasputin | by Douglas Smith, Narrated by PJ Ochlan
Douglas Smith takes on one of the towering legends of Russian history: the “mad monk” Grigory Rasputin, who enjoyed the confidence of Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra thanks to his ability to ease the sufferings of their sickly son, Tsarevich Alexei. Seen as a holy prophet by some, known for his debauchery and disastrous political influence on the tsarina, Rasputin has always been a figure of hyperbolic myth. Douglas Smith cuts through the hype in this excellent biography, presenting a cogent portrait of the real Grigory Rasputin.
Book # 7
The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia |
by Orlando Figes, Narrated by John Telfer
Orlando Figes’s voluminous account of how Russians endured one of the darkest chapters of their history: the rule of Josef Stalin. Using letters, diaries, memoirs, and interviews, Figes paints an unforgettable picture of a society numbed by terror, as blameless victims disappeared into the maw of political repression. Though there are many accounts of this era, Figes’s assiduous focus on the personal and private aspect of life makes for a gripping read.
Book # 8
Classics of Russian Literature from The Great Courses | Irwin Weil
If you yearn to dive into Russian literature and are looking for the perfect teacher, look no further. Irwin Weil’s 36 lectures bring the canon to vibrant life. Passionate and engaging, Weil’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious, as he discusses the works of Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Gogol as well as introducing lesser-known authors. Taken as a whole, this Great Courses lecture series offers a magnificent exploration of the remarkable tradition of Russian literature from the earliest epic poetry to the politically charged novels of the 20th century. Perfect for a long drive or a hands-engaged/mind-free project.
Book # 9
The Anna Karenina Fix | by Viv Groskop, Narrated by Julia Knippen.
Journalist and broadcaster Viv Groskop turns to the titans of Russian literature as literary life coaches to answer the question “how should you live your life.” In crisp, well-constructed essays, Groskop probes the human experience through the lens of her passion for Russian literature in a book that will have universal appeal. Read by Julia Knippen.
Book # 10
The Wives: The Women Behind Russia’s Literary Giants | by Alexandra Popoff, Narrated by Susan Finch
Behind many of the towering titans of Russian literature stood several women whose roles in their husband’s lives and work were often overlooked. From Sophia Tolstoy, who made fair copies of her husband’s illegible writing at night while he slept, to stenographer-turned publisher Anna Dostoyevsky and so many more, these shadowy figures come into brilliant focus in Alexandra Popoff’s brilliant account of the women who struggled to get their husband’s work published, read, and preserved for posterity.
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Book # 11
Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia | by Orlando Figes, Narrated by Ric Jerrom
Orlando Figes traces the arc of Russian culture in this seminal work, weaving together art, architecture, religion, ballet, music, poetry, literature, as well as social traditions into a magnificent portrait of a civilization that enriched the world with its expansive output. The book also explores the essential “Russianness” epitomized by the aristocratic Countess Natasha Rostova in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” instinctively knowing the steps of a Russian folk dance. A brilliant portrait of a country and its culture.
Book # 12
The Revolution of Marina M | by Janet Fitch, Narrated by Yelena Shmulenson
Janet Fitch brings the era of Russia’s revolution to brilliant life in this sweeping epic novel, told through the eyes of a young poet, Marina Makarova. Though well-born, Marina’s sympathies are on the sides of the masses as they struggle to break free from tsarist rule. Marina comes of age against a backdrop of devastating violence, but also experiences passion and sorrow. The story is well narrated by Yelena Shmulenson, whose slight Slavic intonation helps create the mood of the book. The story continues in a sequel, Chimes of a Lost Cathedral.
Book # 13
Doctor Zhivago | by Boris Pasternack, Narrated by John Lee
John Lee’s deep dulcet tones add another layer of appeal to this perennial favorite novel set in revolutionary and Civil War Russia. Boris Pasternak’s epic tale Yuri Zhivago who comes of age in the twilight of Imperial Russia serves on the front as a medic during World War I and becomes meshed in the bitter struggles between the Red and White armies during the Civil War. Caught between his love for his family and his passion for the beautiful Lara, Zhivago expresses his anguish in his vivid poetry. If you loved the film, you will find the book has so much more to it.
Book # 14
Life and Fate | BBC Radio 4's eight-hour radio play
Kenneth Branagh and Janet Suzman lead the cast in this outstanding BBC Radio 4’s eight-hour adaptation of Vasily Grossman’s epic “Life and Fate,” which follows characters in and around the fierce Battle of Stalingrad. Grossman’s experiences as an embedded journalist during the war helped to craft this powerful novel, which was banned in the Soviet Union during his lifetime and only now is recognized for its genius and insight. Branagh delivers a magnificent performance as Grossman’s hero, Viktor Strum.
Book # 15
Memories from Moscow to the Black Sea | by TEFFI , narrated by Rebecca Crankshaw
The plight of emigres fleeing Russia’s Civil War is conveyed by the brilliant writer Teffi, who was one of their number. Robert and Elizabeth Chandler’s marvelous translation is narrated beautifully by Rebecca Crankshaw in this tale of Teffi’s frantic journey together with a cast of “unheroic” characters. At once funny and heartbreaking, Teffi’s journey from Russia to the Black Sea and finally to relative safety in Constantinople is the perfect introduction to this engaging Russian writer, loved by both Nicholas II and Lenin.
Book # 16
Gentleman in Moscow | by Amor Towles, narrated by Nicholas Guy Smith
Amor Towles’s quiet but powerful novel of a prince confined to live in an attic room of the opulent Metropol Hotel, having narrowly escaped a death sentence thanks to his liberal sentiments. Surrounded by the clutter of his former life, Prince Rostov carves out a life for himself inside the microcosm of the hotel with its staff and guests over the span of three decades. Outside the hotel, monumental changes are taking place, and Towles does a marvelous job of conveying these while keeping his focus squarely on Prince Rostov. Many turned to “Gentleman in Moscow” as the ultimate lockdown book, but its appeal goes far beyond quarantine. Nicholas Guy Smith narrates the book with great panache.
Book # 17
War and Peace | by Leo Tolstoy, BBC Radio 4 full cast dramatization
This radio play version of Tolstoy’s epic novel of Russia’s clash with Napoleon at the beginning of the nineteenth century is the perfect way to experience the grandeur and scion of the novel. An all-star cast includes John Hurt, Harriet Walter, Lesley Manville, Natasha Little, Alun Armstrong, and others. From the battlefields of Borodino to the ballrooms of the Winter Palace, “War and Peace” has something for everyone and this 2015 production is a marvelous way to enjoy it.
Book # 18
Romanov Empress: Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna | by C.W. Gortner, narrated by Katharine Lee McEwan
In this engaging historical novel, C.W. Gortner follows the fortunes of Nicholas II’s mother from her childhood in Denmark as a princess to her dazzling marriage to the heir of the Russian throne. Maria — or Minnie as she was known in her family — emerges as a tenacious survivor and skilled backroom politician in contrast to her difficult daughter-in-law, Alexandra. With a cast of engaging characters, including the redoubtable Maria Pavlovna and the wiley Felix Yussupov, “Romanov Empress” is a must-listen. Enjoy my discussion with C.W. Gortner about the book for the New Books Network.
Book # 19
The Eighth Life | by Nino Haratischvili, narrated by Tavia Gilbert
The Eighth Life is an epic in the best sense of that moniker. It is a multi-generational family saga, set in Georgia (the Republic in the Caucuses Mountains) and Russia for the entire span of the twentieth century. The book will draw you in and keep you in the thrall of its narrative sweep. Tavia Gilbert does an excellent job of portraying the different characters. If you only listen to one audiobook this summer, make it this one.
Book # 20
I Was Anastasia | by Ariel Lawhon, narrated by Jane Collingwood and Sian Thomas
I was wary of this book, as I am of any “Anastasia survived the massacre of Ekaterinburg” tale, but Ariel Lawhon proved me wrong. Told in episodes moving both forward and backward in time — a remarkable feat of structure and pace by Lawhon — the book examines both the tense house arrest of the Romanovs in Ekaterinburg in 1918 as well as the fraught life of Anna Anderson, the most successful of all the pretenders, allowing the reader time and space to consider Anna’s struggle to be acknowledged as the murdered Grand Duchess. Jane Collingwood and Sian Thomas narrate the separate time lines with great success. An intriguing listen!
Book # 21
Anton Chekhov: Fifty-Two Stories | translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky, and narrated by Jim Frangione
Chekhov is perhaps best known for his plays, but he made his initial foray into literature with sketches and short stories, supporting himself by publishing sketches and master of the short story form. He became a master of the genre almost despite himself, using them to portray the quirks and foibles of humanity with brilliant talent, wit, and often compassion as well. This collection from the translation duo of Pevear and Volkhonsky includes masterpieces such as “The Letter,” “Volodya,” and “The Siren.” Jim Frangione does a commendable job as narrator.
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Thank you for stopping by and taking a look at this list of 21 audiobooks about Russia. I’ve enjoyed each of them and I hope that you will too!
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Photos in this post are sourced from Shutterstock and Jennifer Eremeeva
Exploring food markets, developing recipes, and just eating was once my hobby, but now it is a full-time job. I write about food markets around the world, develop recipes, and study culinary history and emerging trends. I have a particular interest in Russian and Eastern European cuisine and culinary history.
I believe that great books are part of a life well lived and this extends to audio entertainment. Under the Lifestyle umbrella, I review books, podcasts, and audiobooks, I discuss writing and reading and am constantly on the lookout for new ways to be productive and clear all manner of clutter from my life.