Understanding The War In Ukraine: Six Books To Consider Reading

Log in to Twitter and suddenly everyone is an expert on Ukraine. Let me begin by sayings that I am most certainly not an expert either. However, for several years now I have made learning about Eastern Europe one of my primary hobbies. This interest was sparked by a pair of courses I took in college, both of which involved travel to Eastern Europe. In taking these classes I traveled to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Moldova. While much of what I have read does not directly concern the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, those books do provide a great deal of historical context regarding the region.

Us westerners in the 21st century like to pretend that our societies are guided by facts and reason, in reality, we are just as susceptible to patriotic fervor and nationalist sentiments as those who came before us. Now we are all watching in real-time as a land war in Europe, the thing we have spent 70 years avoiding, unfolds thanks to the imperialist sentiments of one man. The books I will list here will not make anyone an expert on these topics, but they will provide a glimpse into the history and culture of a region that has been both a part of western culture and held at arm’s length throughout history.

Read ‘Bloodlands’ For A Primer On Nazi And Soviet Attrocities Commited In Eastern Europe

Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands
A dark, depressing book and yet an essential read.

This book by Timothy Snider does not try to convince you of the righteousness of one cause or the other. It seeks to explain the war crimes, ethnic cleansings, and ideological pogroms perpetrated by both the Soviets and the Nazis in their quests for supremacy in eastern Europe.

Read ‘The Crimean War: A History’ To Learn About A Conflict That Took Place In The Same Region As Today

Russia’s desire to reassert ownership of Crimea is part of what led to the war in Ukraine today

By accident, this was the book I brought along with me to read while traveling in Moldova. It’s a solid account of the conflict in Crimea between Imperial Russia and the rest of Europe to determine the fate of the Ottoman Empire.

Read ‘The Romanovs: 1613-1918’ If You Want A Primer On Russian History Through The Eyes Of The Men And Women That Ruled It

The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by [Simon Sebag Montefiore]
For a human look at the history of Russia, this book can’t be beat

This book humanizes the autocratic rulers of Russia’s history. It provides an intense look at how personal rivalries, education and ignorance, and family squabbles can quickly become a nation’s problem. It’s also a poignant reminder that the movers and shakers of history are human just like you and me, and that we are all immensely failable.

Read ‘Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History’ For An Overview On How Russia Changed In The Twentieth Century

Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History by Orlando Figges. A good book for understanding Russia and Ukraine
We like to think that we are at the end of history, but the story of Russia and Ukraine is continuing to unfold

Another book by Orlando Figes for this list. In this book Orlando Figes looks at recent Russian history with the idea that the revolution did not end in 1923, rather it continues on to this day and that we are still seeing the ongoing effects of the Revolution of 1917.

Read ‘From Peoples Into Nations: A History Of Eastern Europe’ To Learn How People Craft Identities For Themselves

From Peoples into Nations: A History of Eastern Europe by [John Connelly]
A great primer on how the peoples of Eastern Europe discovered their identities

The map of Europe looked very different a century ago. Most of the countries there today had not been founded yet. Just a couple of centuries ago no one really knew what it meant to be Czech or Hungarian. This is a colossal and thorough book on how the many peoples of Eastern Europe found their sense of identity and belonging.

Read ‘Revolution 1989: The Fall Of The Soviet Empire’ To Learn How The People Of Eastern Europe Got Out From Under Soviet Rule

Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by [Victor Sebestyen]
A great overview of the protest movements that led to the end of the Cold War

We’ll end our list with a book about the popular protests and resistance networks that saw the end of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. It was actually required reading for one of the classes I took in college. It is by no means an exhaustive account but it is a thoroughly readable one and a great primer on why Eastern Europe is the way it is today.

If you share an interest in history, reading, writing, or science, you can chat with me on Twitter. You can also subscribe to my newsletter if you want occasional updates on new posts and curated media suggestions. If you want to help the people of Ukraine make it through this terrible war you can find a list of organizations to donate to here.

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