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Ashley’s Top Picks – Current Events

The eyes of the world are all watching the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s leaving a number of us yearning to know more about the conflict, the history and politics involved, and the lives caught in the middle. The resources listed below are ones that have been suggested by various sources around the web, including the New York Public Library, Literary Hub, Book Riot, USA Today, and the Library of Congress, and are available within the North Country Library System.

Each of the titles are linked to our catalog so that you can easily place holds from wherever you are. Simply click on the cover image to jump directly to our library’s catalog.

History of Ukraine

“As Ukraine is embroiled in an ongoing struggle with Russia to preserve its territorial integrity and political independence, celebrated historian Serhii Plokhy explains that today’s crisis is a case of history repeating itself: the Ukrainian conflict is only the latest in a long history of turmoil over Ukraine’s sovereignty. Situated between Central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, Ukraine has been shaped by empires that exploited the nation as a strategic gateway between East and West – from the Romans and Ottomans to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. In The Gates of Europe, Plokhy examines Ukraine’s search for its identity through the lives of major Ukrainian historical figures, from its heroes to its conquerors.

This revised edition includes new material that brings this definitive history up to the present. As Ukraine once again finds itself at the center of global attention, Plokhy brings its history to vivid life as he connects the nation’s past with its present and future.”

-From Amazon.com

“In 1929 Stalin launched his policy of agricultural collectivization – in effect a second Russian revolution – which forced millions of peasants off their land and onto collective farms. The result was a catastrophic famine, the most lethal in European history. At least five million people died between 1931 and 1933 in the USSR. But instead of sending relief the Soviet state made use of the catastrophe to rid itself of a political problem. In Red Famine, Anne Applebaum argues that more than three million of those dead were Ukrainians who perished not because they were accidental victims of a bad policy but because the state deliberately set out to kill them. Devastating and definitive, Red Famine captures the horror of ordinary people struggling to survive extraordinary evil.

Applebaum’s compulsively readable narrative recalls one of the worst crimes of the twentieth century, and shows how it may foreshadow a new threat to the political order in the twenty-first.”

-From amazon.com

Download a copy of Ukraine: a Book of Essays by Intellectuals in English by visiting ukraineworld.org This title was recommended in the Book Riot post linked above and features a “collection of texts by contemporary Ukrainian intellectuals: writers, historians, philosophers, political analysts, opinion leaders. The texts have been written for an international audience. The collection combines reflections on Ukraine’s history (or histories, in plural), and analysis of the present, conceptual ideas and life stories. The book presents a multi-faceted image of Ukrainian memory and reality: from the Holodomor to Maidan, from Russian aggression to cultural diversity, from the depth of the past to the complexity of the present.

It contains 16 texts: essays and interviews. The authors of the collection are Serhii Plokhy, Andriy Kurkov, Ola Hnatiuk, Irena Karpa, Yaroslav Hrytsak, Yuri Andrukovych, Larysa Denysenko, Vakhtang Kebuladze, Andriy Portnov, Haska Shyyan, Hanna Shelest, Volodymyr Rafeenko, Volodymyr Yermolenko, Alim Aliev, Leonid Finberg, Andrij Bondar.

It is edited by Volodymyr Yermolenko, a Ukrainian philosopher and writer, UkraineWorld’s editor in chief and director for analytics at Internews Ukraine.”

-From ukraineworld.org

Please note – the version available within the System is not the most up-to-date edition of this title.

“As in many postcommunist states, politices in Ukraine revolves around the issue of national identity. Ukrainian nationalists see themselves as one of the world’s oldest and most civilized peoples, as ‘older brothers’ to the younger Russian culture. Yet Ukraine became independent only in 1991, and Ukrainians often feel like a minority in their own county, where Russian is still the main language heard on the streets of the capital, Kiev. This book is a comprehensive guide to modern Ukraine and to the versions of its past propagated by both Russians and Ukrainians. Andrew Wilson provides the most acute, informed … account available of the Ukrainians and their country

Concentrating on the complex relation between Ukraine and Russia, the book begins with the myth of common origin in the early medieval era, then looks closely at the Ukrainian experience under the tsars and Soviets, the experience of minorities in the country, and the path to independence in 1991. Wilson also considers the history of Ukraine since 1991 and the continuing disputes over identity, culture, and religion. He examines the economic collapse under the first president, Leonid Kravchuk, and the attempts at recovery under his successor, Leonid Kuchma. Wilson explores the conflicts in Ukrainian society between the country’s Eurasian roots and its Western aspirations, as well as the significance of the presidential election of November 1999.”

-From amazon.com

“On the morning of April 26, 1986, Europe witnessed the worst nuclear disaster in history: the explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine. Dozens died of radiation poisoning, fallout contaminated half the continent, and thousands fell ill.

In Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy draws on new sources to tell the dramatic stories of the firefighters, scientists, and soldiers who heroically extinguished the nuclear inferno. He lays bare the flaws of the Soviet nuclear industry, tracing the disaster to the authoritarian character of the Communist party rule, the regime’s control over scientific information, and its emphasis on economic development over all else.”

-From goodreads.com

“April 25, 1986, in Chernobyl, was a turning point in world history. The disaster not only changed the world’s perception of nuclear power and the science that spawned it, but also our understanding of the planet’s delicate ecology. With the images of the abandoned homes and playgrounds beyond the barbed wire of the 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone, the rusting graveyards of contaminated trucks and helicopters, the farmland lashed with black rain, the event fixed for all time the notion of radiation as an invisible killer.

Chernobyl was also a key event in the destruction of the Soviet Union, and, with it, the United States’ victory in the Cold War. For Moscow, it was a political and financial catastrophe as much as an environmental and scientific one. With a total cost of 18 billion rubles—at the time equivalent to $18 billion—Chernobyl bankrupted an already teetering economy and revealed to its population a state built upon a pillar of lies.

The full story of the events that started that night in the control room of Reactor No.4 of the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant has never been told—until now. Through two decades of reporting, new archival information, and firsthand interviews with witnesses, journalist Adam Higginbotham tells the full dramatic story, including Alexander Akimov and Anatoli Dyatlov, who represented the best and worst of Soviet life; denizens of a vanished world of secret policemen, internal passports, food lines, and heroic self-sacrifice for the Motherland. Midnight in Chernobyl, award-worthy nonfiction that reads like sci-fi, shows not only the final epic struggle of a dying empire but also the story of individual heroism and desperate, ingenious technical improvisation joining forces against a new kind of enemy.”

-From goodreads.com

History of Russia

“Russia’s epic and dramatic history told in an accessible, lively and short form, from Ivan the Terrible to Vladimir Putin via Catherine the Great, the Russian Revolution and the fall of the USSR.

Russia is a country with no natural borders, no single ethnic group, no true central identity. At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, it has been subject to invasion by outsiders, from Vikings to Mongols, from Napoleon’s French to Hitler’s Germans. In order to forge an identity, it has mythologized its past to unite its people and to signal strength to outsiders.

In A Short History of Russia, Mark Galeotti explores the history of this fascinating, glorious, desperate and exasperating country through two intertwined issues: the way successive influences from beyond its borders have shaped Russia, and the way Russians came to terms with this influence, writing and rewriting their past to understand their present and try to influence their future. In turn, this self-invented history has come to affect not just their constant nation-building project but also their relations with the world.”

-From goodreads.com

“Charting the transformation of Vladimir Putin from a passionate fan of the West and a liberal reformer into a hurt and introverted outcast, All the Kremlin’s Men is a historical detective story, full of intrigue and conspiracy. This is the story of the political battles that have taken place in the court of Vladimir Putin since his rise to power, and a chronicle of friendship and hatred between the Russian leader and his foreign partners and opponents.

Russia’s most prominent independent journalist Mikhail Zygar has had unprecedented access to people who are either currently or were formerly allied with Putin, but have only now agreed to reveal their impressions of the powerful president and his circle of power. Zygar’s in-depth interviews include Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, former Kremlin chief of staff Alexander Voloshin, former mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov, former presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, former mresidents of Ukraine and Georgia Viktor Yushchenko and Mikhail Saakashvili, and many other key Russian and Western politicians and diplomats. For many people from Putin’s closest circle, it was the first time they could tell their stories.

Each chapter has a main character, who gives an insight into the origins of Vladimir Putin’s transformation. Cumulatively, All the Kremlin’s Men explains to the English-speaking audience what has happened to Russia, what the role of the West is in its destiny, and how this destiny could play out going forward. It is a delicious portrait of the strangeness of modern Russia, a country swirling with intrigue and paranoia, peppered with fateful missteps and confusion, and the brooding, volatile, magnificently unpredictable figure of Vladimir Putin.”

-From goodreads.com

“In this rich and novelistic tour of contemporary Russia, Joshua Yaffa introduces readers to some of the country’s most remarkable figures–from politicians and entrepreneurs to artists and historians–who have built their careers and constructed their identities in the shadow of the Putin system. Torn between their own ambitions and the omnipresent demands of the state, each walks an individual path of compromise. Some muster cunning and cynicism to extract all manner of benefits and privileges from those in power. Others, finding themselves to be less adept, are left broken and demoralized. What binds them together is the tangled web of dilemmas and contradictions they face.

Between Two Fires chronicles the lives of a number of strivers who understand that their dreams are best–or only–realized through varying degrees of cooperation with the Russian government. With sensitivity and depth, Yaffa profiles the director of the country’s main television channel, an Orthodox priest at war with the church hierarchy, a Chechen humanitarian who turns a blind eye to persecutions, and many others. The result is an intimate and probing portrait of a nation that is much discussed yet little understood. By showing how citizens shape their lives around the demands of a capricious and frequently repressive state–as often by choice as under threat of force–Yaffa offers urgent lessons about the true nature of modern authoritarianism.”

-From goodreads.com

“The Crimean War, one of history’s most compelling subjects, encompassed human suffering, woeful leadership and misadministration on a grand scale. It created a heroic myth out of the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade and, in Florence Nightingale, it produced one of history’s great heroes. The war was a watershed in world history and pointed the way to what mass warfare would be like in the twentieth century. New weapons were introduced; trench combat became a fact of daily warfare outside Sebastopol; medical innovation saved countless soldiers’ lives that would otherwise have been lost. Ultimately, by failing to solve the Eastern Question, the war paved the way for the greater conflagration which broke out in 1914 and greatly prefigured the current situation in Eastern Europe.”

-From goodreads.com

“They thought they had found a safe haven in the green hills of England. They were wrong. One by one, the Russian oligarchs, dissidents, and gangsters who fled to Britain after Vladimir Putin came to power dropped dead in strange or suspicious circumstances. One by one, their British lawyers and fixers met similarly grisly ends. Yet, one by one, the British authorities shut down every investigation — and carried on courting the Kremlin.

The spies in the riverside headquarters of MI6 looked on with horror as the scope of the Kremlin’s global killing campaign became all too clear. And, across the Atlantic, American intelligence officials watched with mounting alarm as the bodies piled up, concerned that the tide of death could spread to the United States. Those fears intensified when a one-time Kremlin henchman was found bludgeoned to death in a Washington, D.C. penthouse. But it wasn’t until Putin’s assassins unleashed a deadly chemical weapon on the streets of Britain, endangering hundreds of members of the public in a failed attempt to slay the double agent Sergei Skripal, that Western governments were finally forced to admit that the killing had spun out of control.

Unflinchingly documenting the growing web of death on British and American soil, Heidi Blake bravely exposes the Kremlin’s assassination campaign as part of Putin’s ruthless pursuit of global dominance — and reveals why Western governments have failed to stop the bloodshed. The unforgettable story that emerges whisks us from London’s high-end night clubs to Miami’s million-dollar hideouts ultimately renders a bone-chilling portrait of money, betrayal, and murder, written with the pace and propulsive power of a thriller.

Based on a vast trove of unpublished documents, bags of discarded police evidence, and interviews with hundreds of insiders, this heart-stopping international investigation uncovers one of the most important — and terrifying — geopolitical stories of our time.”

-From goodreads.com

“The essential journalist and bestselling biographer of Vladimir Putin reveals how, in the space of a generation, Russia surrendered to a more virulent and invincible new strain of autocracy.

Award-winning journalist Masha Gessen’s understanding of the events and forces that have wracked Russia in recent times is unparalleled. In The Future Is History, Gessen follows the lives of four people born at what promised to be the dawn of democracy. Each of them came of age with unprecedented expectations, some as the children and grandchildren of the very architects of the new Russia, each with newfound aspirations of their own–as entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers, and writers, sexual and social beings.

Gessen charts their paths against the machinations of the regime that would crush them all, and against the war it waged on understanding itself, which ensured the unobstructed reemergence of the old Soviet order in the form of today’s terrifying and seemingly unstoppable mafia state. Powerful and urgent, The Future Is History is a cautionary tale for our time and for all time.”

-From goodreads.com

“In the tradition of John Reed’s classic Ten Days That Shook the World, this bestselling account of the collapse of the Soviet Union combines the global vision of the best historical scholarship with the immediacy of eyewitness journalism. “A moving illumination . . . Remnick is the witness for us all.” —Wall Street Journal.”

-From goodreads.com

The Man Without a Face is 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 and made 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 a perfect choice for the oligarchy to shape according to its own designs. Suddenly the boy who had stood in the shadows, dreaming of ruling the world, was a public figure, and his popularity soared. Russia and an infatuated West were determined to see the progressive leader of their dreams, even as he seized control of media, sent political rivals and critics into exile or to the grave, and smashed the country’s fragile electoral system, concentrating power in the hands of his cronies.

As a journalist living in Moscow, Masha Gessen experienced this history firsthand, and for The Man Without a Face she has drawn on information and sources no other writer has tapped. Her account of how a “faceless” man maneuvered his way into absolute-and absolutely corrupt-power has the makings of a classic of narrative nonfiction.”

-From goodreads.com

“With the end of the Cold War, the victory of liberal democracy was thought to be absolute. Observers declared the end of history, confident in a peaceful, globalized future. But we now know this to be premature. Authoritarianism first returned in Russia, as Putin developed a political system dedicated solely to the consolidation and exercise of power. In the last six years, it has creeped from east to west as nationalism inflames Europe, abetted by Russian propaganda and cyberwarfare. While countries like Poland and Hungary have made hard turns towards authoritarianism, the electoral upsets of 2016 revealed the citizens of the US and UK in revolt against their countries’ longstanding policies and values.

But this threat to the West also presents an opportunity to better understand the pillars of our own political order. In this forceful and unsparing work of contemporary history, Snyder goes beyond the headlines to expose the true nature of the threat to democracy. By showcasing the stark choices before us–between equality or oligarchy, individuality or totality, truth and falsehood–Snyder restores our understanding of the basis of our way of life, offering a way forward in a time of terrible uncertainty.”

-From goodreads.com

“From the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Svetlana Alexievich, comes the first English translation of her latest work, an oral history of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia.

Bringing together dozens of voices in her distinctive documentary style, Secondhand Time is a monument to the collapse of the USSR, charting the decline of Soviet culture and speculating on what will rise from the ashes of Communism.

As in all her books, Alexievich gives voice to women and men whose stories are lost in the official narratives of nation-states, creating a powerful alternative history from the personal and private stories of individuals.”

-From goodreads.com

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. MaryAnn

    Ashley, Thank you for this list. I have a patron in mind who would be interested.

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