A Question: Narrating the Soviet Union

In conversations this week with fellow historians, I have returned often to the question of why public knowledge of the Soviet Union is so limited, and interpretations so traditional and conservative. For evidence of the fact, we need look no further than the Applebaum commentary I wrote about last week.

I know that fantastic historians and academic scholars, both up-and-coming and long established, have written about the Russian Revolution recently. Ron Suny, Sarah Badcock, Brendan McGeever, and others have written for Jacobin’s coverage of the centenary. Alexander Rabinowich literally wrote the books explaining why Applebaum’s conception is wrong, beginning with Prelude to Revolution some fifty years ago.

As much as I wish Jacobin reached a mainstream audience, however, it doesn’t.

Instead, in the popular imagination, the narrative is written by others. This is not to say that China Miéville cannot and should not write about 1917. Indeed, his recent October is a compelling narrative. Yet it’s telling that he is a novelist, not a historian.

So here’s my question: what books, articles, or other media have reached a wider audience to explain not only the Russian Revolution, but the Soviet Union’s 74–year history and subsequent legacies? What I have in mind here is a book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, or in your Kindle feed.

Which ones have done so that you wish had not?

Which ones written by historians should?

No really, please answer below: the comments are open. I’d love to get a conversation started on this.