Grigory Ryzhakov – Russian Writer

Top 20 Russian books that influenced me the most

Prince Myshkin after witnessing the death of Nastasya Filippovna, I. Glazunov, 1966

Recently, President Putin published an article on the necessity of creating a must-read list of a hundred Russian books that would define the nation’s cultural legacy.

I thought about what books to put in that list and decided to present to you my top 20 of Russian books (20 is more manageable, for I can’t have a hundred of favourite books).

  1. Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky – for exploring the destructive effects of the unprotected humanism and uncontrolled emotions; have a hanky in the pocket.
  2. War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy – for creating the most ambitious literary snapshot of the human society; have patience, it’s big.
  3. The Portrait by Nikolai Gogol – for showing the purpose of the art and the pitfalls of wealth and fame.
  4. A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov – for its beautiful language and portrayal of the great man with no stamina.
  5. Eugene Onegin by Aleksandr Pushkin – for its powerful poetic depiction of love, but also of selfishness, boredom and arrogance.
  6. Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – for showing static morality and sinfulness of the mankind.
  7. Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky – for its most amazing battle of ideas; one of the most complex and messiest (in terms of the structure) Russian novels.
  8. Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov – for compellingly showing the tragedy of inaction and apathy.
  9. Netochka Nezvanova by Fyodor Dostoevsky – for creating the purest female character; my favourite and the first, unfinished Dostoevsky’s novel.
  10. Peter the First by Aleksey Tolstoy –for showing how a small child became the greatest Russian monarch.
  11. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol –for unearthing the roots of corruption of the Russian state.
  12. Tikhii Don by Mikhail Sholokhov – for its epic portrayal of the post-1917 and the Civil War Russia.
  13. The Golovlyov Family by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin – for its witty psychoanalysis of greed.
  14. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky -for exploring what is more important people or ideas.
  15. The Enchanted Wanderer by Nikolai Leskovfor its beautiful language, story and the character.
  16. What is To Be Done by Nikolai Chernyshevsky – for its revolutionary idealism; arguably the worst famous Russian novel.
  17. The Captain’s Daughter by Aleksandr Pushkin for exploring the importance of the core moral values.
  18. White Garments by Vladimir Dudintsev – for its portrayal of the Soviet science and the role model of a scientist.
  19. The History of a Town by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin – for its literary grotesque perfectly matching the absurdity of Russian life.
  20. Shame and Purity by Tatiana Moskvina– for exposing the relict core moral values and the abundant weaknesses of the modern Russian society; my favourite XXI century Russian novel; to my knowledge this one is only available in Russian so far.

You may say it’s 19th century-biased. So what? I had to make a choice. P.S. I received a question regarding the Soviet era and modern Russian books. I’ll post on that matter in the future.



Your brilliant thoughts


  • Confusedjude

    Thanks for that. Lots I’d never heard of. Poetry doesn’t qualify?

    • Anonymous

      of course, it does. Russian poetry is delightful. Eugene Onegin is in the list. Of course, I could put in Nekrasov, Blok, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Baratynsky, Zhukovsky, Mandelstam, Brodsky and many other great masters in my list; but it was a mere my subjective top 20 list to give some direction to newbies discovering Russian literature. Obviously, the riches are vast, and I’ll try to expose all the gems in the future to my English-speaking friends.

  • Guest

    Thank you for the wonderful list and for reminding of “Idiot” by Dostoyevsky  – I was stunned when I read it. I did not like “White Garments” but really liked “Zubr” (don’t know its title in English). Will find and read #20.
    You made fantastic summaries for every book on your list.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your kind comment, Maria. White Garments and several other titles in the list are probably not a good example of literary fiction, but they appealed to me because of their ideas. Plus I am a biologist, so the pseudoscience impact on genetics in the USSR was a story close to my heart. Haven’t read “Zubr”, will put it on my reading list.

  • Kirill

    I haven’t read most of it, thanks for reminder 😉 

    • Anonymous

       I’m glad to contribute to your reading list 🙂

  • Shaun Jooste

    Thanks for this, I will be looking into some of these in the year to come. Great list.

    Я с нетерпением жду , чтобы в списке ваших любимых русских книг 2016 года

    I hope I got that right, I’m still learning.

    • GrigoryRyzhakov

      Hi Shaun, I’m glad this blog post was useful for you. Thanks for stopping by.
      What you said in Russian is ‘I can’t wait that in your list of your favorite Russian books of 2016…’ – kind of unfinished sentence. Google translate? :p