Books for the News, History, Politics and Current Events, Reading list

Books for Understanding Ukraine

University Presses like Chicago are committed to making available works that not only keep us informed but also help us to better understand the past and process the devastating events of the present, specifically what is happening in Ukraine. For all of us seeking to gain more context for these current events, we’ve put together a reading list of recent books from Chicago and our client publishers.

Ukraine: A Nation on the Borderland

Karl Schlögel / (Reaktion Books)

“This book is an invitation to the broader public, well-familiar by now with the cities in Western and Eastern Europe, to discover Ukraine, to explore its multifaceted identities. Since an end to the war in Ukraine is not yet in sight, books like this are much needed. When most of the publications available reiterate the same narratives of unbridgeable differences between Ukraine’s east and west, it takes Schlögel’s insightfulness and erudition to show the commonalities between Lviv in the West, Odessa in the South and Donetsk in the East; to take Ukraine out of the shadow of Russia and put it back on Europe’s mental maps.” European History Quarterly

Black Earth: A Journey Through Ukraine

Jens Mühling, Translated by Eugene H. Hayworth / (Haus Publishing)

Journalist and celebrated travel writer Jens Mühling takes readers across the country during the Russian annexation of Crimea. In the midst of this turmoil, Mühling delves deep into daily life in Ukraine, narrating his encounters with Ukrainian nationalists and old communists, Crimean Tatars and Cossacks, smugglers and soldiers, all of whose views could hardly be more different.

Ukraine in the Crosshairs of Geopolitical Power Play

Edited by Peter W. Schulze and Winfried Veit / (Campus Verlag)

Peace in Ukraine seemed possible following Volodymyr Zelensky’s 2019 election. The new president reopened conversations with both the European Union and separatist authorities, bringing an end to the Donbass conflict in sight. Such an achievement promised revitalized talks between Europe and Russia, and so the nearly forgotten conflict returned to global prominence. Ukraine in the Crosshairs of Geopolitical Power Play analyzes why European and Russian objectives in Ukraine place daunting limits of any potential compromise.

Rus–Ukraine–Russia: Scenes from the Cultural History of Russian Religiosity

Martin C. Putna / (Karolinum Press, Charles University)

“A fascinating examination of Russian history with unrivaled connections to culture and religion. It explores the eternal struggle between East and West, between patriotism and religious devotion—forces upwelling under Putin’s rule today.” Respekt Magazine

The Resistible Rise of Antisemitism: Exemplary Cases from Russia, Ukraine, and Poland

Laura Engelstein / (Brandeis University Press)

“A consummate political history, finely tuned to the dilemmas of our present moment.” Ben Nathans, University of Pennsylvania

How Beautiful Are Your Dwelling Places, Jacob: An Atlas of Jewish Space and a Synagogue for Babyn Yar

Robert Jan van Pelt, Mark Podwal, and Manuel Herz / (Park Books)

On September 29 and 30, 1941, more than 33,000 Jewish men, women, and children were murdered in Babyn Yar, a ravine in the Ukrainian capital Kiev. This event constituted the largest single massacre perpetrated by German troops against Jews during World War II. In commemoration, and as an affirmation of a Jewish future, a synagogue designed in the shape of an oversized Jewish prayer book was inaugurated on the same site in May 2021. The first volume of this lavishly illustrated and thought-provoking book, An Atlas of Jewish Space, offers 134 brief and engaging texts by Robert Jan van Pelt, each of which is illuminated with a drawing by Mark Podwal. The second volume, A Synagogue for Babyn Yar, documents the new building through photographs by celebrated architectural photographer Iwan Baan, as well as through plans and model photos. 

Russia as Empire: Past and Present

Kees Boterbloem / (Reaktion Books)

Covering more than one thousand years of tumultuous history, Russia as Empire shows how the medieval empire of Kyivan Rus’ metamorphosed into today’s Russian Federation. Kees Boterbloem vividly and lucidly describes Russia’s various incarnations and considers how the concept of empire evolved from tsarist Russia to the Soviet Union, and how and why it survives today. 

Mapping Europe’s Borderlands: Russian Cartography in the Age of Empire

Steven Seegel / (University of Chicago Press)

“[R]emarkable and compelling. . . . Mapping Europe’s Borderlands is an important book, . . . providing the basis for a fundamental reappraisal of the history of this hugely important area over the past few centuries.” Times Literary Supplement