There are several good guidebooks to choose from for Russia and St. Petersburg. These we like best:
Eyewitness Travel Guides: St. Petersburg, DK Publishing, 2015
Very popular guides, well laid-out, heavily illustrated, color photos and plans, excellent maps.
Also by the same publisher: Top 10 St. Petersburg; Moscow
Fodor’s Moscow & St. Petersburg, 2013
Good selection of sites, history, hotels & restaurants
Lonely Planet Russian Phrasebook & Dictionary, 2012
GENERAL HISTORY & CULTURE
(alpha by author)
James Billingham, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, 1970
Somewhat dated but still considered a masterpiece by the later Librarian of Congress
Orlando Figes, Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia, 2002
Examination of the cultural movements of the country in search of the meaning of “Russianness” in the lives of artists, musicians, writers and intellectuals.
Geoffrey Hosking, Russia: People and Empire, 1552 – 1917, 1998
Recommended scholarly pre-revolution history
Laurence Kelly, A Traveller’s Companion to St. Petersburg, 2003
Chapters on early days, palaces, museums, politics, iconic places.
Adrian Levy & Catherine Scott-Clark, The Amber Room, The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure, 2004
A gripping investigation of the disappearance of the intricately carved amber panels sent by Frederick I of Prussia to Peter the Great, during the Nazi siege.
W. Bruce Lincoln, Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia, 2001
Highly accessible account of the city’s history by a prominent Russian scholar
Robert K. Massie, Peter the Great: His Life and World, Knopf, 1980
Pulitzer Prize-winning popular history. By the same author: Catherine the Great
Suzanne Massie, Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia, 1980
Colorful, comprehensive history of pre-Revolutionary Russia
Steven Lee Myers, The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin, 2015
Former NYT Moscow bureau chief describes a man of few scruples
David Remnick, Lenin’s Tomb, 1994
An eyewitness account of the collapse of the Soviet Union, by a then Washington Post reporter
Harrison E. Salisbury, 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, 1969
The Nazi siege of Leningrad from 1941-44, one of the most gruesome episodes of WW II, told by a distinguished journalist and historian long with the New York Times
Douglas Smith, The Pearl: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in Catherine the Great’s Russia, 2008
The love affair between Count Sheremetev, the richest artistocrat in Russia, and whose palace we will visit, and his serf, Praskovia Kovalyova, the greatest opera diva of her time.
― Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs, 2016
Called a definitive biography which debunks many of the myths which surround this fascinating character.
Joseph Brodsky, Less than One, Selected Essays, 1987
Insights into the Russian and non-Russian literary traditions by the famed émigré poet.
Guide to a Renamed City is a poignant account of Leningrad/St. Petersburg
Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, 1966
Brilliant memoir by the renowned ex-pat and author of Lolita, of growing up in St. Petersburg ― his house is open to the public― and country villa.
MUSIC AND ART
David Brown, Tchaikovsky: The Man and His Music, 2009
The author’s one volume condensation of the definitive 4-vol. biographyColin Eisler,Paintings in the Hermitage, 1990Laurel E. Fay, Shostakovich: A Life, 2005
Meticulously documented bio of an elusive artist, a search for truth among conflicting resources.
George Heard Hamilton, The Art and Architecture of Russia, 1954, rev. 1992
Informed and engaging survey, goes beyond Moscow and PetersburgDimitri Shostakovich
Soloman Volkov, Testimony, 1957
Provocative, controversial “memoir” by the composer allegedly based on notes from interviews taken by Volkov, an émigré musicologist. Its authenticity has long been questioned.Igor
Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Memories and Commentaries, 2003
One-volume edition taken from the notable collection of talks between the two
Richard Taruskin, On Russian Music, 2010Mercurial American musicologist and formidable specialist in the subject. Also: Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works through Mavra, 1996 (2 vols); Defining Russia Musically, 2001 Controversial when it first appeared; the battle between European and Asian influences for Russia’s “soul”
(set wholly or partially in St. Petersburg)
Feodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 1866. Also: The Idiot, The Double, Poor Folk
There is a Dostoevsky Museum in his house, and you can trace the 730 steps from Raskolnikov’s apartment to the pawnbroker’s
Aleksander Pushkin, “The Bronze Horseman,” 1833. Brilliant narrative poem nominally about the giant statue of Peter the Great overlooking the Neva. Also: Eugene Onegin The Queen of Spades (both made into operas by Tchaikovsky), The Moor of Peter the Great, other stories Arguably the greatest figure in Russian literature.
Nikolai Gogol, The Overcoat, 1836; The Nose, 1842
Both satirical and witty short stories from Tales of Petersburg. Shostakovich’s opera of the latter was written in 1928.
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, 1867; Anna Karenina, 1877
Central works of world literature.
Andrei Bely, Petersburg, 1913
Modernist masterpiece about a young revolutionary ordered to kill his own father.
J.M. Coetzee, The Master of Petersburg, 1994
Mystery novel based on a vision of Dostoevsky’s obsession with his stepson’s ghost.
Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes, 1911
Set in a world of Tsarist repression and revolutionary intrigue in St. Petersburg and Geneva
The Russian Ark, (Alexander Sokurov, 2002)
Shot in one continuous, unbroken take through the Hermitage Museum
White Nights, Luchino Visconti, 1957)
Based on a short novel by Dostoevsky, though not actually shot in the city. Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau star.
The Captivating Star of Happiness (1975)
Costume drama about 1825 Decembrist uprising in SPB.