Russia has produced some of the world’s most influential authors—some of whom are big names that most people know. While the Russian literary scene peaked in the past, the writings of these historical authors remain relevant today. Here are the most famous Russian authors throughout history and the books they changed the world with.
1. Fyodor Dostoevsky
Dostoevsky is one of the biggest names in the Russian literary scene. Born in Moscow in 1821, Dostoevsky’s works centered around human psychology and explored the political, social, and spiritual turmoil in 19th-century Russia. His most famous novel is Crime and Punishment, which explores the psychological torture of a young ex-student after he murders a wealthy pawnbroker to lift himself out of poverty and save his sister from a desperate situation.
2. Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy is a well-known name even among those who aren’t so up on the literary scene. He was born in 1828 near Moscow and is considered an influential figure in the realm of realist literature. Despite the immense fame and wealth Tolstoy built for himself, as he aged, he adopted radical beliefs that led him to reject the fortunes he had amassed, creating a rift in his marriage. His most influential works were War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
3. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Solzhenitsyn, born in the northern Caucasian region of Russia in 1918, is perhaps the most influential political writer of Russia, helping expose the horrifying truth of Soviet labor camps to the world with his book The Gulag Archipelago. Growing up in a devoutly Christian family despite the USSR’s anti-religious campaign, Solzhenitsyn renounced his faith at a young age and dedicated himself to Marxism–Leninism, returning to Christianity after eight years in the Gulags for criticizing Stalin in a private letter.
4. Alexander Pushkin
Pushkin is seen by many to be the founder of modern Russian literature. Born in Moscow in 1799 and dying at only 37 in St. Petersburg following a duel, Pushkin grew up speaking mostly French, learning Russian from the household serfs and his nanny. He rose to fame quickly, already well known before graduating from school. He became engrossed with liberal individualist and French Enlightenment thinking, gradually pushing for more and more social reform.
5. Nikolai Gogol
Gogol, a Russian literary figure of Ukrainian origin, was born in 1809 in Sorochyntsi, then part of the Russian Empire but now part of Ukraine. He was a major influence on Russian and global literature. His career began with works taking inspiration from his Ukrainian upbringing and the Ukrainian folklore he had been exposed to, although he became more known for his surrealist style and for presenting common objects in unfamiliar ways, known as the “ostranenie” technique. Gogol was also known to incorporate satire into his works, highlighting political corruption in the Russian Empire. Before his death, he burned some of his manuscripts after being convinced that his creative achievements would damn him to purgatory.