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Pushkin House, the independent Russian cultural centre, has announced the shortlist for the inaugural Pushkin House Russian Book Prize, in association with Waterstones.

The Pushkin House Russian Book Prize has been established to further public understanding of the Russian-speaking world, by encouraging and rewarding the very best non-fiction writing on Russia, and promoting serious discussion on the issues raised. It is open to any popular non-fiction books written in English on Russia, or the Russian-speaking world, published by a UK publisher in 2012, and is the first prize of its kind. This year it attracted more than 40 entries, including translations from both German and French.

Andrew Jack , journalist at the Financial Times and co-Chairman of Pushkin House, said: “We are excited to have such a strong shortlist in the first year of the Pushkin Prize, selected by world class judges. It shows the extent of vibrant writing on the Russian speaking world which can help promote mutual understanding. The next challenge is getting more Russian-written books into English."

This year’s panel of judges are: Sir Rodric Braithwaite (Chair), former British ambassador to Moscow and author of Moscow 1941: A City and its People at War ; Lord Skidelsky , Emeritus Professor of Political Economy at Warwick University and author of How Much is Enough? ; Rachel Polonsky , lecturer in the department of Slavonic Studies at Cambridge University and author of Molotov’s Magic Lantern ; AD Miller , Economist journalist and author of the Man Booker shortlisted Snowdrops ; and Dmitri Trenin , Director of The Carnegie Moscow Center and author of Post-Imperium . The advisory board for the prize includes Waterstones managing director James Daunt , literary director of the Man Booker prize Ion Trewin and Andrew Nurnberg , head of Andrew Nurnberg Associates literary agency.

The judges have declared the six books on the shortlist to be:

The Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum (Allen Lane)

Once the Nazis were defeated in 1945, the people of Central and Eastern Europe expected to recover the lives they had led before 1939. Instead, they found themselves subjected to a tyranny that was in many ways as inhuman as the one which they had just escaped. The Iron Curtain explains how Communism was imposed on these previously free societies in the decade after the end of the Second World War. Applebaum describes, in calm but devastating detail, how political parties, the church, the media, young people's organisations - the institutions of civil society on every level - were all quickly eviscerated. Iron Curtain is a brilliant history of a brutal period in European history, but also a reminder of how fragile free societies are, and how vulnerable they can be to the predations of determined and unscrupulous enemies.

Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen (Granta)

When Vladimir Putin, an unimportant, low-level KGB operative, was rushed to power by a group of Oligarchs in 1999, he was a man without a history. Within a few brief years, Putin had dismantled the country's media, wrested control and wealth from the country's burgeoning business class, and decimated the fragile mechanisms of democracy. Virtually every obstacle to his unbridled control was removed and every opposing voice silenced, with political rivals and critics driven into exile or to the grave. Drawing on information and sources no other writer has tapped, Masha Gessen's fearless account, Man Without a Face, charts Putin's rise from the boy who had scrapped his way through post-war Leningrad schoolyards, to the 'faceless' man who manoeuvred his way into absolute - and absolutely corrupt - power.

Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Fortune in Russia by Thane Gustafson (Harvard University Press/Belknap)

The Russian oil industry is facing mounting problems that could send shock waves through the Russian economy and worldwide. Wheel of Fortune provides an authoritative account of this vital industry from the last years of communism to its uncertain future. Tracking the interdependence among Russia's oil industry, politics, and economy, Thane Gustafson shows how the stakes extend beyond international energy security to include the potential threat of a destabilized Russia. Gustafson, a leading consultant and analyst of the politics of energy in the former Soviet Union, draws on interviews with key players over the course of two decades to provide a detailed history of the oil industry's evolution since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia’s Post War Generation by Donald J Raleigh (Oxford University Press)

Donald Raleigh's Soviet Baby Boomers traces the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transformation of Russia into a modern, highly literate, urban society through the fascinating life stories of the country's first post-World War II, Cold War generation. For this book, Raleigh has interviewed sixty 1967 graduates of two "magnet" secondary schools that offered intensive instruction in English, one in Moscow and one in provincial Saratov. Part of the generation that began school the year the country launched Sputnik into space, they grew up during the Cold War, but in a Soviet Union increasingly distanced from the excesses of Stalinism. Raleigh is one of the first scholars of post-1945 Soviet history to draw extensively on oral history, a particularly useful approach in studying a country where the boundaries between public and private life remained porous and the state sought to peer into every corner of people's lives.

Moscow, 1937 by Karl Schlögel (Polity)

Moscow, 1937: the Soviet metropolis at the zenith of Stalin’s dictatorship. A society utterly wrecked by a hurricane of violence. In this compelling book, the renowned historian Karl Schlögel reconstructs with meticulous care the process through which, month by month, the terrorism of a state–of–emergency regime spiralled into the ‘Great Terror’ during which 1 ½ million human beings lost their lives within a single year. He revisits the sites of show trials and executions and, by also consulting numerous sources from the time, he provides a masterful panorama of these key events in Russian history. This rich and absorbing account of the Soviet purges will be essential reading for all students of Russia and for any readers interested in one of the most dramatic and disturbing events of modern history.

Former People: The Last Days of Russia’s Aristocracy by Douglas Smith (Macmillan)

Epic in scope, intimate in detail, heart-breaking in its human drama, Former People is the first book to recount the history of the nobility caught up the maelstrom of the Bolshevik Revolution and the creation of Stalin’s Russia. It is a book filled with chilling tales of looted palaces, burning estates, of desperate flights in the night from marauding bands of thugs and Red Army soldiers, of imprisonment, exile, and execution. It is the story of how a centuries-old elite, famous for its glittering wealth, its service to the empire, its promotion of the arts and culture, was dispossessed and destroyed along with the rest of old Russia. Drawing on the private archives of two great families – the Sheremetovs and the Golitsyns – it is also a story of survival and accommodation, of how many of the tsarist ruling class, so-called 'former people', managed to find a place for themselves and their families in the hostile world of the Soviet Union.

In announcing the shortlist, Chairman of the judges Sir Rodric Braithwaite said: “From secret policemen to presidents, from oilmen to oligarchs, from the rise of Putin to the end of the aristocracy, from Stalin and his cronies to the new bourgeoisie, from the flawed victory of 1945 to the disappointed hopes of 1989 - between them these six outstanding books cover them all.”

The winner of the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize will be announced at the Hay Festival on Wednesday 29th May at 6pm, and will win a cash prize of £5,000.

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