Seeing how Kazakhstan is the only country in Central Asia the West really cares about, there is surprisingly little dedicated literature about Kazakhstan in English.
Too bad, since there is a lot to say.
I have highlighted the books that would be of most interest to the average (armchair) traveler wanting to know more before or after his visit.
Good travelogues and historical accounts of Central Asia that include Kazakhstan can be found in the Central Asia books section.
11 best books about Kazakhstan
All in all, a great political read and an antidote to the strictly negative messaging (which also makes important points obviously) from Western media.
You are guaranteed to understand Kazakhs better after this read.
Not entirely about Kazakhstan, as it deals with the whole Caspian basin, but you cannot know Kazakhstan without knowing Big Oil.
For lovers of archeology and ancient history, this is a must.
Other books about Kazakhstan
For completeness, and for those looking to study Kazakhstan more in-depth, here is a list of books that didn’t make it to the best books list.
If The Oil and the Glory was not enough for you, Lutz Klevemann’s The New Great Game offers another well-researched account of superpower politics and oil dealings in Pipelineistan.
At 400 pages, this academic tome contains everything you ever wanted to know about Kazakhs. For specialists.
Brilliantly intricate psychological novel set in Almaty, dealing with the insidiousness of the Soviet purges in the 1930’s. One of the great modern novels to come out of Russia in the past 20 years according to some, but difficult to track down.
The Nomads – Esenberlin Ilyas
A big, heavy 3-volume book that tells the complete history of the Kazakh khanates. Available in bookstores in Kazakhstan.
An overview of Kazakhstan’s basic facts, paired with lots of illustrations and diagrams. There’s a good overview of Kazakh history. Generally paints a positive picture of the country, but does not go beyond the basics, despite its size.
Another roaringly positive book from Jonathan Aitken, this one was too much for me. You can only handle that much ass-kissing before your mouth starts to taste like poo.
Heavy to digest, this book forms a counterweight to Jonathan Aitken’s propaganda, disclosing corruption and nepotism in Kazakhstan’s elite circles. Lots of information here about oil politics, ethnic struggles and religious sentiment. The author is a recognized authority on Kazakhstan, but I found her point of view too biased for an academic to attach real significance to it. More than 10 years on, the book is a bit dated as well.
If you are really interested in Kazakh politics, this book will teach you many things. I liked it. For everyone else, this is too much information.
This is really academic. Only if you have a deep interest in the question of national identity formation in Kazakhstan or the Former Soviet Union.
An academic treatise on the importance of the clan in Post-Soviet Kazakhstani politics.
From the publisher: Political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, policy makers, and others who study state power and identity groups will find a wealth of empirical material and conceptual innovation for discussion and debate.
Everybody else will have a hard time finishing this.