The Chronicle of Higher Education's Arts & Letters Daily tipped me off to this excellent article on Russian Literature and its application to both history and the social (political) sciences -- Thomas De Waal's "How Gogol Explains the Post-Soviet World."
Not only this an excellent article but it serves as a useful introduction to the Russian Literature describing the life and times of the greater culture that surrounded our forebears in Russia and Ukraine.
I do have to make one criticism. While I entirely agree with De Waal's approach, it could easily be taken to an extreme. Imagine limiting your understanding of the United States to Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, John Steinbeck's East of Eden and William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. Not only would you fail to grasp the reality of the United State's in all its diversity and complexity, but you would also develop a rather critical attitude to a rather nice place. Or similarly basing one's understanding of Canada on Susanna Moodie's Roughing it in the Bush, L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, and Robert Service's The Spell of the Yukon.
The three books De Waal recommends are Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and Anton Chekov's The Cherry Orchard, relating to Russia, Georgia and Ukraine, respectively. Happy reading!