As a wargamer I have read every book and article I can find in English or French which gives a detailed military treatment of the Pygmy Wars. I also read up on the social and political aspects, but more patchily. I have omitted books which are either difficult to find or which are of only marginal interest.
If you want a real bibliography, then the book to get is Jonathan Smele's The Russian Revolution and Civil War: 1917-1921, an Annotated Bibliography. In its 600-odd pages it lists pretty much every book on the Civil War published in a Western language, plus comments that help determine their usefulness. Quite an outstanding piece of work.
My favourite book on the period as a whole would have to be A People’s Tragedy: the Russian Revolution: 1891 -1924 by Orlando Figes. If you want to know why the Reds had more popular support than the Whites, here is as good a place as any to start.
Other currently available books that are good value include Red Victory: a History of the Russian Civil War 1918-1921 by Bruce Lincoln and the imaginatively named The Russian Civil War by Evan Mawdsley, both written in the 1980’s but bearing up relatively well. These chronicle the confusing multitude of campaigns in comprehensible fashion.
Older books abound: Civil War in Russia by David Footman (1961), Civil War in Russia, 1917 - 1920 by J. F. N. Bradley (1975) and The White Generals: an Account of the White Movement and the Russian Civil War by Richard Luckett (1971) all seemed fine to me, though nothing special. Older still is the classic The Russian Revolution: 1917-1921 by William Henry Chamberlin (1935) which is rather bigger than the rest, being two volumes, and The White Armies of Russia: a Chronicle of Counter-Revolution and Allied Intervention by George Stewart (1933) which does better maps than most of the rest. The older books really start to show their age when discussing the side theatres but are mostly fine for the main White armies.
In Osprey Publishing's Essential Histories series is The Russian Civil War 1918-1922 by David Bullock. It's cheap and is accurate, with good maps, but the selection and size of the photos and illustrations are not to my taste. They could have provided more detail and still stayed within their 140 page format.
The video Russian Civil War (from the series Russia, the Missing Years) executive producers: Terry Shand and Victor Rabinkov is a particularly easy introduction. Like all videos it is skimpy on the factual side but some of the pictures, like the little armoured cars bouncing along the roads, are quite fascinating.
I have enjoyed a lot of the videos made by "The Great War" team on YouTube. They have great coverage, even down to the Silesian Polish-Freikorps and discussing the Far Eastern Republic.
I would recommend avoiding Stamping out the Virus by Perry Moore – it is error-ridden and patchy for all theatres other than the northern intervention.
For the French speakers, there is La guerre civile russe 1917-1922. Armées paysannes rouges, blanches et vertes by Jean-Jacques Marie. As the title implies, the coverage goes past just the Red vs White struggle, and it is a perfectly acceptable introduction. I had the misfortune to read Les Armées blanches by Marina Grey et Jean Bourdier, but you should not.
The Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution 1914–1921 edited by Howard Acton, Vladimir Iu. Cherniaev and William G. Rosenberg is a series of essays about various themes in the period. Not really a beginner’s book, since it assumes quite a bit about the basic story, but good value all the same if you know a bit and want to refresh details. It doesn't cover military material though.
The classic work on the south is Civil War in South Russia, 1918: The first year of the Volunteer Army followed by Civil War in South Russia, 1919-1921: The Defeat of the Whites by Peter Kenez (available as reprints titled Red Attack, White Resistance and Red Advance, White Defeat) which explains the failure of Denikin and Wrangel pretty well, with an emphasis on the political over the military.
As its sub-title suggests, The Volunteer Army and Allied Intervention in South Russia: 1917-1921: a study in the politics and diplomacy of the Russian Civil War by George A Brinkley isn’t very interested in the armies either.
The lives of the two commanders of the southern Whites are covered in White against Red: the life of General Anton Denikin by Dimitry Lehovich and General Wrangel: Russia’s White Crusader by Alexis Wrangel. Although not inaccurate factually, I found them both tiresome reading without quite being sure why. But they are better than the English version of those Generals’ memoirs – The White Army by A I Denikin is heavily edited and concentrates largely on the early fighting in the south, treating the major campaigns later with undue haste, while The Memoirs of General Wrangel: the last Commander in Chief of the Russian National Army by Baron Petr Vrangel was edited to exclude the specifically military details found in the original Russian.
If you want military detail of particular battles, you can’t go past The Trans-Dnepr Operation: Wrangel’s Last Offensive and Kornilov Shock Regiment by Tom Hillman. These are essential reading for wargamers. Details are here.
The standard text on the 1920 Russo-Polish War is White Eagle, Red Star: the Polish-Soviet War 1919-1920 by Norman Davies.
I prefer The Battle for the Marchlands by Adam Zamoyski for the military detail. This was republished as Warsaw 1920 to cash in on Zamyski's new found fame but, while it has a few new details, it is an inferior product compared to the first version for those primarily interested in the campaigns.
The various commanders wrote on the campaign, but The march beyond the Vistula by M. Tuchachevski is more by way of protracted excuse making and Year 1920 and its climax: Battle of Warsaw during the Polish-Soviet war, 1919 - 1920 by Jozef Pilsudski is a spirited rebuttal of Tuchachevski rather than a history of the campaign itself. My English copy has nice maps and the French version has some detailed notes from the Polish Military History Bureau as well. It is worth finding a copy with all these texts combined.
Flight of Eagles: a story of the American Kosciuszko Squadron in the Polish-Russian War 1919-1920 by Robert Karolevitz and Ross Fern is a nice tale and there are several other books on this famous unit.
City fights for freedom: the rising of Lwów in 1918-1919 by Rosa Bailly is a look at the fighting around L'viv/L'vov/Lwów entirely from a Polish perspective.
Coverage of this war is better in French than English. The Pilsudski, Tuchachevski and Bailly works are all in French, but there is also La Campagne polono-russe de 1920 by Wladyslaw Sikorski, which covers the 1920 campaign as a whole only in general terms but has wonderful detail for the fighting in perhaps the most vital spot in the Battle of Warsaw,where the author commanded (a translation of much of it is on this site). La Pologne en lutte pour ses frontières: 1918-1920 by Adam Przybylski is a small book, but is unusual in giving details of the fighting against the Soviets prior to 1920 (I have translated most of the 1919 section).
L’Aigle blanc contre l’etoile rouge by Saint-Dizier is OK, but La Manoeuvre libératrice du maréchal Pilsudski contre les bolchéviks, août 1920: étude stratégique by Général Camon and L’Offensive militaire de l’etoile rouge contre la Pologne by Capt Charles Kuntz are very old and not terribly useful. La Guerre polono-soviétique: 1919-1920 collected by Céline Gervais is a series of academic papers which I found mostly quite dull. Finally, the journals Revue de Paris and Revue de cavalerie both contain a number of eye-witness accounts of the fighting, unfortunately concentrating almost exclusively on the cavalry (which is hardly surprising for the second).
Osprey have released a number of books recently for related matters. Warsaw 1920: the War for the Eastern Borderland by Steven Zaloga covers the Polish push into the Ukraine in 1920, the Soviet drives on Lvov and Warsaw and the Polish counter-attack (but not the later fighting on the Nieman). Nice maps, but too small to give other than a quick overview.
Finland’s War of Independence by J O Hannula is a nice introduction (available in French as La Guerre d'indépendance de Finlande). I also enjoyed Finland and the Russian Revolution, 1917-1922 by C Jay Smith.
Mannerheim wrote memoirs, but I understand that the part dealing with the Finnish Civil War was left out of translations to avoid offending the Soviets.
The "Greens" were local military groups for fought either to protect their area from other armies or for reasons of survival. They were an important force in the fighting, but tend to be left out of the standard histories. Behind the Front Lines of the Civil War by Vladimir N Brovkin is a really good introduction to them, although the author launches into a few too many angry attacks on opposing views.
Two areas have seen particular attention, because they posed the greatest threat to Soviet power. The first is the Tambov/Volga area, for which I recommend the excellent Bandits and Partisans: The Antonov Movement in the Russian Civil War by Erik C. Landis. There is also The Unknown Civil War in Russia: A study of the green movement in the Tambov region, 1920 - 1921 by Oliver Radkey which is interesting but marred somewhat by the author’s near pathological dislike of every aspect of Marxism. Peasant Russia, Civil War: the Volga Countryside in Revolution 1917 - 1921 by Orlando Figes looks at a region next to Tambov, but I found it strangely dry from an author who is usually very enjoyable.
Then there is Nestor Makhno, poster boy for the anarchists, who appear to overlook the fact that he was considerably better at plundering and killing than he was at providing a better life for anyone. By far the best history of him I have read is The Makhnovshchina, 1917-1921: ideology, nationalism, and peasant insurgency in early twentieth century Ukraine which is an unpublished PhD thesis by Colin Darch (who very kindly provided me with a copy). "Nestor Makhno" by David Footman appears in St Anthony’s Papers Number 6 (Soviet Affairs) Number Two, 1959 and gives the basic details pretty well.
I have not read Nestor Makhno – Anarchy's Cossack: The Struggle for Free Soviets in the Ukraine 1917–1921 by Alexandre Skirda but his Nestor Makhno: Cossack Libertaire – 1888–1934 is spoiled for me by his over-riding desire to push his personal political message. La Makhnovchtchina: l'insurrection révolutionnaire en Ukraine de 1918 à 1921 by Pierre Archinoff is even more biased.
On the whole I am not particularly interested in the foreign interventions and do not read much about them. The support of the Allied powers was vital to the progress of the White armies of Denikin, Kolchak and Yudenich, but it was financial and logistical support, not military, which was important. Allied Intervention in Russia, 1917-1920 by J F N Bradley is quite good as a start.
While the British and American interventions in the far North, Siberia and Caspian are covered in dozens of books, the French interventions are almost completely ignored. The gap annoyed me, especially since the French official history of the fighting is available and clearly contradicts the figures that are repeated in all general histories. The result was that I wrote a military history of the French in the Ukraine, How Odessa Became Red, with the kind assistance of Tom Hillman and Alexis Mehtidis (who provided vital material from Russian and Greek sources respectively) sorting out the fact from the fiction. Details are here. Osprey have covered the same campaign in Armies in Southern Russia, 1918-1919 but it is useful really only for the uniforms.
Only one really good history covers the Czech, Komuch and Kolchak campaigns from a military angle: Remembering a Forgotten War: civil war in eastern European Russia and Siberia, 1918-1920 by Serge P. Petroff.
Vladivostok under red and white rule: Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Russian Far East, 1920-1922 by Canfield F. Smith is useful for the very far east after Kolchak (it covers far more than just Vladivostok) and is a useful follow-on from Petroff.
For those interested in the far east, there is White Terror: Cossack Warlords of the Trans-Siberian by Jamie Bisher, covering the exploits of Semenov mainly, but also Kalmykov and Ungern-Sternberg. Out in paperback fortunately, because the hardback is feriously expensive, this is an absolute "must buy" if you have any interest in the theatre at all.
The Japanese thrust into Siberia, 1918 by James William Morley is only concerned with the politics of Japan's decision to enter and does not discuss the actual intervention at all. The Destruction of Nikolaevsk-on-Amur is a fascinating look at one episode in the Japanese involvement. Otherwise the only avenue is to read books about the US intervention, which was primarily aimed at restricting the Japanese.
The Czechoslovak Legion in Russia by J F N Bradley is clearly a thesis converted into book and you would never knew that the Czechs actually fought a major campaign, so heavily political is his emphasis. The recent Osprey The Czech Legion 1914-20 by David Bullock covers all the various Czech units, not just those in the Civil War. Useful if you need help with uniforms, especially for the period from 1919 onwards, but it has basically nothing about the fighting or the organisation of the Legion.
A short article "Siberian Partisans in the Civil War" by David Footman appears in St Anthony's Papers Number 1 (Soviet Affairs) Number One, 1956 and is quite illuminating about the difference between the reality of partisan activity and the later Soviet version of events.
Bolsheviks in the Ukraine: the Second Campaign: 1918-1919 by Arthur E Adams is one of my favourite books on the Russian Civil War, unusual in looking at the events of the first Soviet conquest almost entirely from the Soviet side.
For a look at the very confusing series of events in the Ukraine during the period, there is The Ukrainian Revolution, 1917–1920: a Study in Nationalism by John S Reshetar Jr, but even it focuses almost entirely on the politics in Kiev and Kharkov, and The Ukrainian-Polish Defensive Alliance 1919–1921: and aspect of the Ukrainian Revolution by Michael Palij.
Other books specifically on the Ukraine are mentioned at this section of the site here.
There appears to be no decent book on the campaigns of the North-Western army of General Iudenich in either English or French. The best summary is The History of the North-West Army of General Iudenich, a PhD thesis by Gleb Drujina (which I have put on this site).
For the campaigns in the Baltic, see this section of this site dedicated to the Freikorps.
The area of the Caucasus mountains was the scene of numerous little wars and independence movements throughout the period after the February Revolution. The only general history appears to be The struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917 - 1921 by Firuz Kazemzadeh. Otherwise coverage is patchy, with only Armenia getting full treatment: The Republic of Armenia by Richard Hovannisian is comprehensive (being 4 heavy volumes) and there are quite a few books about the battle of Sardarabad. I enjoyed the "The Last Ghazawat: the 1920-1921 Uprising" (an article in The North Caucasus Barrier) by Marie Broxop covering the virtually unknown late Chechen uprising against the Soviets; and The Baku commune: 1917-1918: class and nationality in the Russian revolution by Ronald Grigor Suny details the fascinating history of one very troubled city.
Setting the East Ablaze by Peter Hopkirk is more a fun read than a history book (although the stuff is properly researched) about goings on in the Soviet east, but otherwise the coverage of the fighting in central Asia is even worse than for the Caucasus. Except, naturally, the British intervention in the Trans-Caspian region gets lots of attention despite its unimportance in the greater scheme of things.
There appears to be no full history in English on the Basmachis, although there are some interesting essays in the journal Central Asian Survey and a useful military summary in Chapter 3 of Leavenworth Paper No.20 from the US military.
The Kronstadt Rising by Kratkov in St Anthony's Papers Number 6 (Soviet Affairs) Number Two is pretty solid but for military details from the Soviet side I recommend The Role of M.N. Tukhachevskii in the Suppression of the Kronstadt Rebellion by Neil Croll in Revolutionary Russia, Vol 17, No. 2, Dec 2004.
I do not share most wargamers obsession with vehicles, but there are a couple of indispensable texts. Armored Units of the Russian Civil War: White and Allied and its companion volume ... : Red Army by D Bullock and A Deryabin are excellent on the armoured trains and good on the tanks, but a bit thin on the armoured cars.
But that's fine because there is Armored Automobiles of the Russian Civil War 1918- 1920 by Tom Hillman which fills the gap magnificently. A must buy if you have any interest in armoured cars at all. Details are here.
There is also the Russian book Tanks of the Civil War for which there are translations floating around.
The Growth of the Red Army by Dimitri Daniel Fedotoff White is quite interesting, though it deals mostly with generalities.
For the period before the Red Army proper came in to being one of the most important Soviet units was the Latvian Rifle Division, which is explained in The Latvian Impact on the Bolshevik Revolution: the first phase: September 1917 to April 1918 by Andrew Ezergailis. Another early military force were the "Red Guard" militias in the towns, explained in Red Guards and Workers' Militias in the Russian Revolution by Rex A. Wade.
I found The Soviet Army by B. H. Liddell Hart and Histoire de l’armée rouge: la revolution et la guerre civile by Dominique Venner decent enough, without really engaging me.
Available on-line is Neil Croll's PhD thesis Mikhail Tukhachevsky in the Russian Civil War, which is an easy to read history of one of the Red Army's first heros. Another early Soviet hero (also shot by them, as it happens) is discussed in Philip Mironov and the Russian Civil War by Sergei Starikov and Roy Medvedev. Unfortunately, while Mironov was the leader of the Second Cavalry Army, the book is short on military detail.
The history of the 20th Century has too often been written by people determined to divide us all into Left or Right, "Red" or "White", good or bad: but in the confusion of the revolutions and civil wars there were plenty of people who moved between these groups, as the boundaries are much more porous than the purists will allow. Richard B Spence's Boris Savinkov: Renegade of the Left is the story of an amazing man who was always where the action was hottest, and who fought for Red and White.
For a bit of a peek at what the actual fighting was like you have to avoid the generals and try to piece it from the reports of the average fighting man. The following are my favourites, which is why I have translated them and put them up here. My favourite by a mile in this respect is Carnets de route d’un artilleur à cheval 1917 - 1920: Mes Chevaux dans la poussière et dans la boue by Serge Mamontov, who fought as a horse artilleryman throughout the whole war in the south. Large parts of La Guerre en Russie et en Siberie by L Grondijs are also very good in this respect. There is also the excellent The Lost Legion by Gustav Becvar, who fought with the Czech Legion.
The following have books have sections giving interesting details of the fighting: Arms of Valor by Pavlo Shandruk (for Ukrainian nationalists against Reds and Whites), The Unmaking of a Russian by Nicholas Wreden (with Iudenich), Russia, My Native Land: a US Engineer Reminisces and Looks at the Present by Gregory P Tschebotarioff (Whites in the South), Farewell to the Don by H N H Williamson (an Englishman’s observations in the south), Notes of a Red Guard by Eduard M. Dune (mostly early fighting in Moscow), Years Off my Life by A V Gorbatov (20 pages of his time as a low level cavalry commander), and The Wind of Morning by Hugh Boustead (an interesting 20 pages on his time in south Russia). Although containing elements of fiction, the Red Cavalry Stories by Isaac Babel is essentially an eye-witness view of what it was like in the Konnarmiya.
Path of Valour by Semyon Budenny, which is only the first half of the Russian version and quite the most one-sided autobiography I have ever read (though this may only be the English translation, rather than the original) but is nonetheless required reading since he does talk about military details that most higher level commanders leave out altogether (and helps counter-balance the pro-White sources of most memoirs in English). From Tsarist General to Red Army Commander by M Bonch-Bruyevich is the interesting tale of how a man could get into the Red Army without any political thought involved, though for me it was marred somewhat by the dodgy Soviet version of history.
I would recommend avoiding Memoirs of the Russian Revolution by General Loukomsky (at least in the English version) and The Grinding Mill: Reminiscences of War and Revolution in Russia, 1913-1920 by Prince A Lobanov-Rostovsky. Dull, dull, dull.
The following books have some of the feel for the period, and it seems unlikely that the original author was making it all up, but there appears to be some embellishment: The Secret of Nicolas Svidine by Nicolas Svidine, White Devil of the Black Sea by Lewis Stanton Palen is more "ripping yarn" than history.
Another book in which it is hard to separate fact from fiction is Last Train over Rostov Bridge by Marion Aten. (Unfortunately this book is often cited as a source for British aviation in South Russia, leading to a completely false impression of the scale of the aerial fighting. If you read tales of derring-do and dog-fights by British pilots over Tsaritsyn, then the source is probably this book.) For what it was actually like in the emergent airforces I recommend Gatchina Days by Alexander Riaboff.
An usual struggle is detailed in the La Guerre des Rouges et des Blancs: les insurgés du Kouban by Elie Savtchenko, which is about some White-Greens trapped in the Kuban and their march to safety. It is very hard to follow if you don't know the basic history though.
For amusing tales in the early Red Navy try Tales of Sub-Lieutenant Ilyin by Raskolnikov (available on-line somewhere).
There are a couple of reference books worth getting if you are seriously interested in the period.
For the Soviets there is Гражданская Война И Военная Интервенция В СССР (Civil War and Military Intervention in the USSR), which is an encyclopedia with unit histories at divisional level, loads of pictures and really good maps.
Гражданская Война В России: Война С Белополяками (Civil War in Russia: War with the White Poles) by Н Какурин and В Меликов (I. Kakurin and V. Melikov) has maps and loads of tables at the rear, even if you can't follow the text.
For the Whites there is Белая Россия Фотоалбом (White Russia Photoalbum) published by Посев (Posev), which has hundreds of photos of the Whites in all the theatres.
Essential for tracking White units, Volkov's Знциклопедиу Гражданской Войны: Велое Движение (Encyclopedia of the Civil War: White Army) lists most of the major white commanders and units. Fabulous for working out orbats and unit histories. It is on-line.
I find the tendency of wargamers to have units with carefully researched organisations and uniforms fighting on completely random terrain rather depressing. Until I started reading I thought, like most people I suppose, that the Russian steppe is one vast plain broken only by the Ural mountains. The steppe is, however, not particularly flat in western Russia and the Ukraine and is not particularly broken by the Urals.
A good starting point is a geography book. I use The U.S.S.R.: a Geographical Survey by Gregory and Shave because, being from 1944, the statistics about land coverage and crops grown are closer to the 1920 values than with modern books (it was also cheap).
The sources for these are discussed in the Red, White, Nationalist and Cossack Army sections of the site.