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The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia

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If the past century will be remembered for its tragic pairing of civilized achievement and organized destruction, at the heart of darkness may be found Hitler, Stalin, and the systems of domination they forged. Their lethal regimes murdered millions and fought a massive, deadly war. Yet their dictatorships took shape within formal constitutional structures and drew the sup If the past century will be remembered for its tragic pairing of civilized achievement and organized destruction, at the heart of darkness may be found Hitler, Stalin, and the systems of domination they forged. Their lethal regimes murdered millions and fought a massive, deadly war. Yet their dictatorships took shape within formal constitutional structures and drew the support of the German and Russian people. In the first major historical work to analyze the two dictatorships together in depth, Richard Overy gives us an absorbing study of Hitler and Stalin, ranging from their private and public selves, their ascents to power and consolidation of absolute rule, to their waging of massive war and creation of far-flung empires of camps and prisons. The Nazi extermination camps and the vast Soviet Gulag represent the two dictatorships in their most inhuman form. Overy shows us the human and historical roots of these evils.


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If the past century will be remembered for its tragic pairing of civilized achievement and organized destruction, at the heart of darkness may be found Hitler, Stalin, and the systems of domination they forged. Their lethal regimes murdered millions and fought a massive, deadly war. Yet their dictatorships took shape within formal constitutional structures and drew the sup If the past century will be remembered for its tragic pairing of civilized achievement and organized destruction, at the heart of darkness may be found Hitler, Stalin, and the systems of domination they forged. Their lethal regimes murdered millions and fought a massive, deadly war. Yet their dictatorships took shape within formal constitutional structures and drew the support of the German and Russian people. In the first major historical work to analyze the two dictatorships together in depth, Richard Overy gives us an absorbing study of Hitler and Stalin, ranging from their private and public selves, their ascents to power and consolidation of absolute rule, to their waging of massive war and creation of far-flung empires of camps and prisons. The Nazi extermination camps and the vast Soviet Gulag represent the two dictatorships in their most inhuman form. Overy shows us the human and historical roots of these evils.

30 review for The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Meirav Rath

    One of Overy's best books, if only for managing to bust myths and provide a massive amount of important information without boring the reader or overtaxing their mind. If you want to learn the inner works of both Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia, this book is a must read. I did find one chapter lacking, the one I actually knew something about; Overy has an impressive knowledge of the Gulag system but his knowledge of the German web of concentration camps, ghettos and extermination camps is quite One of Overy's best books, if only for managing to bust myths and provide a massive amount of important information without boring the reader or overtaxing their mind. If you want to learn the inner works of both Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia, this book is a must read. I did find one chapter lacking, the one I actually knew something about; Overy has an impressive knowledge of the Gulag system but his knowledge of the German web of concentration camps, ghettos and extermination camps is quite lacking. Though I must hand it to Overy that this chapter in his book is a strong card against today's bizarre and ridiculous fashion to see Stalin's crimes as worse than the Germans' simply for their length, but I ramble. It's an excellent book and I highly recommend it for the objective understanding and educating about both totalitarian rules.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anatoly

    An interesting comparison between both dictatorships, but at the same time quite exhausting with too much dwelling on small details and facts.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Richard Overy's exhaustive (and at times exhausting) examination of the Hitler and Stalin regimes follows Plutarch's ancient "parallel lives" model, with an obvious hat tip to Allan Bullock's somewhat similar treatment Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (though Overy states in his introduction that his treatment avoids the personal lives of the two dictators). Since I haven't read Bullock's book, I can't really comment on that comparison/distinction, though I take Overy at his word. Reading Overy Richard Overy's exhaustive (and at times exhausting) examination of the Hitler and Stalin regimes follows Plutarch's ancient "parallel lives" model, with an obvious hat tip to Allan Bullock's somewhat similar treatment Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (though Overy states in his introduction that his treatment avoids the personal lives of the two dictators). Since I haven't read Bullock's book, I can't really comment on that comparison/distinction, though I take Overy at his word. Reading Overy, there is obviously a wealth of regimes-only material to consider. And his obvious intent is to cover it all! The book is structured in such a way that each chapter represents an aspect of the two regimes. Amazingly there is very little overlap, and, with the exception of a few eye glazing chapters, the book succeeds as an amazing achievement of organization and synthesis. (It also helps that Overy is an excellent writer.) The contents, as is to be expected, are depressing and numbing. As I neared the end of the book, I kept reflecting on the sheer scale of Murder that is represented in the book. (And Murder, by the hundreds, by the thousands, is present in virtually every chapter.) The concluding chapter in this 2004 book, with its final comparisons of these two cruel men, the regimes they constructed, and the largely compliant people that they led, serves now, in 2017, as more than a cautionary note.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gordan Karlic

    This is a great history book, scratch that, this is a great book, period. Basically, let's compare two systems that are combined called totalitarian and let's see what made them tick. It is filled with data and Overy really made this book with his presentation of historical facts. If you are interested in the history of that period or just history in the general, read this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    I'm reading this slowly - the data are almost overwhelming and yet at the same time it is a page turner because real life is almost always stranger (and more perverse) than fiction. Here's a quote to make this more concrete: Before 1941 and after 1945 the exiles were selected on political criteria as 'socially dangerous' or anti-Soviet, elastic categories that stretched from the obvious (nationalist politicians, churchmen, soldiers and merchants) to the absurd (philatelists and Esperanto speakers I'm reading this slowly - the data are almost overwhelming and yet at the same time it is a page turner because real life is almost always stranger (and more perverse) than fiction. Here's a quote to make this more concrete: Before 1941 and after 1945 the exiles were selected on political criteria as 'socially dangerous' or anti-Soviet, elastic categories that stretched from the obvious (nationalist politicians, churchmen, soldiers and merchants) to the absurd (philatelists and Esperanto speakers, victims of the cosmopolitan character of their hobby) p. 563. This is my first book by Richard Overy but it won't be my last. ++++++++++++ On my recent trip to Berlin, I was reminded many times of details from this book. Great read!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I will try to add more to this review at a later date but wanted to add some thoughts while it is still fresh in my mind. This book, was, without question, one of the best I have encountered on this time period, and, in particular, on the questions as to how the day-to-day operations of the Stalin and Hitler dictatorships functioned. Overy, with a very difficult task at hand, does his best to provide elements of both objectivity, and most importantly, places you into the mindset of the both the I will try to add more to this review at a later date but wanted to add some thoughts while it is still fresh in my mind. This book, was, without question, one of the best I have encountered on this time period, and, in particular, on the questions as to how the day-to-day operations of the Stalin and Hitler dictatorships functioned. Overy, with a very difficult task at hand, does his best to provide elements of both objectivity, and most importantly, places you into the mindset of the both the functionaries and heads of state. Furthermore, he does a great service to those seeking to move past the mythology of the era by eclipsing stale falsehoods about both Hitler and Stalin in regards to their mentality throughout the war. Utilizing many primary source documents, he shows that Stalin, far from shrinking in the face of an unexpected German invasion, in fact, was intricately involved in the days following, and that many of the ideas espousing otherwise stem from Khrushchev's desire to solidify the Soviet apparatus during the 50s. Furthermore, the way in which Overy separates the book allows the reader to to gain insight on both the political structure of Hitler and Stalin's rule, while also understanding how the average citizen intersected with the dictatorship at the most routine levels of existence. Obviously, one cannot walk away untouched by the descriptions of utter horror, while at the same time, Overy helps you grasp what life was like and how these two states operated for over a decade without any opposition whatsoever to the rulers at the head. I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to understand how these States operated and looking to get past the simplistic representations of the time.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Zach Thibodeau

    An excellent investigation of the similarities and differences of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. Where Overy succeeds is in describing the relationships of the two dictators to their people. He has successfully opened up a partial understanding of the question, "Why would Germans and Russians go along with this?" Instead of blaming ignorance, misinformation, and deceit Overy has explained the ideological constructs of the regimes. This book, pointed out in Overy's introduction, is not a d An excellent investigation of the similarities and differences of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. Where Overy succeeds is in describing the relationships of the two dictators to their people. He has successfully opened up a partial understanding of the question, "Why would Germans and Russians go along with this?" Instead of blaming ignorance, misinformation, and deceit Overy has explained the ideological constructs of the regimes. This book, pointed out in Overy's introduction, is not a duel biography. Instead, the aims are a statistical, and empirical examination of two of the most corrupt leaders under two of the most corrupt systems in the history of the world. As a young history teacher, I have plans to use this book extensively. An excellent addition to my early book collection. 4 stars because 600 pages in, I found myself yearning to see the last page. Amazing otherwise.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Still reading this one, seems to be a good comparison between the two and the modes of rising to power and leadership styles. Really different from the military histories that I am more used to reading. I would definitely recommend it! Just finished this one. I know of no other book that I have read that has made me so glad not to have lived in Europe during this time. The express intent of evil on both sides was astounding. The writing of this book was exemplary and I really appreciated the auth Still reading this one, seems to be a good comparison between the two and the modes of rising to power and leadership styles. Really different from the military histories that I am more used to reading. I would definitely recommend it! Just finished this one. I know of no other book that I have read that has made me so glad not to have lived in Europe during this time. The express intent of evil on both sides was astounding. The writing of this book was exemplary and I really appreciated the author's ability to draw meaning out of a wealth of evidence to try to give a fascinating overall picture of these two dictatorships - how they came into being, what drove them, why they did what they did, what the reasons were. Really a good book - even though it took me about three months to finish it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    How such a fascinating topic/comparison could be made, not boring, but workmanlike, is a mystery. This is a good overview/review, but somehow the information stays on the page. Overy may be a very good historian (not my field, but his research and analysis seems solid), but his writing is quite dry. Disappointing.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Brilliant comparison of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's USSR

  11. 4 out of 5

    Justus

    I feel almost bad giving this such a (relatively) low review because there is a tremendous amount of scholarship covering a staggering variety of subjects here. On the surface it seems like everything I tend to like in history books: it is focused on organizations rather than individuals, it is an idiosyncratic take on a popular theme, and so on. Overy sets out to write a book, not about Hitler and Stalin, but about the operational reality of their dictatorships. He writes about utopian town plan I feel almost bad giving this such a (relatively) low review because there is a tremendous amount of scholarship covering a staggering variety of subjects here. On the surface it seems like everything I tend to like in history books: it is focused on organizations rather than individuals, it is an idiosyncratic take on a popular theme, and so on. Overy sets out to write a book, not about Hitler and Stalin, but about the operational reality of their dictatorships. He writes about utopian town planning, the rise of technocratic elites in both, both attempting to build a kind of classless society (Hitler emphasised uniforms everywhere in part (in his own words) "so that Germans can walk together arm in arm without regard to their station in life"), genetics (Dawinism vs. Larmarkism), definitions of a "new man", and more. And all of that is just one part of just one chapter. Frankly, it all became a bit wearisome. I was reading another book shortly afterwards that included the line My intention has been to follow major themes across time and space, not to try to be encyclopaedic. And I feel that's where Overy misstepped. He did attempt to be encyclopaedic and there are no real major themes that run through the book. At one point I was four hundred pages in and looked up and realized I hadn't even made it half way through the book yet. Each chapter is easily over an hour long to read. And, for whatever reason, I rarely found the chapters especially engaging. So it would usually take me (at least) two sittings to finish a single chapter. Why do we read non-fiction? What makes a "good" non-fiction book? I wondered this while trying to put my finger on exactly why I found The Dictators so hum-drum, especially since it seemed like exactly the kind of book I thought I would like. I think one part of the answer is we are often looking for a kind of "ah ha!" feeling where you see the world (or one part of its history) in a slightly different way. I rarely got that feeling while reading Overy's book. Instead it felt more like a bricklayer filling in a few small gaps with putty.

  12. 5 out of 5

    James

    There's some good stuff in this book, should be at 600+ pages. But too much fluff, and I got the impression much is not original, the author took 100 other Hitler/Stalin books, copied and pasted from them, with little thought as to how true the "stuff" is. Example, in next to last chapter, about the camps, he copies and pastes a number of things from the book: MAN IS WOLF TO MAN This book is a fraud, mostly lies, yet this author thinks that because someone published it, it must be true!!! Example: at a There's some good stuff in this book, should be at 600+ pages. But too much fluff, and I got the impression much is not original, the author took 100 other Hitler/Stalin books, copied and pasted from them, with little thought as to how true the "stuff" is. Example, in next to last chapter, about the camps, he copies and pastes a number of things from the book: MAN IS WOLF TO MAN This book is a fraud, mostly lies, yet this author thinks that because someone published it, it must be true!!! Example: at a gulag camp, the guards would give the prisoners a shot of alcohol to warm them up before going to work in the winter. Given the shortage of alcohol in Siberia, and the guards boredom and desire to be drunk as often as possible, do YOU really think they'd GIVE booze to prisoners??? Made a nice little anecdote, but not backed up by any reliable source, there's more where that came from. I have a bridge in NYC, wanta buy it?

  13. 4 out of 5

    M Thomas

    I’ve read a full score of books on how these two monstrous regimes came to be and came to be supported by their citizens. This book is by far the best at examining and explaining their commonalities and differences. If you want to get past the basic facts of how evil each government was, this is the book to contextualize and examine the mechanicisms and philosophical roots of the mutant of science and bureaucracy into mass murder.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Wil C. Fry

    This was a dense but informative book that compares and contrasts the 20th Century’s two most infamous dictators in every detail. (I wrote a longer review back in 2009.) This was a dense but informative book that compares and contrasts the 20th Century’s two most infamous dictators in every detail. (I wrote a longer review back in 2009.)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Leonardo

    Recomendado como estudio comparado de los dos dirigentes más importantes de la guerra en Europa en Guerra. Recomendado como estudio comparado de los dos dirigentes más importantes de la guerra en Europa en Guerra.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nimrod Perez

    A fairly interesting comparison between Hitler and Stalin, what is the most amazing is that they're stories have some striking similarities...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    As well as being engaging throughout, this book has been invaluable to me in writing my extended project, so I've given it five stars out of gratitude!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Grof J. Kešetović

    Usually when people think of Overy's works, this would be the capital work he provided to the scientific community. It offers an excellent insight into two obviously similar but in the end very different totalitarian systems. Note to readers - I read the book 4-5 years ago, so I will need to read it again to refreshen my review :D

  19. 4 out of 5

    Human Being

    Outstanding! The most provocative deep dive into the motives of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's USSR that brings a wide eyed perspective to what gave form and function to each leaders and their followers ability to engage in unparalleled atrocities. Overy takes the reader on a long journey through their more relevant recent social and political struggles and relates them to the outcome of the dictatorships that they chose as the cure for their preconceived ills. He does not apologize for their vio Outstanding! The most provocative deep dive into the motives of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's USSR that brings a wide eyed perspective to what gave form and function to each leaders and their followers ability to engage in unparalleled atrocities. Overy takes the reader on a long journey through their more relevant recent social and political struggles and relates them to the outcome of the dictatorships that they chose as the cure for their preconceived ills. He does not apologize for their violence and bigotry but makes the reader see that there was for them an alternative view to Western Liberal morality that is historically and culturally unique to both Germany and Solvic peoples. This is at the heart of understanding the why and how of WW2 that anyone comes away with after learning of the deep of inhumanity these two countries perpetrated on the world. I've read and have studied this subject for decades and have never read a historian who has ever come close to explaining either the how or why of that question until now. Absolutely outstanding in the deepth and breath of how bravely Mr. Overy conquered this subject of how and why Hitler and Stalin did what they did. But even as important how and why each society allowed them to do so. If you had only one book to read on WW2 make this it!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bruno

    Usually, I'm not fond of historical biographies (I usually watch History channel or BBC for that purpose), but I've gladly made an exception and ventured through this book during hot summer days of 2011. It contains many known and private facts, revolving around the greatest monsters the modern age the world was able to see. From their birth through childhood, youth, adult and middle age to their death. One pursuing the idea of national supremacy over the others. while the other imposes socialis Usually, I'm not fond of historical biographies (I usually watch History channel or BBC for that purpose), but I've gladly made an exception and ventured through this book during hot summer days of 2011. It contains many known and private facts, revolving around the greatest monsters the modern age the world was able to see. From their birth through childhood, youth, adult and middle age to their death. One pursuing the idea of national supremacy over the others. while the other imposes socialistic ideas. But they couldn't be what they were without the support of other peoples, who've decided to give them that opportunity. Their stories jump from one to another, so we can get the picture of what their and the history of the world was, simultaneous. While doing that, you may notice that they were like brothers in a struggle for ultimate power, as their methods and crimes can only differentiate them by a context, rather than the deed itself. This is one of the best source materials for academic works (regarding history), as well as biographies of a famous/notorious persons.

  21. 5 out of 5

    James

    Non-fiction. This is a highlevel discussion of Hitler and Stalin - it is not the pure history - you are expected to know the basic course of events. Rather, this is a more in-depth examination of the underpinning realities - the idea of functionalism vs. intentionalism (how were they merely reacting to events beyond their control vs. creating the reality and results they intended all along). This is some of the hardest reading I have ever experienced. Some of the sentences took a half dozen read Non-fiction. This is a highlevel discussion of Hitler and Stalin - it is not the pure history - you are expected to know the basic course of events. Rather, this is a more in-depth examination of the underpinning realities - the idea of functionalism vs. intentionalism (how were they merely reacting to events beyond their control vs. creating the reality and results they intended all along). This is some of the hardest reading I have ever experienced. Some of the sentences took a half dozen reads to really process. He knows his stuff.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    This comparison between the Stalinism and National Socialism is very informative. The author's perspective is interesting, in that even though the two ideologies consider each other enemies both exhibit many of the same outward social features such as cults of personality. Also the author stresses the contribution of scientism to two ideologies.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Christoffer

    Brilliant work by Overy! A comparative and in-depth study of the regimes of Hitler and Stalin. Simply a masterpiece within the totalitarianism research. The thickness can be intimidating to new readers, but the chapters can be read independently, and provide worthwhile insight into the extremely brutal regimes of national socialism and russian communism.

  24. 5 out of 5

    AskHistorians

    This is not quite a readable as Snyder, but a very well-written and well-documented comparative history of the regimes of Hitler and Stalin, highly recommended for the enthusiast already familiar with the general details of each regime's history and wanting to really gain an understanding of their similarities and differences.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Douglas

    Winner of Wolfson Prize for History, provides an enlightening comparison of Stalin and Hitler's dictatorship. The writing is a bit dense, but very interesting look at how the dictatorships (and their horrors) came to be.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    3.5 Stars....didn't shift well between the two...However this book is quite special...it was the book I was reading the day my twin nephews, Dillon and Jared were born. Feb 6 1996. I signed the book and gave it to Dillon on 29 June 2012

  27. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    Does what it says in the title, really.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    Really an excellent comparison of the two dictatorships! (: Every IB History student should read this for SPS!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Renae

  30. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

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