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Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

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Alternate cover edition of ISBN 9781400076789 This widely acclaimed biography provides a vivid and riveting account of Stalin and his courtiers—killers, fanatics, women, and children—during the terrifying decades of his supreme power. In a seamless meshing of exhaustive research and narrative, Simon Sebag Montefiore gives us the everyday details of a monstrous life. We see Alternate cover edition of ISBN 9781400076789 This widely acclaimed biography provides a vivid and riveting account of Stalin and his courtiers—killers, fanatics, women, and children—during the terrifying decades of his supreme power. In a seamless meshing of exhaustive research and narrative, Simon Sebag Montefiore gives us the everyday details of a monstrous life. We see Stalin playing his deadly game of power and paranoia at debauched dinners at Black Sea villas and in the apartments of the Kremlin. We witness first-hand how the dictator and his magnates carried out the Great Terror and the war against the Nazis, and how their families lived in this secret world of fear, betrayal, murder, and sexual degeneracy. Montefiore gives an unprecedented understanding of Stalin’s dictatorship, and a Stalin as human and complicated as he is brutal.


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Alternate cover edition of ISBN 9781400076789 This widely acclaimed biography provides a vivid and riveting account of Stalin and his courtiers—killers, fanatics, women, and children—during the terrifying decades of his supreme power. In a seamless meshing of exhaustive research and narrative, Simon Sebag Montefiore gives us the everyday details of a monstrous life. We see Alternate cover edition of ISBN 9781400076789 This widely acclaimed biography provides a vivid and riveting account of Stalin and his courtiers—killers, fanatics, women, and children—during the terrifying decades of his supreme power. In a seamless meshing of exhaustive research and narrative, Simon Sebag Montefiore gives us the everyday details of a monstrous life. We see Stalin playing his deadly game of power and paranoia at debauched dinners at Black Sea villas and in the apartments of the Kremlin. We witness first-hand how the dictator and his magnates carried out the Great Terror and the war against the Nazis, and how their families lived in this secret world of fear, betrayal, murder, and sexual degeneracy. Montefiore gives an unprecedented understanding of Stalin’s dictatorship, and a Stalin as human and complicated as he is brutal.

30 review for Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

  1. 4 out of 5

    Max

    This remarkable book details how Stalin ran the Soviet Union as his fiefdom using terror to gain and maintain power. He was a brutal man and mass murderer. He was also a talented man, well read with an intellectual side. While he could be seething and overbearing, he was also a charmer, a quality he used very effectively. He knew how to use fear. He was a cunning manipulator, a skill he employed to keep everyone in their place at both an individual and a national level. Without a second thought This remarkable book details how Stalin ran the Soviet Union as his fiefdom using terror to gain and maintain power. He was a brutal man and mass murderer. He was also a talented man, well read with an intellectual side. While he could be seething and overbearing, he was also a charmer, a quality he used very effectively. He knew how to use fear. He was a cunning manipulator, a skill he employed to keep everyone in their place at both an individual and a national level. Without a second thought he could turn on a life-long close friend and have him or her tortured and shot, yet he was capable of kindness, particularly to children. He read people and situations well, but easily became overconfident which undermined his competence. He survived by iron will and force of personality. An ideologue, he and his comrades started out with a desire to create a new Russia for the common people. But his persistent paranoia dominated all his other traits. His creation became a twisted hell. Montefiore built his manuscript from interviews, memoirs, and archives. In the 1990s he toured the former Soviet Union interviewing people who had known Stalin or his associates including many children of key figures. His rich blending of sources gives you the feeling of being there as Stalin interacts with his “court” and family, whether at formal meetings or private gatherings. Many conversations are quoted. We see the give and take, the everyday, and we get a feel for Stalin and those around him. Montefiore gives us the material to form our own views. With any presentation as complex and nuanced as this one much is revealed, but we are still left with many questions. For those interested, my notes follow. They do not reflect the intimate tone or broad scope of the book, just things I felt important enough to jot down. Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili, “Soso”, born in 1878 grew up an abused child, dirt poor, essentially a street urchin, in Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains. His quick mind earned him a place in the local church school and then the seminary. This upbringing, his confidence and taste for intrigue led him to join the Bolshevik underground in 1899. In 1906 Soso married Kato who he loved dearly and gave him a son before she died of TB in 1907. He said, “…with her died my last warm feelings for people.” Soso went on to fund the Party by robbing banks or as he called these crimes “expropriations.” He was arrested and escaped many times as he helped organize the Bolsheviks. He adopted a revolutionary name, Koba, from the hero of a novel. In 1912 he met Vladimir Lenin for whom he wrote Marxist articles. Koba became Koba Stalin adopting a gritty name that sounded similar to Lenin. In the wake of the 1917 revolution fighting the Whites, Lenin encouraged Stalin to be ever more brutal. Promoted to Commissar he summarily killed resistors and anyone he distrusted. One associate, Voroshilov, said Stalin conducted “a ruthless purge…administered by an iron hand.” Commissar Stalin met his second wife, Nadya his 17 year old typist, 22 years his junior, in 1917 marrying her in 1919. In 1922 Lenin made Stalin General Secretary of the Central Committee (CC), a job with wide-ranging power. Lenin would turn against the power grabbing Stalin, but too late, dying in 1924. With Lenin gone, other CC members were more afraid of Trotsky and backed Stalin to head the Party. Before long they realized their mistake. By 1926 Stalin was taking control backed by a coterie of radical cohorts. The 1928 grain crisis established Stalin’s brutal approach: blame the kulaks (mostly prosperous peasants with a couple of workers or cows, or just resisters), force them into collectives or kill or deport them and put on some show trials for intimidation. As the crisis worsened in the next couple of years the goal became to eliminate kulaks and resistors completely. To finance industrialization the government was taking any and all grain it could find. Stalin and other Party leaders lived together in the Kremlin with their wives and children, all in constant interaction with each other. They were zealots who had come up together. Molotov, Mikoyan and Kaganovich among others were often in the Stalin household. The men drank together. Wives were influential. Nadya didn’t hesitate to confront Stalin. Couples frequently dined together. Their children played together. Families holidayed together. While in the Kremlin they lived without luxury, Stalin and Nadya included. Maintaining the image of a dutiful Bolshevik was important. Still they had servants, plenty of food, dachas outside the city and holiday homes in the south. They referred to themselves as “responsible workers”. These tightly knit Party leaders were mostly in their thirties. They were idealistic, ruthless and hell bent to build an industrial socialist republic immediately. As much of a beast as Stalin was, he knew how to turn on the charm. He used that talent very successfully to get his way and he also used monetary rewards. While Stalin allowed old friends to criticize him, he was paranoid and he found ways to get rid of those perceived as a threat. He made extensive use of the secret police (OGPU) to ensure loyalty. Still in the 1920’s, Stalin did not have total power. Oligarchic rule still prevailed. In 1932 mass starvation engulfed Ukraine killing 5 to 10 million. Stalin doubled down on his cruel policies: Taking every morsel of grain his agents could find, killing or deporting resistors and any Party members with a hint of a conscience. Cracking down Stalin appointed the duplicitous, ruthless Beria to a position of power. In November Nadya, a manic depressive who was frequently jealous, committed suicide. Perhaps contributing were her dismay at Stalin’s policies and the Ukraine situation and deep disgust at the appointment of Beria who she considered vile. Stalin was deeply shaken by her death. He felt Nadya had abandoned and humiliated him. Kaganovich noted, “Stalin changed.” While Stalin was already vindictive and paranoid; some believe the impact of Nadya’s death on Stalin led to the Terror. 1933 saw a good harvest. Vanished people and villages were soon forgotten. 1934 was a decisive year. Kirov, Stalin’s close longtime friend, the boss of Leningrad and intimate of all the leadership, was assassinated. It looked like an inside job. Stalin was quick, too quick, to assign responsibility listing Party members to be investigated. Mikoyan and Khrushchev later said they thought Stalin planned it, but it was inconceivable at the time. Regardless Stalin seized the opportunity to replace those he did not trust with those he did. He immediately issued the first December Law with which Stalin could exercise total power. In December, 6,501 were shot including the accused conspirators and their innocent families. In the next three years the Law would be used to execute or commit to labor camps over two million people. Bolsheviks, not just resisters, would now be readily arrested and executed. Stalin’s paranoia, perhaps exacerbated by his loneliness following Nadya’s death, was running wild. He had been enamored with Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives in which Hitler consolidated power executing fellow Nazi’s including longtime friend Ernst Rohm. The comfortable days of the Kremlin elite were over. In 1935 Stalin turned on another close longtime friend from his inner circle, Yenukidze, Nadya’s godfather. He had been the first official to see Nadya dead, while Stalin slept off a night drinking. In a pattern that would be repeated with many others, he was falsely accused of harboring terrorists and verbally attacked by Stalin surrogates then forced to write a “Correction of Errors”. Yenukidze was sent away to run a remote sanatorium. Stalin would have him executed two years later. 1936 saw the first of the great show trials. Stalin reopened the Kirov case framing two longtime Bolshevik leaders who had been close associates of Lenin. In return for confessions Stalin promised them they would not be executed. They dutifully played their parts at the trial. Everything was carefully orchestrated to garner public support. Then Stalin had them shot. Stalin relished the humiliation of his enemies. Stalin now viewed himself as a Tsar. Stalin had put Yezhov in charge of the Kirov investigation which had been used exactly as Stalin directed to eliminate enemies. Now Stalin put him in charge of the NKVD, the successor to the OGPU. On the side, Beria would secretly poison enemies for Stalin, including Lakoba, a longtime intimate member of Stalin’s circle. His death was, as usual in these cases, ascribed to natural causes. In 1937 Stalin cleaned house fully unleashing the Terror. Thousands of Party officials and their families were deemed enemies of the people and Trotskyites. They were executed or sent to slave labor. This included high ranking longtime close friends of Stalin such as Bukharin who was shot, his wife sent to slave labor. Sergo, another close Stalin friend, took the easy way out committing suicide. When Stalin took out his enemies so were all connected to them: friends, lovers, protégés as well as family. Torture was regularly used. Stalin had Yezhov clean out the NKVD arresting thousands. Next Stalin eliminated the Red Army generals and even the judges that convicted them. By November 1938 over 40,000 army officers had been arrested. Stalin was now an absolute dictator. In July, 1937 Stalin through Yezhov unleashed the Terror on the entire country. Districts were assigned quotas for executions and arrests and told to weed out “the most hostile anti-Soviet elements” “to finish off once and for all” enemies and of course their families and associates. As regions fulfilled their quotas they received, even asked for larger quotas. Poles and Germans were particularly targeted. Stalin also included “5 of the 15 Politburo members, 98 of the 139 Central Committee members and 1,108 of 1, 966 delegates from the Seventeenth Congress.” Anyone Stalin knew who he perceived could ever potentially turn against him was arrested or shot. In total 1.5 million were arrested and 700,000 thousand shot. Stalin believed it better to kill innocent people than miss an enemy. Yezhov spared no effort or potential enemies to fulfill Stalin’s wishes, personally working nights to torture prisoners himself. Stalin’s intimates Molotov and Kaganavich fully supported the Terror providing Yezhov their own lists of enemies, as did Yezhov’s own close friends Malenkov and Khrushchev. Yet all these men realized they could be arrested anytime. Only Stalin was truly safe. And in 1938 Stalin effectively replaced Yezhov with the sadistic Beria. Yezhov had become increasingly erratic drinking heavily. Stalin had him arrested in 1939 and shot in 1940. By 1939, Stalin realized the purge needed to be scaled back. Europe was on the verge of war. In August, Stalin made a deal with Hitler to buy time figuring mistakenly that France and Britain would keep Germany busy. As part of the bargain Stalin got the Baltic States and Eastern Poland. In Poland true to form Stalin deported priests, officials, professionals, intellectuals, anyone who might oppose him – a total of 1.17 million by 1940, 10 percent of the population. Thirty percent would die the following year. Included were 26,000 Polish officer prisoners Stalin executed. In the Baltics 170,000 were deported or killed. At home Stalin’s paranoia fell on his associates’ wives. He had many eliminated, even the wife of his loyal assistant Poskrebyshev. Poskrebyshev, who Stalin trusted and liked, was beside himself with grief but Stalin told him, “Don’t worry, we’ll find you another wife.” Beria was doing the dirty work in between his nights torturing inmates at Lubianka. After France fell so quickly Stalin feared Hitler would attack. His spies confirmed plans for Operation Barbarossa in December 1940. Despite excellent intelligence Stalin believed he could delay Hitler. As attack became more imminent Stalin became increasingly dysfunctional denying intelligence reports and threatening those that told him the truth and overruling his generals. Many of his best generals had already been killed in the purge. His judgement about those remaining was often poor. He had generals arguing over whether tanks or horse drawn cannon were superior. Russia was unprepared in every way. An NKVD engineered overthrow of a pro German Yugoslav government did delay Hitler a month which would prove to be important. When Russia was attacked in June 1941, Stalin became despondent. But Politburo members and associates realized without Stalin, people would lose faith. Only Stalin could rally the people. They snapped him out of it and got him back in charge. The Russian armies quickly folded losing most of their equipment and men. Soon the Germans were at the entrance to Leningrad. Then Stalin found the right general, Zhukov, who had been dismissed as Chief of Staff for giving Stalin advice he didn’t want to hear. In September, Stalin sent the professional and ruthless Zhukov to save Leningrad, which he miraculously did. Following Stalin’s orders, Zhukov burned down any populated area he could that the Nazi’s had captured. The Nazi’s lost too many men for Hitler, who decided to lay siege, starve the city and send the troops to take Moscow. In November Stalin recalled Zhukov to Moscow to lead the defense. Again miraculously with just 90,000 remaining troops Zhukov held off the Nazis. Soon Russian troops recalled from Asia began arriving to bolster Zhukov’s army. In 1942, the Soviet army again suffered from Stalin’s inept micromanagement as it was eviscerated by the Nazi’s in the south leading to the decisive battle of Stalingrad starting in August. That same month Churchill visited Stalin in Moscow. Stalin wanted a second front, Churchill simply a reliable ally. Stalin showed both sides of himself. After leading with a terse confrontational stance, Stalin turned on the charm reversing Churchill’s initial anger and leaving him with a good impression. But Stalin needed more than charm against the Nazis in Stalingrad. The fear of losing this city and the war caused Stalin, the Supreme Commander, to stop being an amateur general. He made Zhukov Deputy Supreme Commander and sent him to Stalingrad. Zhukov returned as the Russians barely held on. He and Vasilevsky, Chief of Staff, presented to Stalin Operation Uranus, the plan that would win the battle. In November both Stalin and Hitler were confident of victory in Stalingrad and both publicly predicted it to their people. For once Stalin was right. In October Stalin had returned command to his generals. But Beria and the NKVD enforced Party discipline ensuring no one in the military stepped out of line. Beria used the Gulag’s 1.7 million slave laborers to make Stalin’s weapons. Almost a million of these died during the war. In preparation for the battle of Kursk, the world’s greatest tank battle, Beria’s 300,000 slave laborers dug an impenetrable 3,000 miles of trenches. As Zhukov’s plan unfolded one million Russians and 3,000 tanks met 900,000 Germans and 2,700 tanks head on. The Russian victory at Kursk sealed the German’s fate at Stalingrad and Hitler’s in the war. As 1942 ended fresh with victories and a commitment to open a second front after meeting FDR and Churchill in Tehran, Stalin returned to his old heavy drinking overconfident self. Already the war had cost Russia 26 million dead and an equal number homeless. Many were starving and nationalist movements began uprisings. Stalin returned to form answering with mass deportations of suspect ethnic groups. Beria arrested almost a million in 1943 and many more in 1944. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people died, many starving, deported to the Eastern provinces. Corruption was rampant in Soviet leadership including the military and secret police. Germany and conquered territories were extensively looted. The elite piled up treasures while Soviet citizens and soldiers starved, over 800,000 in 1946 and 1947. Stalin made Khrushchev the fall guy for the famine, demoting him After the war Stalin added a big belly to his big head putting on much weight with constant gluttonous dinners at which he and his fellow Politburo members and other intimates were always totally drunk. In 1945 he had a heart attack. He lost some of his sharpness but none of his paranoia. Soon he turned sour on the Four, the other primary Politburo members: Mikoyan, Molotov, Malenkov, and Beria. He replaced Beria as head of the secret police and sent Malenkov packing to central Asia. He also thought the generals too big for their britches, demoting many including the war hero Zhukov. In 1949 he turned on the “Leningraders”, eliminating party members he feared were trying to build a Russian party at the expense of the Soviet one. Keep in mind Stalin was Georgian, not Russian. Yeltsin would years later use a “Leningrader” strategy to undermine Gorbachev. In late 1947 Stalin began targeting Jews. This became an extensive anti-Semitic campaign removing prominent Jews from positions of power. To Molotov’s dismay even his beloved Jewish wife Polina was arrested. She had been friends with Stalin and Nadya since her 1921 marriage to Molotov, for years Stalin’s closest ally. Stalin now considered her snobbish and she had a businessman brother in America. She was sacked from her government position, forced to divorce Molotov and exiled to the East. Many others were arrested or killed. Stalin did not trust anyone he thought elitist and that included many Jews who were called “cosmopolitans.” He was angry that Israel, which he had hoped would be a Russian client, turned towards America, seeing that as a sign of divided loyalty of Soviet Jews. In 1950 the campaign was still in full swing as even lower management level Jews were sacked. The Gulags were busting full at 2.6 million. Stalin also arrested many thousands of Mingrelians, an ethnic group in Georgia. This was also a threat against Beria, who was Mingrelian. Abakumov had replaced Beria as head of the MGB (new name for NKGB which had been split from the NKVD). He was now betrayed by one of his assistants just as had the secret police chiefs before him (Yezhov and Beria). Stalin had decided Abakumov was going soft on Stalin’s latest targets, doctors (many were Jewish). Abakumov was arrested, tortured and eventually shot. He was replaced by Ignatiev, who at Stalin’s direction mercilessly tortured his victims using medical instruments on the doctors. When progress was slow Stalin excoriated Ignatiev, “Beat them until they confess! Beat, beat, and beat again. Put them in chains, grind them into powder.” Stalin had his own longtime family doctor arrested and tortured. By 1950 Stalin suffered terribly from arthritis, cardiovascular disease and the beginning of dementia, but his instincts and modus operandi had not changed. In December 1952 Stalin denounced Molotov and Mikoyan at a Party Congress excluding them from the Politburo. He did not want any of his old cronies to be his successor. The new Four (key Politburo members Malenkov, Beria, Khrushchev and Bulganin) all felt threatened as Stalin turned on his old associates. In March 1953 Stalin had a cerebral hemorrhage. He died days later. The best doctors including his own were unavailable as they were being interrogated in Lubianka. Amazingly, many of his associates who had been terrified of him shed tears at his death. All in all Stalin was responsible for killing 20 million and deporting 28 million with 18 million of those sent to the Gulags.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Harry Rutherford

    This is a biography of Stalin, focussed on his domestic life and the tightly-knit group of people around him: his own family, and politicians, bodyguards, and their families. As a piece of history, it's very impressive. It's clearly the result of a huge amount of research by Montefiore: he seems to have personally interviewed just about every living relative of the major figures, quite apart from the endless reading of archives and memoirs that must have been involved. As a casual reader I found This is a biography of Stalin, focussed on his domestic life and the tightly-knit group of people around him: his own family, and politicians, bodyguards, and their families. As a piece of history, it's very impressive. It's clearly the result of a huge amount of research by Montefiore: he seems to have personally interviewed just about every living relative of the major figures, quite apart from the endless reading of archives and memoirs that must have been involved. As a casual reader I found it slightly hard going at times. I didn't do it any favours by largely reading it in bed at night, but even allowing for that, I found it hard to keep track of all the people involved. I found I was having difficulty remembering which was which even of the most important figures, like Molotov, Mikoyan and Malenkov. I don't know if that's an inevitable result of a book with quite so many people in it — It's not a subject I've read about before, and all the unfamiliar Russian names didn't help — or if it's my fault for reading it while drowsy, or if there's more Montefiore could have done to fix the various people in my mind. I didn't find I got much sense of their various personalities that would have helped me keep them separate. Still, what I did get was a strong sense of Stalin himself, and his trajectory from a charming (though ruthless) young man living an almost campus lifestyle at the Kremlin, surrounded by the young families of his colleagues, to a sickly, garrulous old despot wandering nomadically from dacha to dacha and living in a vortex of terror and awe. But even a sense of what Stalin was like to live and work with doesn't get you much closer to understanding his motivations and the motivations of people around him. Was it just about power or did he believe to the end that he was acting in the interests of Russia and the party? The inner clique around Stalin clearly knew at some level that all the denunciations and show trials were arbitrary and could attach to anyone: they saw the process happen over and over again. And when colleagues they had known for years confessed to ludicrously unlikely accusations, they surely can't have believed it. But the things they said and wrote suggest that at the same time they sort of did believe it, and remained theoretically committed to the ideology to the end. It made me inclined to reread 1984, because the concept of 'doublethink' is so startlingly apt. In some ways the Stalinist purges are even more incomprehensible than the Holocaust. The Holocaust at least has a kind of simple central narrative: an attempt to exterminate the Jews. It fits into a thousand year history of European anti-Semitism as well as a broader human history of racism and genocide. The purges don't offer any kind of similarly clear story: at different times they focussed on different things. It might be a whole social class, a profession, an ethnicity, or it might start with one or two individuals that Stalin was suspicious of and spread out through their colleagues and families to take in hundreds of people. Targets included kulaks, engineers, doctors, army officers, Poles, Jews, ethnic Germans, Chechens, Estonians, Latvians, Ukrainians, Koreans: in fact any ethnic minority that could provide a possible focus for dissent. The total number of deaths, including not just those executed but those who died in slave labour camps or famine, is disputed; but 20 million is apprently a plausible ballpark figure. At one stage Stalin was setting two quotas for the different regions: the number to be shot and the number to be arrested. These numbers were in the tens or hundreds of thousands, but the regions were soon writing back and requesting that their quotas be extended — out of ideological zeal? In an attempt to demonstrate their loyalty? Or just because these things have a momentum of their own? It's a staggering story and despite the slight reservations I expressed earlier, this is a very impressive book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Brett C

    This is my second book authored by Simon Sebag Montefiore and I thought it was great. The writing is superb and well-researched. This is the personal and intimate story of Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili from beginning to end. Of course there are politics, limited foreign policy exchanges, and diplomacy with outside leaders but this book focuses on the deeper layers of Joseph Stalin. Joseph "Soso" Djugashvili was born into poverty in the rural mountainous country of Georgia in 1878. Roughing hi This is my second book authored by Simon Sebag Montefiore and I thought it was great. The writing is superb and well-researched. This is the personal and intimate story of Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili from beginning to end. Of course there are politics, limited foreign policy exchanges, and diplomacy with outside leaders but this book focuses on the deeper layers of Joseph Stalin. Joseph "Soso" Djugashvili was born into poverty in the rural mountainous country of Georgia in 1878. Roughing his early life as a street urchin he eventually got accepted into seminary to become a priest. In 1899 he was expelled and joined the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party. This where his criminal/political life began under the nom de revolution Koba, inspired by the hero of a novel "The Parricide", by Alexander Kazbegi, a dashing, vindictive Caucasian outlaw, pg. 27. Koba eventually assumes the "industrial" alias "Stalin" in 1913, pg. 30, and his political life really takes off with the revolution, the civil war, and his assumption of power after Lenin's death. Stalin was a father to his three children yet showed favoritism to his youngest daughter Svetlana. He was also a devoted, loving, and caring husband to the his first and second wife. In 1907 is first wife Ekaterina died of tuberculosis and he "She died and with her my last warm feelings for people" pg. 29. The suicide of his second wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva in 1932 was the point of no return for Stalin. He wept, cried, and was cared for by close family and friends. Yet after this tragedy, he emerged a different man. His remorseless climb to power was bloody and his retention of power was even bloodier. Something that stuck out to me was pg. 198 when Zinoviev and Kamenev were executed, shot in the head as they begged to call Comrade Joseph Vissarionovich to spare their lives. I envisioned the scene from Miller's Crossing when actor John Turturro was led into the forest and on his knees begging for his life "Look into your heart, PLEASE!!" Stalin's reign of Terror on the population and purging his own leadership are all in this book. Stalin's famine war on the Ukraine, the mass deportations and mass murders, sending millions to he gulags, and purging his own leadership staff were clear indicators of a truly psychotic and paranoid leader. He even eventually murdered those closest to him and even his henchmen who carried out Stalin's murderous killing quotas. "In this, the Terror differed most from Hitler's crimes which systematically destroyed a limited target: Jews and Gypsies. Here, on the contrary, death was sometimes random: the long-forgotten comment, the flirtation with the opposition, envy of another man's job, wife, or house, vengeance or just plain coincidence brought the death and torture of entire families." pg. 229. Overall I really enjoyed this book. The material presented was well-organized, presented clearly, and full of information. This book is not dry and dull but very interesting and kept me hooked throughout the book. I would recommend any book written by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Thanks!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    A stupendous biography and Montefiore really does keep his focus on the fascinating figure of Stalin himself, rather than stealthily turning this into a more generalised history of Soviet Russia as historical biographies are wont to do. And what a complex, contradictory man Stalin is! It's easy to write him off as monstrous (and many of the things he does certainly more than warrant the epithet) but he's also all too human: his love for his second wife, Nadya, whom he never seems to stop mournin A stupendous biography and Montefiore really does keep his focus on the fascinating figure of Stalin himself, rather than stealthily turning this into a more generalised history of Soviet Russia as historical biographies are wont to do. And what a complex, contradictory man Stalin is! It's easy to write him off as monstrous (and many of the things he does certainly more than warrant the epithet) but he's also all too human: his love for his second wife, Nadya, whom he never seems to stop mourning; his protective and close relationship with his daughter Svetlana even when she goes through her difficult adolescent phase (and there's a woman about whom I'd love to know more - in love with Beria?!); his romping with the Bolshevik children of his close circle; the occasion during the battle for Stalingrad when he personally phones the chiefs of tobacco factories to make sure that fighters in the city are sent cigarettes... SSM has scoured the archives and interviewed everyone, it seems, he can find who knew or met Stalin making this dense and deep but never hard to follow. And it's the personal touches that made this for me: it's Stalin the man in all his complexities who comes to life off the page. He's such a towering personality that at the end, as he lies dying, even the people he'd had imprisoned, tortured, or who had lost beloved family members, weep for the loss of this political giant. And I missed him, too, as this came to an end, however counter-intuitive, even disturbing that may sound. It's an immense feat, that SSM pulls off, to convey all the charisma and magnetism of the man, the idealistic visions of his Bolshevik youth and the jaw-dropping corruption and horrors that followed, the complicated melding of generosity and breadth of spirit with the acute paranoia and distrust that led to the Great Terror which never really stopped. And it's the little things that linger: Stalin the autodidact who, after punishing 16 hour days, read voraciously: Dickens, Zola, Balzac; Stalin in one of his last visits sitting a little Georgian girl on his knee and telling her to choose whatever she wants from the sweet shop; Stalin laughing uproariously while plying his friends with Georgian food and drink and playing records on the gramophone for them to dance to... And all the while, the death lists multiply, the quotas for killing get ever larger, and Ukraine starves. What a mystery man is! (Listened to audio April 25-May 5 2020)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    This book aptly describes what it is like to have an extremely paranoid person in leadership. Enemies could be close by or far away in another country. Using the dictums of Marxist-Leninist philosophy enemies were fabricated from individuals in government (the infamous Trotsky is but one example) to whole groups (kulaks, army officers, and ethnic groups in the U.S.S.R., and at the end of Stalin’s life Jews and doctors). No one felt safe under Stalin’s rule – all could be suspects, and suspect ot This book aptly describes what it is like to have an extremely paranoid person in leadership. Enemies could be close by or far away in another country. Using the dictums of Marxist-Leninist philosophy enemies were fabricated from individuals in government (the infamous Trotsky is but one example) to whole groups (kulaks, army officers, and ethnic groups in the U.S.S.R., and at the end of Stalin’s life Jews and doctors). No one felt safe under Stalin’s rule – all could be suspects, and suspect others. But the strength of this book is how it shows Stalin as a human being; too often books on tyrannical dictators dehumanize them as monsters and evil incarnate. Stalin could show affection to those around him and bestowed favours on past friends. He could charm those in his inner circle. Stalin was detailed, hands-on, and had a prodigious memory. He also knew that the Soviet people wanted strong leadership with the necessary icons. He provided that – more so during the Second World War. His cult exists to this day in Russia. To me it is amazing that some of those imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, would still ask Stalin for forgiveness upon release. Reading this book makes one realize that Stalin was just another Czar masquerading under communist ideology. He and his oligarchy had lavish homes spread out across the Soviet Union from Moscow to Sochi. For many years, while millions were starving from famine brought on by forced collectivization, the Soviet Party leadership were accumulating their wealth and holding lavish parties. They used the same techniques as the Czar’s – a police state and exile to the Gulag. But the Soviet economy was industrialized and educational levels upgraded. This was all Machiavellian – any means justified the end. Page 38 (my book) The Bolsheviks could storm any fortress. Any doubt was treason. Death was the price of progress...Hence they cultivated hardness, the Bolshevik virtue. Page 76 Bolshevism may not have been a religion, but it was close enough,...The “sword-bearers” had to believe with Messianic faith, to act with the correct ruthlessness, and to convince others they were right to do so... a systematic amorality. This religion, or science, as it was modestly called invests a man with godlike authority. All agreed on the superiority of the new creed that promised heaven on earth instead of other world rewards. As per the title of the book the emphasis is on Stalin and his entourage – the oligarchs in his inner circle. At times this gives the book a rather gossipy feel – too much of “he said/she said” with accompanying dialogue. The revolving characters become confusing. I did find the World War II years the most interesting. The post-war years mention nothing on the ethnic cleansing that went on in Poland, Ukraine, and Belorussia – costing thousands of lives. Little is mentioned on how Stalin manipulated and bullied his satellite countries (Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria...). The footnotes are messy. We still come away with an intimate and devastating portrait of one the twentieth century’s most brutal dictatorships. As historians have mentioned Stalin declared war on his own country and was directly responsible for the deaths of millions of his countrymen.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Manray9

    Montefiore's research is astounding. He had access to the Stalin archives, but also sought out the friends and family members of Khrushchev, Zhdanov, Kaganovich, all the Alliluyevs, Svanidzes and many others. I didn't know Svetlana Alliluyeva was still alive and living quietly in an unidentified location in the U.S. Midwest. It was almost 700 pages and I couldn't put it down.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sweetwilliam

    Yagoda told his interrogators that “you can put me down in your report to Stalin that there must be a God after all. From Stalin I deserved nothing but gratitude for my faithful service; from God, I deserved the most severe punishment for having violated his commandments thousands of times. Now look where I am [Lubyanka prison] and judge for yourself: is there a God or not?” These are the words of Yagoda, the first of several KGB chiefs that Stalin had arrested, tortured, and executed. During th Yagoda told his interrogators that “you can put me down in your report to Stalin that there must be a God after all. From Stalin I deserved nothing but gratitude for my faithful service; from God, I deserved the most severe punishment for having violated his commandments thousands of times. Now look where I am [Lubyanka prison] and judge for yourself: is there a God or not?” These are the words of Yagoda, the first of several KGB chiefs that Stalin had arrested, tortured, and executed. During the period of glasnost, Montefiore used the Russian archives and interviews with survivors to paint a picture of arguably the most ruthless dictator and mass murder that the world has ever known. I was spellbound by the pages of this book. I literally couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t wait to get to the next chapter. Is there anything good to say about Stalin? He was well read and probably the most well-read Tsar that the Russian people had ever known. He occasionally sent a few rubbles to old friends that he knew before the Revolution. Did I mention that he was well read? Now the bad: The war on the peasantry of the Ukraine, the constant purges within the government that included his closest and most loyal associates their wives, families, extended families, protégés, friends, lovers etc, the purges in the military before, during, and after the war, the pogroms against the Jews etc. Stalin killed everybody, including a good part of his wife’s family and I am still trying to understand why. According to Stalin, it is better to kill thousands of innocent people than to miss a single enemy of the state (i.e. him). In WWII, Stalin is given credit for defeating the Nazis. From the data, one can argue that the Germans were defeated in spite of Stalin. Read how Stalin purges the highest echelon of the Soviet military of 90% of the Marshalls, Commanders, and Corp Commanders and arrests 40,000 officers just prior to WWII. During the war his general order No 270 resulted in the condemnation of nearly a million men and the execution of nearly 15 divisions. He promoted an imbecile to Marshal and killed the head of the Air Force. He was the best weapon the Germans had. The Soviets won in spite of Joseph Stalin who was conducting two wars: one against the Germans and the other against his own people. Eventually, Joseph Vassiniovitch does himself in by instituting a pogrom on Jewish intelligentsia that led to the arrest and interrogation of his own physician and the most competent medical minds in the Soviet Union; the only people that could have saved him. Good riddance. This book should be mandatory reading for anyone attending, teaching, or administering at a university within the free world. The intelligentsia at the Universities are often the last bastion of communism. When you surrender complete control of your personal life and freedoms and empower a central government so that they can better take care of the populace, you are setting the conditions for another Joseph Stalin to grab power. Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, Kim Jung IL, Castro and various jungle and desert Stalin’s from the Soviet Union in 1917 to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2017, there is not one example of Communism benefiting anyone but the leader at the top of the power pyramid. This book is another testament to communism: society’s cancer.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    Christmas time is a tricky time for my friends and relatives. Only the intrepid make moves to buy books, films and music without my preapproval. My friend Ed bought me a book, a memoir, which I had previusly found for a quarter and considered myself cheated at that price. I returned his book and selected this among the meager offerings at the local independent book store; I should qualify that the independent stores across the river are not provincial nor meager but the one here is, despite my b Christmas time is a tricky time for my friends and relatives. Only the intrepid make moves to buy books, films and music without my preapproval. My friend Ed bought me a book, a memoir, which I had previusly found for a quarter and considered myself cheated at that price. I returned his book and selected this among the meager offerings at the local independent book store; I should qualify that the independent stores across the river are not provincial nor meager but the one here is, despite my buying many books upon their opening, they or my town lack vision: I'd assume its an admixture of such. I went home with this biography and sort of tumbled into its depths. We had wicked a storm a few days later and I used the time off work to complete such, ice overstreets and sidewalks lent a theatric detail. The next Christmas I bought my dad a copy which I remain unclear as to whether he perused: he's funny that way. I then bought Young Stalin for myself in paperback but haven't approached such in a meaningful way.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    This book was so gruesome that I could barely read a chapter a day. Stalin's fifties are best described as specializing in ignoring truth. An ostrich with its head buried in the sand had nothing on Stalin. His incompetent management of World War II was truly awful, and his disloyalty and manipulation of friends and their families to their deaths was unbelievable. All in all, he personifies the boss no one wants to work for. Credited with nearly 20 million deaths (I don't think that includes the This book was so gruesome that I could barely read a chapter a day. Stalin's fifties are best described as specializing in ignoring truth. An ostrich with its head buried in the sand had nothing on Stalin. His incompetent management of World War II was truly awful, and his disloyalty and manipulation of friends and their families to their deaths was unbelievable. All in all, he personifies the boss no one wants to work for. Credited with nearly 20 million deaths (I don't think that includes the soldiers lost through his mismanagement of the war), Stalin was most certainly a monster who thought history would ignore his depredations. Thanks to this book, we hopefully will not. I, for one, had no idea Stalin was as cruel as he was. Al Capone was a choirboy in comparison. Both may have been good to their families, but that does not mitigate their criminal tendencies towards murder and mayhem. Now that I have read this book, I can now appreciate Ayn Rand more. Stalin tried to annihilate individualism and then could not understand why he had no one competent left to grow wheat, run factories, do research, etc. Ironically he was in the process of torturing and condemning to death the five greatest Jewish doctors in Russia when he had a stroke and was left to the incompetency of lesser doctors, which killed him. All I can say is, Yes! Serves him right! I'd like to think the world is through producing people like Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Capone, Napoleon, etc. Unfortunately it appears that we are still producing them in Africa and South America and probably other places as well. Scary thought. Hopefully the internet will prevent them from hiding so long from the public eye.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    The trouble with a really good book is that eventually you finish it. Even one that's 700 pages long. After that, your life is basically over. That's what's wrong with this one. We learned precisely jack about Soviet history in school. Aside from the propaganda they ladled out, which was pretty short on recognizable facts. One is left educating oneself, and this is the best the TCL could do on the subject of "show trials" and "Great Terror." I still don't know enough about Russian history, eviden The trouble with a really good book is that eventually you finish it. Even one that's 700 pages long. After that, your life is basically over. That's what's wrong with this one. We learned precisely jack about Soviet history in school. Aside from the propaganda they ladled out, which was pretty short on recognizable facts. One is left educating oneself, and this is the best the TCL could do on the subject of "show trials" and "Great Terror." I still don't know enough about Russian history, evidently. This book glosses over Stalin's early career--who knew there was a Civil War after the Revolution?--and starts out in the mid-20's, just before he got started killing his 20,000,000 people. Stalin and Co. had this interesting policy in 1931 or so of creating instant industry, sort of "just add water," by forcing the peasants to export all their grain to the west. So the peasants had to starve, be deported, or be shot. The Bolsheviks were really into death as a solution to many problems--"no man, no problem." The Kremlin got into WWII through a wall of screeching denial, and for the life of me I can't see how the hell Germany lost the eastern front. The Soviet leadership approached their defense like guys trying to escape a flood by banging holes in the bottom of their boat and shooting at the rescue helicopter. Look at it: A reasonable wartime government encourages its population and military with posters, marching music, slogans, and other jingoistic propaganda. The Kremlin's idea of bucking up the troops was to terrorize anyone who looked a little bit chicken-hearted, plus their families. Case in point: The German army was descending on Moscow; the city was being bombed; there were 90,000 defenders, and what does Stalin do? He has more than 23,000 of them arrested for cowardice. And yet Stalin was apparently personally charming, an enthusiastic scholar, a serious literary critic, and a fine singer who could have sung professionally. He was from Georgia; "Stalin" was his nom de guerre, or de revolution or whatever. In the early 1930's, all the Politburo families lived cosily together in flats in the Kremlin, had dinner parties, shared nannies, vacationed together in the Crimea. (Planning massacres.) After the war, things were different: Stalin really was more like a dictator, controlling things from his various dachas, ordering the magnates to all-night dinner parties where they were required to eat till they vomited and try to drink him under the table. It's tempting to try to diagnose a man like Stalin. Was he a psychopath, an Antisocial Personality? He had some antisocial traits, like egregious criminal behavior and a taste for hearing the last words of those he had arrested, tortured and shot. But he was a loving father and a thoughtful friend. Unlike a true psychopath, he had a fine ability to think through consequences, to plan, to weigh alternatives. He could be gentle. No, he wasn't sick. He, along with others, entered into a system that was based on violence, devoted to violence; that believed in "no revolution without blood;" that made up enemies where there were none; that trusted lies; that rewarded sycophancy; that punished courage, honesty, and integrity. The author relies on an incredible amount of basic research for this biography--interviews with Stalin's adopted son and the children of his associates, the newly published writings of his underlings, his own letters and those of his family, and histories from both East and West. One of the best things about this 700-page biography is that it is broken up into little short chapters, like this one.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tasha

    This one gets a solid 5 stars as it was clearly thoroughly reasearched and well-written. It's a history lesson full of information, dates, names and events (so it's not always a smooth read) but it's also an inside look at the man and his effect on those around him. I've read many books centered around this time in history but never once specifically focused on Stalin and his reign. I feel like I have gained so much knowledge of the behind the scenes workings of this man and his politics. A grea This one gets a solid 5 stars as it was clearly thoroughly reasearched and well-written. It's a history lesson full of information, dates, names and events (so it's not always a smooth read) but it's also an inside look at the man and his effect on those around him. I've read many books centered around this time in history but never once specifically focused on Stalin and his reign. I feel like I have gained so much knowledge of the behind the scenes workings of this man and his politics. A great lesson in history.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    Intimate biography of Joseph Stalin focusing on his inner circle of family and advisers. Montefiore’s fly-on-the-wall approach captures the Soviet Man of Steel at the height of his destructive powers, between the death of his second wife Nadezhda in 1932 and his own demise twenty-one years later. Between that time was an awful lot of death, with tens of millions of Soviet citizens perishing in the Ukrainian famine, Stalin’s Great Terror, the Second World War, post-war attacks on Jews and various Intimate biography of Joseph Stalin focusing on his inner circle of family and advisers. Montefiore’s fly-on-the-wall approach captures the Soviet Man of Steel at the height of his destructive powers, between the death of his second wife Nadezhda in 1932 and his own demise twenty-one years later. Between that time was an awful lot of death, with tens of millions of Soviet citizens perishing in the Ukrainian famine, Stalin’s Great Terror, the Second World War, post-war attacks on Jews and various other purges and atrocities. Montefiore’s book, unfortunately, isn’t the best at exploring those Big Events, which only captures them sidelong or on the rare occasions when his protagonists directly intervene. Instead it’s a portrait of Stalin as Man, who emerges as surprisingly multidimensional: his intelligence, dry wit and affectionate charm towards his inner circle, at least in the earlier years of his rule, belie the common portrait of him as an austere, humorless bureaucrat. But a multidimensional monster is still a monster: after consolidating power and destroying his rivals, Stalin became increasingly paranoid, petty, violent and unwilling to trust his followers or even accept reality (Montefiore spends a great deal of time detailing Stalin’s baffled response to Operation Barbarossa, which nearly cost the USSR the war). Montefiore shows Stalin’s degeneration from Man of Steel to Mad King, with his discontented children (his strong-willed daughter Svetlana and debauched son Vassili) and devious courtiers (eg. the austere “professional revolutionary” Molotov, ever-amenable Malenkov, functionary Zhadnov and, of course, the odious psychopath Lavrenti Beria) scheming, manipulating and assassinating each other like Borgias as they seek their boss’s favor. It’s a chilling portrait of absolute power, where one man controlled the tiniest aspects of his society - up to, and including, his intimates.

  13. 4 out of 5

    SAM

    Stalin is the second leader/dictator I have read a biography about. Pol Pot was the first and although he was pretty mean and his crimes horrific, Stalin comes out of this book looking worse. While it's probably not ethical to compare mass murdering leaders it's impossible not to form a mini league in your mind. I've technically read about Castro via the Che Guevara biography and i'd class him as third in my imaginary league. Stalin's younger years are covered in the other Montefiore book Young Stalin is the second leader/dictator I have read a biography about. Pol Pot was the first and although he was pretty mean and his crimes horrific, Stalin comes out of this book looking worse. While it's probably not ethical to compare mass murdering leaders it's impossible not to form a mini league in your mind. I've technically read about Castro via the Che Guevara biography and i'd class him as third in my imaginary league. Stalin's younger years are covered in the other Montefiore book Young Stalin, which i haven't read, so the Court of the Red Tsar starts from the beginning of his political career up to his death.  This book should have come with a 'name overload' warning as there's a seriously huge cast of characters which, unless Russia is your all consuming passion, will make the book difficult to get through. I understand history is set in stone and names can't just be erased but do we really need to know about everyone? The book is very dense in detail and it feels as though the author has re-traced Stalin's every insignificant step. There's single sentences of random conversations that are inserted, sometimes with no relevance to what came before. This becomes annoying as does the tedious painstaking detail of menial everyday tasks that Stalin carried out as if the mere mention of them is special just because its Stalin.  For me, the most interesting section related to The Terror and the hundreds of thousands of people committed to death lists. Whilst I knew a lot of people died i was ignorant of the true horror and statistics. It's a shame my school history lessons were about the american pilgrims, a subject capable of boring anyone into insanity. I'd much rather of learnt about how evil people can be as this is more relevant to post school life. The section of the German invasion during WW2 should have held my attention more than it did but the more of the book i read the more clunky and incoherent i found the authors writing style to be. The book just didn't flow.  The post war section up until his death was a massive chore to get through and i was so thankful when i'd finished. I'm glad i read this book but at the same time i never want to see it again.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    The blurbs on the cover of this book are over-the-top gushers of praise. Yes, the book contains detailed research, and a lot of new info on the personal side of Stalin. But it is written like a school-girl (or an old woman) gossiping breathlessly about all her closest friends. - It is disorganized. - The punctuation is a mystery. The author makes a statement, then adds a colon, then follows with a quote or another statement that either contradicts the first statement, or has nothing to do with i The blurbs on the cover of this book are over-the-top gushers of praise. Yes, the book contains detailed research, and a lot of new info on the personal side of Stalin. But it is written like a school-girl (or an old woman) gossiping breathlessly about all her closest friends. - It is disorganized. - The punctuation is a mystery. The author makes a statement, then adds a colon, then follows with a quote or another statement that either contradicts the first statement, or has nothing to do with it. - The paragraphs have no unifying idea - they are just a collection of sentences in random order. - The endnotes are a mess. Often, the endnote documents a quote that is not even in the paragraph in question, but in a completely different chapter. - The author uses "perhaps," "must have," and "probably" so often that I doubt that the book is an accurate portrayal of Stalin's personal life. - Even when he is not using the caveats above, he is making statements about the thought processes of the characters to which he has no access. I got so impatient with the author's prose that I quit reading on page 327. I just could not get past the disconnect between the light, bantering, "insider" intimacy of the prose, and the gravity of what was happening to the people and the country.

  15. 5 out of 5

    E. G.

    List of Illustrations Stalin Family Tree Maps Introduction and Acknowledgements List of Characters --Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar Postscript Select Bibliography Index (The full and extremely extensive references for this book are available in the hardback edition and also on the author's website at: http://www.simonsebagmontefiore.com. Many of the sources for this work are totally new. However, to make the paperback a manageable and readable size, the author and publisher have decided not to include List of Illustrations Stalin Family Tree Maps Introduction and Acknowledgements List of Characters --Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar Postscript Select Bibliography Index (The full and extremely extensive references for this book are available in the hardback edition and also on the author's website at: http://www.simonsebagmontefiore.com. Many of the sources for this work are totally new. However, to make the paperback a manageable and readable size, the author and publisher have decided not to include them in the paperback. We hope the readers will agree that, for most, the balance of convenience is best served by this policy.)

  16. 4 out of 5

    John Farebrother

    Another monolithic yet infinitely readable history of a controversial world figure. The painstaking research carried out by the author allows him to go beyond the notorious facts of Stalin's life, and penetrate the inner world of the man himself, allowing a glimpse into what motivated him and drove him on. This is not just a paper study, a review of all the existing documents (although it is that as well), the author also travelled to Georgia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, and met wit Another monolithic yet infinitely readable history of a controversial world figure. The painstaking research carried out by the author allows him to go beyond the notorious facts of Stalin's life, and penetrate the inner world of the man himself, allowing a glimpse into what motivated him and drove him on. This is not just a paper study, a review of all the existing documents (although it is that as well), the author also travelled to Georgia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, and met with key individuals who had known Stalin personally. Anyone interested in the period of world upheaval that marked (and was marked by) Stalin's rule must read this.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andreea

    This biography of Stalin as seen from his circle of close friends, not from the outside, can be quite intimidating in the beginning due to the high number of names and connections between them. But once you start advancing through the book you ascertain the constant presence of Svetlana, Molotov, Beria, Malenkov, Mikoyan and Khrushchev, to name a few. It is both interesting and shocking to read about the famine, the purges, WWII and the Doctors’ plot from the perspective of the people orchestrati This biography of Stalin as seen from his circle of close friends, not from the outside, can be quite intimidating in the beginning due to the high number of names and connections between them. But once you start advancing through the book you ascertain the constant presence of Svetlana, Molotov, Beria, Malenkov, Mikoyan and Khrushchev, to name a few. It is both interesting and shocking to read about the famine, the purges, WWII and the Doctors’ plot from the perspective of the people orchestrating everything. The thing that I could not come to terms with until the end of the book was how it was possible for the people around Stalin to live in such uncertainty, for your life not to depend on clear-cut laws, but to be at the whim of one person. Molotov remained devoted to Stalin, even though he was the one who orchestrated the treason accusations against Polina Molotova, who was convicted to five years of forced labour. The last chapter of the book contains a summary of the interviews with surviving family members of Stalin’s inner circle. The majority have no doubt that what they did was necessary: (view spoiler)[ Vladimir Alliluyev (Redens), whose father was shot on Stalin’s orders and whose mother lost her mind in his prisons, insists he was a “great man with good and bad sides.” Natasha Poskrebysheva, whose mother was shot by Stalin, admires him enormously and claims to be his daughter. Natasha Andreyeva, who lives in straitened circumstances in an apartment filled with her father’s art deco Kremlin furniture, remains the most aggressively Stalinist. “I have inherited my mother’s intuition,” she warned this author during his interview for this book. “I can see an Enemy by their eyes. Are you an Enemy? Are you afraid of the Red Flag?” She still supports the Terror: “We had to destroy spies before the war.” Despite the bulging file chronicling her father’s murderous spree in 1937, she asserts his innocence and claims, “Khrushchev’s dirty hands killed far more in Ukraine!” The “system,” not Stalin, were to blame for any “mistakes,” Andreyeva concludes. “But you Western capitalists have killed many more in Russia with your AIDS than Stalin ever did!” (hide spoiler)]

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I don't know. I may need something lighter -- and soon! Update: I may write some more on this later. At times fascinating, heartbreaking, but also at times a boring read. Montefiore has all kinds of juicy gossip, due to the opening up of old Soviet archives. He takes the new material and attaches it to the history of the period. It works well -- up until WW 2, and then he has to cover a lot of big events quickly -- and this in a 650 page book! In addition, when Montefiore gets to WW 2, I sensed a I don't know. I may need something lighter -- and soon! Update: I may write some more on this later. At times fascinating, heartbreaking, but also at times a boring read. Montefiore has all kinds of juicy gossip, due to the opening up of old Soviet archives. He takes the new material and attaches it to the history of the period. It works well -- up until WW 2, and then he has to cover a lot of big events quickly -- and this in a 650 page book! In addition, when Montefiore gets to WW 2, I sensed a creeping admiration for Stalin starting to show its head. This is due largely Stalin's sensing the historical moment as the Germans approached the gates of Moscow, and thus holding his ground. Whatever. Chapter 20 (Blood Bath by Numbers) was the keeper, which goes on to describe the "execution" of order 00447. Basically this was a death quota order that resulted in the murder of thousands. Such was the Terror. Montefiore suggests that there was some sort of linkage between it and the suicide of Stalin's wife, Nadja. I'm not sure I'm buying into that answering the Why? of the Terror. But it may answer Stalin's bizarre tendency to imprison -- and often kill, the wives of high ranking Soviet officials (and friends). Stalin was a dick.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Powerful, shocking and terrible. Anyone interested in politics or history should read this book. It is humbling to think how fortunate we all are who are free to read this that we do not live in the world described. With the slow accumulation of detail and careful analysis it creates an overwhelming impact conveying that this is the truth about an era of lies, about a political system whose external image was carefully and deliberately constructed exclusively of lies. It describes a world in whi Powerful, shocking and terrible. Anyone interested in politics or history should read this book. It is humbling to think how fortunate we all are who are free to read this that we do not live in the world described. With the slow accumulation of detail and careful analysis it creates an overwhelming impact conveying that this is the truth about an era of lies, about a political system whose external image was carefully and deliberately constructed exclusively of lies. It describes a world in which there were no good choices, where any sign of devotion to truth or fairness was enough to cost a person not only his own life but that of his family and friends. Reading it, one can only thank heaven for the good fortune not to face these choices.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Calzean

    This is a book that takes the reader into the world of Stalin and his cronies. The historical events of the coming to power, the terror in 1937, preparation for war, WWII and its aftermath are backdrops to the study of Stalin and how his behaviour. Midnight cinema showings, followed by 6 hours of drinking, eating, dancing and egotism - every night. Making everyone fear for their lives. The joy Stalin took in the murder of millions. And yet he was insecure, incredibly intelligent but incredibly l This is a book that takes the reader into the world of Stalin and his cronies. The historical events of the coming to power, the terror in 1937, preparation for war, WWII and its aftermath are backdrops to the study of Stalin and how his behaviour. Midnight cinema showings, followed by 6 hours of drinking, eating, dancing and egotism - every night. Making everyone fear for their lives. The joy Stalin took in the murder of millions. And yet he was insecure, incredibly intelligent but incredibly lonely. The parts where Stalin met with Churchill and FDR, and later with Mao are frightening as to how these guys see everything is about them. A brilliant book - worth the effort of reading.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Million

    Brutal. Vindictive. Paranoid. Sexual debauchery. Heavy drinking. Friends and family members being forced to implicate one another for imaginary crimes. Atrocities galore. Get ready for some seriously disturbing stuff if you decide to read this very thorough biography of Joseph Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore. This is not a full-scale biography in that Stalin's early life is only skimmed over. The story really begins in 1932, when Stalin is already in his early fifties, and takes the reader thro Brutal. Vindictive. Paranoid. Sexual debauchery. Heavy drinking. Friends and family members being forced to implicate one another for imaginary crimes. Atrocities galore. Get ready for some seriously disturbing stuff if you decide to read this very thorough biography of Joseph Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore. This is not a full-scale biography in that Stalin's early life is only skimmed over. The story really begins in 1932, when Stalin is already in his early fifties, and takes the reader through his death in 1953. Even though this book is not billed as a sequel to Montefiore's Young Stalin, which I have not read, I think I would have greatly benefited by reading either that book or another one that was focused on Stalin's rise to power. Picking up where this one does, many of the major players and their importance to Stalin were lost upon me, at least to an extent. I do not fault Montefiore for that so much as my own lack of familiarity with the younger Stalin. Montefieore makes a case, and a good one from my viewpoint, that Stalin was just as evil as Hitler was. The scope of brutality is beyond imagination. From page 229: “The quotas were soon fulfilled by the regions who therefore asked for bigger numbers, so between 28 August and 15 December, the Politburo agreed to the shooting of another 22,500 and then another 48,000. In this, the Terror differed most from Hitler's crimes which systematically destroyed a limited target: Jews and Gyspies. Here, on the contrary, death was sometimes random: the long-forgotten comment, the flirtation with an opposition,... or just plain coincidence brought the death and torture of entire families.” And this, from page 198, writing about the killing of two of Stalin's former comrades and friends: “The bullets, with their noses crushed, were dug out of the skulls, wiped clean of blood and pearly brain matter... Yagoda labelled the bullets “Zinoviev” and “Kamenev”... taking them home to be kept proudly with his collection of erotica and ladies' stockings.” I cringed when reading that passage. What kind of a sick, twisted society engages in that type of barbarianism? This was all Stalin: he micromanaged everything, he approved everything that was done, he denied everything that was not done. Looking back, it is amazing that Franklin Roosevelt and the U.S. thought they could actually work with this beast of a man in a cooperative fashion once Hitler was out of the way. Montefiore tries to humanize Stalin at times – showing his family life, unexpected kindness to people here and there, allowing certain people to argue with him. Is this important to note? Yes, because it shows that even though he was a butcher, there were moments where Stalin could act somewhat like a normal human being. I generally tend to think that all humans have some amount of good in them, no matter how miniscule. But those were the exceptions. Literally, the wrong word or a wrong glance could and did get people killed. This man butchered his own people, and did not shed a tear. The second half of the book is primarily devoted to WWII and the final eight years of Stalin's life. Montefiore does an excellent job of chronicling just how inept and unprepared Stalin was for Germany's attack in June 1941. Stalin foolishly continued to hope/believe that Adolf Hitler was not crazy enough to attack the USSR, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. The Soviet Union was woefully unprepared for war, not having fully rearmed or drawn up any defensive or offensive battle plans and strategies. Despite presiding over the executions of thousands of people, almost all of them for absolutely no reason other than Stalin's paranoia, this man bumbled his country into WWII but paid no price for it. As Montefiore correctly notes, in any other system, this gross incompetence would have resulted in Stalin losing his job. But since he was by then a dictator, he was untouchable. And while the Terror no longer was at its peak, Stalin had zero qualms about executing anyone for anything. The killings and arrests never really did stop, they just slowed down due to the urgency of the war. Montefiore is British, and in his recounting of WWII, there is a decided bent towards Winston Churchill, and sometimes at the expense of Roosevelt. Some of his points are well-taken, but he made FDR out to be an uninformed, detached leader, and I do not think that is an accurate portrayal of him. Also, he devotes very little time to the Potsdam Conference between Stalin, Churchill, and Harry Truman. The Cold War is more or less glanced over, as Montefiore focuses primarily on Stalin's declining health, feuding with his underlings, ambivalence about the Korean War, and disgusting terror against Jews and doctors. All told, Stalin had millions of people executed, tortured, imprisoned, or some combination thereof. While there was a human side to him, this man exuded evil and death. It permeated everything and everyone around him. Montefiore concludes with examining Stalin's death, the fight for succession, and finishes up with a short but good chapter advising the reader on the fates of the major players in the book. He makes liberal use of footnotes, most of which are crammed with anecdotes. Occasionally one of them seems misplaced, but on the whole they add to the flavor of the book. It was difficult to tell which year I was reading about sometimes, as Montefiore would oftentimes give a day and month, but not the year, and since the chapters went in a more topical fashion than strictly chronological, this sometimes caused a bit of confusion. Also, for someone who is not familiar with the Russian language, the names sometimes became somewhat of a slog to keep trying to read through. But that is not the author's fault. This is an interesting, though extremely grim, look at the life of one of the worst tyrants in history. Grade: B

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tocotin

    Whew... that was one brick of a book. Well, I have mixed feelings about it. I thought it fascinating when I started, then annoying, then horrifying and fascinating again. The author is clearly impressed by Stalin and seems to consider him far cleverer than the guy really was. Yes, Stalin possessed a certain kind of intelligence - but it was a mean, extremely short-sighted intelligence of a particularly monstrous cockroach. This sort of intelligence was just good enough to keep him constantly at Whew... that was one brick of a book. Well, I have mixed feelings about it. I thought it fascinating when I started, then annoying, then horrifying and fascinating again. The author is clearly impressed by Stalin and seems to consider him far cleverer than the guy really was. Yes, Stalin possessed a certain kind of intelligence - but it was a mean, extremely short-sighted intelligence of a particularly monstrous cockroach. This sort of intelligence was just good enough to keep him constantly at the trough, but it failed to keep him happy or to save his life (when he had a stroke, his henchmen and staff were too afraid to help him, and there was no competent doctor around, because he had had them all arrested). The power he enjoyed - I don't know, it was so vast he had to remind himself of it daily, mostly by micromanaging his family and "friends". He was so stupid that he has almost caused his country to be defeated during WWII. His achievements are mostly due to the stupidity, laziness and inertia of other Bolsheviks, and the lack of knowledge and imagination of his Western contemporaries. In other words, dude was lucky. Adolph, on the other hand, was not. As a result Adolph is the Big Bad of history and not Joseph. The style and treatment of the subject sometimes got on my nerves. There are a lot of statements which lead nowhere and have no follow-up. Some stuff is just ridiculous, for example the author's claim that Stalin's cruelty and paranoia were induced by his second wife Nadya's suicide, or the speculations on inner thoughts of the members of Stalin's court (for example, how can he be sure whether Klim Voroshilov's wife was jealous of the other ladies' outfits or not?) Also, what he says about the Warsaw Uprising is outrageous - that it was staged in an attempt to stall the Red Army's progress. Seriously, dude... And if the book is an attempt to describe Stalin as a human and not a maligned Commie demon, how come Beria or Yezhov don't get the same treatment, but are "monsters" and "beasts"? Even Gorky gets the short end of the stick, while he DID know that he couldn't have written the truth about what was going on during the construction of the Belomor Canal. Yeah... Stalin was a good tsar, only his courtiers were evil. Again, seriously, dude... All right, it's not like this all the time, but still I got this vibe especially at the beginning. Look, Stalin had to snap, they were trying his patience, the ladies acted too familiar, some friends were late for the meetings... see what I mean? But it was an interesting read all the same, and the author gets one more star for his sympathy for Babel (who in turn made me angry... what exactly was he doing at the Yezhovs'?! Complicated times...)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    And I thought I had a repulsive idea of the horrors of the USSR before? Well, this book certainly made me realize how little I really knew. Stalin was capable of kindness and humor with family and friends and yet boundless, sadistic cruelty. Simon Sebag Montefiore writes a fantastic, detailed and gruesome portrait of one of the most prolific murderers of the 20th C. In about 670 breathless pages, we see the rise of the dictator, the terror of the 30’s, the negotiations with Hitler, the near-succ And I thought I had a repulsive idea of the horrors of the USSR before? Well, this book certainly made me realize how little I really knew. Stalin was capable of kindness and humor with family and friends and yet boundless, sadistic cruelty. Simon Sebag Montefiore writes a fantastic, detailed and gruesome portrait of one of the most prolific murderers of the 20th C. In about 670 breathless pages, we see the rise of the dictator, the terror of the 30’s, the negotiations with Hitler, the near-success of Operation Barbarossa, the comeback at Stalingrad and the post-war horrors in Russia. There are way too many names for my head to recall but the portraits of Beria, Molotov and Krushchev were particularly chilling. There were moments during the forced starvation of the Five Year Plan or during the sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad and particularly during the nearly constant torture of friends, enemies, accomplices and the vast majority of innocent bystanders in the labyrinth of the Lubyanka. I recall walking next to this horrible prison (which now sports a children’s clothing store of all things!) and almost getting sweat running down my back. And this before reading this book and more fully appreciating the depth of violence that men sunk to in there. The other damning evidence that I found hard to digest – apart from the many anti-Semitic purges and pogroms – was the excesses of Stalin’s magnates in rape and theft particularly during and after the war. The world’s religions – and here I include Bolshevism high on the list – all thrive on an egalitarian message for the masses and yet rich bounty for those at the top. Stalin’s minions were just as bad as those in the Vatican or TV preachers in the American heartland. And yet, they stooped at nothing to destroy others by accusing them of “Western values”. If you wish to have a better appreciation for this particularly somber, hopeless piece of human history including one of the three greatest human slaughters in history (aside from Hitler’s and Mao’s of course), this is probably an excellent place to start. It is well-written, incredibly well-researched and seeps in detail upon detail. That being said, if you are in a depressive mood, this is probably not the book for you because you will definitely hit bottom at least a few times – I did in any case. Biggest lesson learned by me: the adage Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely never rang more true than with this particular monster.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Vheissu

    Written soon after the opening of Russian archives in the 1990s, this book offers few new revelations about the broad outlines of Stalin's bloodthirsty career, but it provides an intimate look at the lives, loves, and depredations of Uncle Joe and his cronies. If anything, the book was a little chatty for me; I'm not sure that I'm all that interested in the gown Nadezhda wore the night of her suicide. The book has since been superseded by Stephen Kotkin's magnificent, multi-volume biography of K Written soon after the opening of Russian archives in the 1990s, this book offers few new revelations about the broad outlines of Stalin's bloodthirsty career, but it provides an intimate look at the lives, loves, and depredations of Uncle Joe and his cronies. If anything, the book was a little chatty for me; I'm not sure that I'm all that interested in the gown Nadezhda wore the night of her suicide. The book has since been superseded by Stephen Kotkin's magnificent, multi-volume biography of Koba ( Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928 and Stalin: Waiting for Hitler 1929-1941 ), but Montefiore's book might make a useful preliminary introduction to "El Supremo" before the casual reader attempts Kotkin's more exhaustive work. Stalin only gradually became the monster that we now recognize him to be. He was constrained in his early career by the Politburo, achieving absolute power only during World War II. He manipulated his colleagues into committing heinous crimes, then cleverly used evidence of those crimes against the very ones who followed his orders. Stalin was adept at murderous political intrigue, but not particularly competent at running a government or country. He made numerous mistakes, not the least of which was liquidating the top echelons of the military before World War II, as well as imprisoning and torturing the USSR's most competent physicians before his final, fatal illness. Indeed, I wasn't fully aware that Stalin's terror against doctors (The Doctors' Plot) was a manifestation of his extreme anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic crusade against Israel. Stalinism didn't survive Stalin, in part because his successors joined to blame him for their own crimes, especially Khrushchev. Stalin predicted that "What will happen without me is that the country will die because you can't recognize your enemies" (p. 631). Imagining and crushing supposed enemies was the key to Stalin's "success," and without the fear and paranoia and murderous politics that died with him, the days of the USSR were surely numbered.

  25. 5 out of 5

    John Conquest

    Great book but was surprised to watch Stalin get upstaged in his own biography by a man who channeled the paranoia of Joseph Goebbels, the autism of Heinrich Himmler, and the sexual appetite of Genghis Khan into a tornado of devastation that nearly crashed Eastern Europe - with no survivors; Lavrentiy Beria.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Peadar

    I don't like this book. It's a top-down history of 23 years and a bit in the life of Joseph Stalin, focusing in on his 50th birthday in 1929 to his death in March 1953. Montefiore just like in his book about the Romanov dynasty prefers salacious details and court gossip to actual social history. The problem? You get a very restricted view of Stalin's rule, primarily focusing on how the high ranking members of the CPSU (Communist Party Of The Soviet Union) survived (or didn't) his mass purges and I don't like this book. It's a top-down history of 23 years and a bit in the life of Joseph Stalin, focusing in on his 50th birthday in 1929 to his death in March 1953. Montefiore just like in his book about the Romanov dynasty prefers salacious details and court gossip to actual social history. The problem? You get a very restricted view of Stalin's rule, primarily focusing on how the high ranking members of the CPSU (Communist Party Of The Soviet Union) survived (or didn't) his mass purges and savage violence. There are a few comments here and there about the effects of Stalin's policies on ordinary Russian's most of these are actually about the Ukranian famine and you do get a sense of how devastating it was, but even then Montefiore seems more interested in the intrigues of Kruschev, Molotov and Beria along with the rest of Stalin's courter's not to mention the "Red Tsar" himself. It's not that I want to read about the mass suffering of millions of people but it's hard to avoid suffering when talking about Stalin and I can't help feeling that the populace of Russia and it's surrounding satellites suffered more than the communist magnates surrounding Stalin. That is not to say they didn't suffer, and I get the upsetting feeling that Montefiore revels in writing about the serial killings, torture and sexual assaults, he spends a lot of time in the book discussing them and by the end you just sort of feel sick and depressed. Beria is hands down one of the most disturbing figures of the 20th century. I'd say he's more disturbing than Stalin but that's not true as Stalin hired him in the first place. And I really could have done without an entire chapter devoted to Beria's numerous sexual assaults so cheers for that Simon. There are also some rather surprising ahistorical comments in the book such as Montefiore commenting that Mao Zedong was an 'unlikely source' for warning Stalin of the imminent Nazi invasion of the USSR in 1941. This is a rather baffling statement which makes me question the author's wider historical knowledge because if you know the full international history (world war II is called a world war for a reason) then you would know that at the time Mao and the Chinese communists had formed an alliance with their rivals Chiang Kai Shek and his KMT nationalist party to fight off imperial Japan who had invaded Manchuria in 1931. Chiang Kai Shek had German civil-servants working in his government since the early 1930s, furthermore, imperial Japan was allied with Nazi Germany, so it is not too surprising that Mao discovered Hitler's intentions to invade Russia. This again shows the limitations of individual biographical history as it cuts out essential parts of the picture. Another serious issue with the book is that Montifoire seems to assume you know details already. For instance, he documents Stalin's postwar feud with Tito, one of the more interesting parts of the biography (along with the war years) but says early on that Stalin would 'later order (Tito) assisted' this sentence to someone unfamiliar with the history implies Stalin actually had Tito murdered, - his assassination attempts failed. Tito outlived Stalin dying in 1980. Yes, the book is not about Tito, but the line is confusing, and disjointed especially as Montifoire doesn't return to discuss the rest of the Stalin-Tito conflict till much later after that line since he gets sidelined with Beria's sexual assaults among other details. I think the take away from this is that social history matters and context matters. I would recommend reading Orlando Feige's "A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924" as almost essential background reading as it covers vital information that this book skims over. Montefiore even steals a line from that book when he describes the Bolshevik party under Lenin as being 'leather-wearing and ultra-macho.' The most important reason to read APT, however, is that I feel it is what this book should have been it discusses the top historical figures but gives a wider picture of Russia throughout so you get to look at events from the perspectives of many different people. It has its own problems which I won't go into here but I feel that it at least told it's story in a more relevant and thoughtful way. Montefiore clearly read Suetonius's "the Lives Of the Twelve Ceaser's" which reads like a salacious gossip column about Ancient Rome's first Emperor's and decided to go with that sort of tone. I believe what he says is true as it's clear he's done research but the problem is he's only doing research into Stalin and his courtiers. You might say a biography shouldn't focus on social history but I would say in response to that..... Read Phillip Short's (2005) "Pol Pot: Anatomy Of A Nightmare" ostensibly a biography of Cambodian dictator Pol Pot but one that places him in a historical context and talks about the social and cultural elements in Cambodia, before during and after his terrible reign. That book in itself is problematic as Short ends up victim-blaming the Cambodian people for Pol Pot's crimes but he at least got the structure right by focusing on Cambodian history and emphasizing context. This book reads like an isolated oddity. Read it if you want disturbing details about Stalin and those around him but if you want to know about the social history of the times I would give it a miss.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Strömquist

    "Highly recommended fascinating historical book but with a warning: it is not an easy read. Translation of Russian is often hard to interpret and a source of constant needs for re-reading passages. The author does not make it any easier on the reader by his writing style. And last, even though most of the book is well written, parts could have used some editing, often a footnote (and there are plenty) is placed in the text at less than obvious places and leaving off mid-sentence to read an exten "Highly recommended fascinating historical book but with a warning: it is not an easy read. Translation of Russian is often hard to interpret and a source of constant needs for re-reading passages. The author does not make it any easier on the reader by his writing style. And last, even though most of the book is well written, parts could have used some editing, often a footnote (and there are plenty) is placed in the text at less than obvious places and leaving off mid-sentence to read an extensive footnote (in very small print) on a seemingly loosely connected subject disrupts the reading. In short I liked the book very much and thought is was very interesting and I will probably never re-read it. "

  28. 4 out of 5

    Boudewijn

    A chilling view in the life of Stalin and his close associates. Nobody was safe in the presence of Stalin. Simon Sebag Montefiore gives a detailed account of the Court of the Red Tsar.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    Truly bonkers history right here about the man himself and the rotating casts of sycophants, ideologues, and psychopaths that made up his court. I love that a court is the main framework the SSM decided to use for this book because it perfectly captures the hyper-concentration of power and the need to stay in Stalin's favor to have influence and, of course, stay alive. The profiles of Khruschev, Beria, Yagoda, Kaganovich, as well as his own family are rich and well documented. This must have tak Truly bonkers history right here about the man himself and the rotating casts of sycophants, ideologues, and psychopaths that made up his court. I love that a court is the main framework the SSM decided to use for this book because it perfectly captures the hyper-concentration of power and the need to stay in Stalin's favor to have influence and, of course, stay alive. The profiles of Khruschev, Beria, Yagoda, Kaganovich, as well as his own family are rich and well documented. This must have taken a ton of research! It also gives you a sense of what happens when power is so concentrated and the leader's will is so unquestionable; you get not just monstrous crimes but monstrous errors, like the instances where no one was willing to insist to Stalin that the Germans were going to invade and them inform him when they did, leaving the Soviet forces slow-footed and poorly positioned. Stalin not only murdered millions with his callous brutality but wasted the lives of millions with his incompetence. This book reaches not into his ideology so much as his character, which was a mix of committed Marxist, tyrannical king, and grade-school bully. There were tender aspects to his personality that emerge from time to time, and he's just not as weird as Hitler, but the hovering sense of menace around him is chilling even today. There are dozens of examples in here of his toying with underlings who feared the slightest mishap would get them arrested or worse that show his petty bullying side. However, as good as SSM is in exploring the dynamics of the court and his family, this book isn't seamlessly integrated with Soviet history. There's not a clear sense of the ideological divides that rent the inner circles of Soviet power nor of the purposes of things like the 5 year plans or the purges. SSM takes you into the day by day but struggles with or omits the year by year history. That might be a product of the type of book he's writing: a mix of horror story and Soviet reality TV show that is more about personalities, bickering, and betrayal than deeper dynamics of Soviet history. Still, there's great value in what SSM has put together here, both in the unearthing of gems from the archives and in giving a sense of what Stalin saw, did, and said on a daily basis. After all, who has more influence on our lives than the people immediately around us? Recommended, despite length, for fans of books about dictators or those with a decent grasp of Soviet history who want something a bit less academic.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Akreid

    The biographer presents the many faces of Stalin from 1929 to 1953. A portrait emerges through the relationship with the twenty families that formed the court of the red tsar. Leaving aside historical analysis in favour of recounted dialogue, anecdotes, materials gleaned from firsthand interviews with survivors and descendents, and the examination of new archival material containing Stalin's personal letters, the intimacy and complexity of this portrait is set against unimaginable atrocities: co The biographer presents the many faces of Stalin from 1929 to 1953. A portrait emerges through the relationship with the twenty families that formed the court of the red tsar. Leaving aside historical analysis in favour of recounted dialogue, anecdotes, materials gleaned from firsthand interviews with survivors and descendents, and the examination of new archival material containing Stalin's personal letters, the intimacy and complexity of this portrait is set against unimaginable atrocities: collectivization, famine, the great terror, show trials, conspiracy, and mass murder. The ruined city of the USSR may continue to be haunted by its history, wed to the image of the Georgian Generalissimo.

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