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Stalin : The Court of the Red Tsar

by Simon Sebag Montefiore



Buy the book: Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin : The Court of the Red Tsar

Release Date: 13 April, 2004

Edition: Hardcover

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Buy the book: Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin : The Court of the Red Tsar


Koba the Dread

Stalin, Koba to his friends (did he really have any?), has obviously been the focus of many historical works over the years; this new book, however, focuses on his private life and inner circle. Benefiting from newly released archival information as well as interviews, memoirs and new research, "The Court of the Red Tsar" is well written and almost compulsively readable for people like myself who have have been both fascinated and repelled by this astonishing and terrible man. For me, it serves as a sort of compendium of all the stories and anecdotes one might hope to read about the bizarre menagerie of misfits, sycophants and sociopaths with whom Stalin seemed to feel most at home, all living (and often dying) together in an environment that would have seemed very familiar to Caligula himself. And yet Stalin was no Caligula; he was horribly sane and chillingly far sighted, willing to wait years before striking down a perceived rival. That he was so successful, and ruled for so long, is a sobering testament to the power of evil in statecraft and human relations. Read this book for its unforgettable portrayal of the inner circle and their crimes, but don't expect too much by way of a broader historical context. The author's focus is unabashedly local, and the book is much more like Suetonius than Gibbon.

From Amazon.com

An Excellent and Comprehensive Biography

This is a well-written biography by the British journalist Simon Montefiore covering Stalin's life from 1878 to 1953. Photos on the book cover depict Stalin with his associates (the magnates) but it is mainly about him in the period 1932 to 1945. The author attended Cambridge University and has written one previous historical book "Prince of Princes" plus he has written two novels, and contributed many articles on Russia and those regions of the old USSR to the Sunday Times, the New York Times, and created various other written and TV works. He is very well qualified and does an impressive job examining original Russian sources such as letters and diaries, interviewing survivor's relatives or consulting with scholars, etc. From the book, one must conclude that it must have taken a long period of time to pull all the facts together and write the book - since the book is lengthy - is almost 800 pages long with the introduction, photos, maps, notes, lengthy index, etc. Plus it has many references and comments. In short it is not a quick read.

There are many things that one can say about the story and Stalin but I will try and limit my comments. Needless to say I recommend the book. It holds your attention and in many ways is quite fascinating. In any case, what really brings this book to life are two things, i.e.: the author uses a lot of quotes or accurate summaries from primary sources that are conversations or communications either written or spoken by Stalin or received by Stalin, so we get the feeling that we are back in the USSR on some chilly Moscow night at the Kremlin or on the warm Baltic coast at his dacha listening to the conversations as observers, plus the author inserts four sets of black and white photos that show all the main characters including Stalin's second wife Nadya, different associates (the magnates) such as Beria, and it gives the reader some perspective as one proceeds through the book. Without these photos and good writing I think this would be a much more difficult read for the average person to keep an interest in the book - and to follow while wading through the many pages of Russian names and relationships. So the author has done excellent background research job for the book and then he does a good job at presenting the material to keep our interest. Also there is a certain degree of drama in the book during the loss of Stalin's second wife and the invasion of the USSR by Germany.

In the book the author tells us that he is attempting to provide an accurate and complete biography of the man and his politics, not just the one-dimensional evil genius that is the normal perception of the man. We learn that Stalin enjoys his family life, and endless parties and dinners, hunting trips, billiards, visits by his children, comments by his mother, and his reading from an extensive personal library, singing and dancing, etc. His personal life is not all rosy and you will see that when you read the book. The author reveals these human sides to his complex personality and it works to a point in the book. Also, he gives the reader many details on the war, and the near destruction of Moscow, Stalin living in the subway, meetings with Churchill, Mao, Tito, endless diplomatic and business dinners, drinking binges with many including Churchill, and meetings with his associates to plan the war or the next purge, etc. But in the end it is a story about a ruthless killer that seized control of large country and retains power through the use of a terrifying secret police, bands of armed thugs, mind boggling torture techniques, firing squads, rigged courts, random killings, party purges, killing off of millions of independent farmers and business people, labor camps, and all the mayhem that this entails. But the author for the most part manages to keep the book an interesting read and an educational historical experience.

Overall this is an excellent and well-written book that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the man and European history. I read it cover to cover and enjoyed the book. Also, I read many of the notes and comments. As a follow up I would suggest "Khrushchev" by William Taubman. It is a highly acclaimed best seller. The same author Taubman has written other books on the Soviet Union and Stalin's foreign policy.

Jack in Toronto

From Amazon.com
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