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Service brings 30 years of involvement with Russia and its history to bear on this most controversial and enigmatic of figures. The events of the October Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Terror and, above all, World War II, more open to examination than ever before, are probed to explain the nature of Stalin's personality. Service brings 30 years of involvement with Russia and its history to bear on this most controversial and enigmatic of figures. The events of the October Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Terror and, above all, World War II, more open to examination than ever before, are probed to explain the nature of Stalin's personality.


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Service brings 30 years of involvement with Russia and its history to bear on this most controversial and enigmatic of figures. The events of the October Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Terror and, above all, World War II, more open to examination than ever before, are probed to explain the nature of Stalin's personality. Service brings 30 years of involvement with Russia and its history to bear on this most controversial and enigmatic of figures. The events of the October Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Terror and, above all, World War II, more open to examination than ever before, are probed to explain the nature of Stalin's personality.

30 review for Stalin: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    Stalin as Communist Emperor A very readable biography of Stalin that describes his entire life, from his beginnings in Georgia to the top of the Soviet Union. His relationship to Lenin and other members of the Bolshevik clique and his rise to power are all chronicled. There is a letter from Tito to Stalin that was found in Stalin's desk drawer shortly after he died. Tito, in this letter, is out-dueling Stalin in threatening assassination attempts. It encapsulates the gangster tactics of the entir Stalin as Communist Emperor A very readable biography of Stalin that describes his entire life, from his beginnings in Georgia to the top of the Soviet Union. His relationship to Lenin and other members of the Bolshevik clique and his rise to power are all chronicled. There is a letter from Tito to Stalin that was found in Stalin's desk drawer shortly after he died. Tito, in this letter, is out-dueling Stalin in threatening assassination attempts. It encapsulates the gangster tactics of the entire communist regime. Service points out that there were no innocents in the rise to power after the October revolution. Stalin learnt well from his teacher Lenin; bolshevism may have been based on the books of Marx and Engels, but its practice was raw power and Stalin wielded this for over thirty years. Sometimes in this work there seems to be too much focus around Stalin and not enough history of the outside forces - such as the effects of famine during the 1930's. Nevertheless we are left with the portrait of a ruthless individual who amassed power for its' own sake. Stalin accrued very little personal wealth during his reign - for example he only wore good clothes during his World War II meetings when the Allied powers came to visit. It is also interesting to note that it is only during World War II that Stalin had any prolonged and direct contact with the outside world. At the end of the war Stalin effectively shut the door on the West - he met with the leaders of China and his East European satellites, but this was more like the bully dealing with his victims in the schoolyard. Service does give Stalin credit for pushing the Soviet Union into the twentieth century - industrially and educationally. Without this the Soviet Union would not have been able to cope with the German onslaught in 1941. But there was a heavy price to pay for all this - the Soviet Union was cut-off culturally from the rest of mankind and its' ideological dogmatic path collapsed in the 1990's. It was Stalin that led his country into this one-way street from which it was never able to veer away from and adjust to a different lifestyle.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    In reading this book I was undoubtedly punching above my weight. Much of it – mostly the political shiftings and chicanery described - went over my head. I also found the book fairly unstructured. This was probably because of my ignorance of the historical events of the period. No matter - time and time again I went to blesséd Wikipedia for overviews, and got a better grip on what I was reading. For me, the more I read the book the more interesting it became. I was particularly fascinated to lea In reading this book I was undoubtedly punching above my weight. Much of it – mostly the political shiftings and chicanery described - went over my head. I also found the book fairly unstructured. This was probably because of my ignorance of the historical events of the period. No matter - time and time again I went to blesséd Wikipedia for overviews, and got a better grip on what I was reading. For me, the more I read the book the more interesting it became. I was particularly fascinated to learn more about Communism, the industrialization that was introduced with it, and the soaring educational standards. Also the terrible stresses of the collectivisation of farms. Plus I hadn’t begun to appreciate the ubiquitous nature of the Great Terror and its horrendous persecutions – the book certainly set that straight. Service’s description of the Second World War, and the part the Soviet Union played in it was also incredibly fascinating. I also obviously learnt tons about Stalin himself – the good the bad and the ugly. He had the bad and the ugly in spadefuls, but he was also intelligent, determined, well read, brave, and a good escape-artist (he was always being taken prisoner when young and escaping.) None of that stops him from being one of history’s most vile and bloody despots. He - personally - controlled the Soviet Union to a degree that was quite unbelievable. All in all I probably gleaned about two thirds from this book compared to someone better suited to reading it. But it was a good two thirds. I've read a couple of other books about Russia in recent months, and it was great to have so much more fall into place.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    I just finished Robert Service's biographies of both Lenin and Stalin. His are probably the definitive biographies in that he is the only person to have written with access to Soviet records available since the demise of the USSR. It's interesting to compare both figures. Both were cruel and dictatorial. While Lenin had no problem ordering people to be shot or sent to the Gulag, his demeanor was more hard hearted and apathetic to his victims. Whereas Stalin actually seemed to enjoy his persecutio I just finished Robert Service's biographies of both Lenin and Stalin. His are probably the definitive biographies in that he is the only person to have written with access to Soviet records available since the demise of the USSR. It's interesting to compare both figures. Both were cruel and dictatorial. While Lenin had no problem ordering people to be shot or sent to the Gulag, his demeanor was more hard hearted and apathetic to his victims. Whereas Stalin actually seemed to enjoy his persecutions. While other members of Lenin's family helped with the relief efforts during a late 19th century famine, Lenin did not, thinking it was all sentimentality. Lenin came from a strong middle class family with liberal values. Stalin came from a lower class Georgian family and his outlook on life was first shaped by the beatings he got from his father. While Lenin helped setup the institutions that Stalin would later exploit to create his own despotism, it is interesting to note their differences. Lenin didn't like to be contradicted and had a bombastic style, yet he did not always get his way and tolerated dissent and debate at least within the Bolshevik party. Stalin only encouraged debate so as to fish out people's true opinions, then those on the losing side of the argument were often shot, purged, or sent to a labor camp. Lenin may have been responsible for the death of thousands, Stalin was responsible for the death of millions. Stalin's death was very revealing. His aides and cohorts were so terrified of him that when he went to bed one evening in 1953 and wasn't heard from the next morning, no one dared wake him for fear of contradicting his orders. When finally he was found suffering from what appeared to be a stroke hours before, they still debated whether they should call a doctor again in fear of taking an action not approved by Stalin (though he couldn't speak to give an order). And when finally a doctor was called, it was hard to find a good one as Stalin had just purged the best doctors earlier that year. They had to consult doctor who were sitting in prison. You have to believe too that his inner circle also stalled in getting help so as to increase the chances that Stalin would die, which he did. They lived in a fear that if could even regain his voice, he would issue an order for some or all of them to be shot. His death led to a great thaw under Khrushchev. Both were intellectuals, but Stalin was not an original thinker. While Stalin is truly one of the most horrific figures in history, Lenin shares some of the blame for the anti-democratic, anti-humanist direction of socialism in the 20th century.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    This is a very well researched book. Robert Service makes the disconcerting decision to draw a balanced portrait of Stalin rather than simply demonizing him. Stalin was a poet, a charmer, a politician, a bad father and a mean drunk. He proved to be a masterful negotiator with foreign powers and a highly skilled builder of political alliances. He had an intelligent view of Russia's ethnic minorities which allowed him to build a moderately successful union of communist states. In Service's view, the This is a very well researched book. Robert Service makes the disconcerting decision to draw a balanced portrait of Stalin rather than simply demonizing him. Stalin was a poet, a charmer, a politician, a bad father and a mean drunk. He proved to be a masterful negotiator with foreign powers and a highly skilled builder of political alliances. He had an intelligent view of Russia's ethnic minorities which allowed him to build a moderately successful union of communist states. In Service's view, there was nothing strange or unusual about Stalin's paranoia. Rather the revolutionary experience itself creates paranoid leaders. All the great communist leaders (Trotsky, Tito, Lenin, Pol Pot and Stalin amongst others) spent time in jail after having been betrayed by comrades. Thus when came to power they trusted no one. If harvests or economic plans failed they attributed it to conspiracies. Hence retribution always came fast in the communist world. Executions were often chosen rather than rehabilitation. Service believes that had Lenin lived longer or had Trotsky been in power, there still would have been a Great Terror and a Holocaust in the Ukraine. All communist leaders, Service argues, are cut from the same cloth. Despite the fact that Service presents a compelling interpretation, the great merit of this biography is the care and detail presented for every chapter of Stalin's life. Stalin may have done some horrible things but he certainly thought out every decision carefully and always waited for the opportune moment to act.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Robert Morrow

    Boy, am I glad this book is behind me! That comment has nothing to do with the quality of writing or the strength of the narrative. It has everything to do with the character of Joseph Stalin, a man completely devoid of any thought that human life had value. Spending much time with any truly evil person, be it Hitler, Stalin or Mao is a depressing experience. The author opens the book strongly, going through Stalin's childhood and youth in as much detail as is available. We learn that he was alre Boy, am I glad this book is behind me! That comment has nothing to do with the quality of writing or the strength of the narrative. It has everything to do with the character of Joseph Stalin, a man completely devoid of any thought that human life had value. Spending much time with any truly evil person, be it Hitler, Stalin or Mao is a depressing experience. The author opens the book strongly, going through Stalin's childhood and youth in as much detail as is available. We learn that he was already an aggressive bully in childhood with a warped sense of right and wrong (he was right, everyone else was wrong). He developed into a personality perfectly suited for the dogmatic ideology of communism, eliminating what little nuance Marx and Lenin had permitted and confirming his version of the philosophy as the only possible path for the Soviet Union. You add extreme paranoia to his complete disregard for human life and give him the power to rule on the basis of an inviolable dogma and it's not surprising that millions would die either through his direct order or through the effects of his all-or-nothing approach to policy. Mr. Service does a yeoman's job educating us on the silly philosophical debates over Marxism that dominated Soviet thinking and the stunning lack of original thought that accompanied the debates that took place in the early years of the Soviet Union. Of course, all debate eventually ended as the result of The Great Terror, leaving a society not much different than the one described in Orwell's 1984. If you want to know about Stalin, this is an excellent source; then again, you have to ask yourself, "Do I really want to know about Stalin?"

  6. 5 out of 5

    Owen

    Allegedly written using new and previously unused material, despite the fact that a look at the notes shows almost 80 percent secondary sources. The chapter titled "the big three" was particularly poor in this respect, as it relied almost entirely on Churchill's memoirs which if I am not mistaken were written after both Roosevelt and Stalin were dead, thus making it a suspect source of information by itself. The book is a biography NOT a general history of Soviet Russia, and must be treated as s Allegedly written using new and previously unused material, despite the fact that a look at the notes shows almost 80 percent secondary sources. The chapter titled "the big three" was particularly poor in this respect, as it relied almost entirely on Churchill's memoirs which if I am not mistaken were written after both Roosevelt and Stalin were dead, thus making it a suspect source of information by itself. The book is a biography NOT a general history of Soviet Russia, and must be treated as such, however I would have liked more detail regarding the second world war which seemed very briefly dealt with. The book goes into great detail when it comes to his youth and his earlier involvement with the Lenin's ilk. Service does away with the myth that Stalin was the unremarkable dullard and bureaucrat who's ascension could not have been predicted. Stalin was an intellectual, despite having very few original ideas of his own, and although not feared for suspicions of "Bonepartism" as Trotsky was, it would be wrong to suggest the Great Terror and other incidents of moments of brutal repression could not have been predicted in those early stages. Stalin was ruthless from the beginning. Stalin's leadership style is also put into a new perspective. Whereas Ian Kershaw characterises Hitler as a Weberian "charismatic authority" figure in contrast with Stalin's "bureaucratic authority"; Service's analysis of Stalin makes him appear far closer to Hitler as is often imagined. This characterisation is more in line with the sociologist Ivan Szelenyi. It is the best Stalin biography I have read so far, even if it could have been a lot longer in places.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Odhran

    Probably the best of the three Service books about the Russian Communist leaders, but still very weak. Poorly written, both stylistically and logically - there are places where reference is made to something that hasn't been described yet as if it has, and occasionally where it isn't at all. Neither chronologically nor thematically coherent. And, of course, the author feels a need to remind us every seven seconds that Stalin is super-evil, presumably to counteract the weirdly fawning attitude he Probably the best of the three Service books about the Russian Communist leaders, but still very weak. Poorly written, both stylistically and logically - there are places where reference is made to something that hasn't been described yet as if it has, and occasionally where it isn't at all. Neither chronologically nor thematically coherent. And, of course, the author feels a need to remind us every seven seconds that Stalin is super-evil, presumably to counteract the weirdly fawning attitude he takes to him at points.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Terry Cook

    What is it About? Unsurprising it is about Joseph Stalin, which is probably the least helpful start to a review ever! This biography is of the whole of Stalin’s life from birth in Gori in December 1878, his real birth date, not the one he told everyone until he died in 1953. A man who makes up his own birth date is one who wants to control everything about his life irrespective of facts. Service attempts to get beneath the official Stalin and get to the real person, in this, he very much succeeds What is it About? Unsurprising it is about Joseph Stalin, which is probably the least helpful start to a review ever! This biography is of the whole of Stalin’s life from birth in Gori in December 1878, his real birth date, not the one he told everyone until he died in 1953. A man who makes up his own birth date is one who wants to control everything about his life irrespective of facts. Service attempts to get beneath the official Stalin and get to the real person, in this, he very much succeeds. He is helped by the newly released archive materials that reveal much of Stalin and his time from official and personal correspondence from himself and those around him. What You Need to Know If you have little knowledge of Stalin this is a good starting place. Those that have some knowledge be prepared to be surprised; this book will dispel many myths. Don’t get me wrong, he was a monster, however not the intellectually limited, grey, administrator that was the perceived wisdom until recently. Previous accounts were either supplied by the Soviet state or from his enemies, such as Trotsky, who were outside of the state. Neither of which are without their agendas. With the opening of the Soviet archives, Service and others, have been able to research the real Stalin from his own and contemporaries letters, memos, meeting minutes, notes in margins of reports, and personal diaries not seen before. One other thing you need to be aware of is Russian names! They are a pain! Anyone who has touched on any Russian literature will know that an individual can have five or more legitimate different names. Add to this the habit of the revolutionaries of using nicknames and the fact that, to western ears, the names are so alien and you have a recipe for confusion. For example, Stalin is not his real name Joseph Djugashvili, his real name, was also commonly known as Koba and Soso. Each of the characters you will come across will have similar confusions. Add that to the fact I had difficulty separating names of locations and organisations from real names and you can see the problem. Be prepared to bookmark the glossary, have Wikipedia open by your side, or just go with the flow accepting that you may have to go back and re-read sections. Is it Worth a Read? For the reasons above this book will take some investment but, as an overview of Stalin, his life and impact it is a good read. It also pretty much fair to the Soviet regime. What I mean by that is that reading books about the Soviet Union one has to be aware of the political stance of the writer. Some of the on the left are rather forgiving and apologists for what Stalin did, some on the right are rather disparaging about the achievements of the Soviet regime and those things that Stalin achieved as well as downplaying some of the more sinister Western reactions to revolutionary Russia. Full disclosure; I am left of centre in my politics so when I say Service is fair maybe he leans slightly to the left. In summary good book to read and well worth it as an introduction to one of the key figures in the 20th Century

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jared

    Stalin: A Biography, written by Robert Service, is a book telling the story of how the uneducated political administrator transformed into a pathological killer, with few details excluded. Service did an amazing job of telling the younger life of the future leading of the USSR, from his life in Georgia, his drunk dad, to his active political service. Stalin wasn’t just a man who strove for unprecedented change, but a man who was fascinated by ideas and an extensive reader of the Marxist writings Stalin: A Biography, written by Robert Service, is a book telling the story of how the uneducated political administrator transformed into a pathological killer, with few details excluded. Service did an amazing job of telling the younger life of the future leading of the USSR, from his life in Georgia, his drunk dad, to his active political service. Stalin wasn’t just a man who strove for unprecedented change, but a man who was fascinated by ideas and an extensive reader of the Marxist writings. Service shows the turmoil in Oct 1917 that led him to rule over Russia in WW2, as well as contributing to the fall of Hitler. Not overshadowing the poverty, famine, and purges Stalin created through his dictatorship, until he died of a stroke, leaving behind the nation to Khrushchev and Gorbachev, who found his evil legacy was hard to scrub off the face of Russia. I believe Service did an amazing job bringing the past of this evil man in great detail, so we are able to see the destruction of change Stalin left behind, as well as eye witness testimonies to back it up. However, sometimes the writing can be a little dull, but I think this is a great book to start out with on the life of Stalin. Overall, I would say anyone interesting in Stalin's life or Russia's history would find this book a great read, and I would give it 4/5 stars.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Redwood

    For someone who needed an introduction to 20th century Russian history through one of its key figures, it was a good book. The short chapters often read more like individual articles and feature a lot of repetition, which was quite annoying, however. There’s little in record about the man himself - and for the most part a sense of who he was eludes the reader. But he writes a good unbiased account and appears to put forward some fresh historical interpretations where holes exist. I wouldn’t reco For someone who needed an introduction to 20th century Russian history through one of its key figures, it was a good book. The short chapters often read more like individual articles and feature a lot of repetition, which was quite annoying, however. There’s little in record about the man himself - and for the most part a sense of who he was eludes the reader. But he writes a good unbiased account and appears to put forward some fresh historical interpretations where holes exist. I wouldn’t recommend to someone knowledgeable about the period - but to beginners or experts probably worth a read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kayleigh

    3 stars. Read for my Soviet Union history class, not going to review.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    Rather dry assessment of the Soviet dictator. Service's research is formidable and he provides some interesting perspectives on Stalin. He shows that Stalin was less power-hungry pragmatist than ideologue with his own ideas on Marxism. Stalin's model of state socialism wasn't any less intellectually sound than Trotsky's airy proposition of "Permanent Revolution" - Stalin just lacked Trotsky's arrogance. Nonetheless, no reader will come away from this book thinking Stalin any less of a monster: h Rather dry assessment of the Soviet dictator. Service's research is formidable and he provides some interesting perspectives on Stalin. He shows that Stalin was less power-hungry pragmatist than ideologue with his own ideas on Marxism. Stalin's model of state socialism wasn't any less intellectually sound than Trotsky's airy proposition of "Permanent Revolution" - Stalin just lacked Trotsky's arrogance. Nonetheless, no reader will come away from this book thinking Stalin any less of a monster: his purges, monstrous personality and consolidation of absolute power dominate the narrative. The main difficulty is Service's writing style, clipped yet cluttered (no paragraph needs to take up half a page if every sentence is three words long). An aesthetic criticism sure, but some of us like to enjoy reading history along with learning from it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michael Kocher

    Service as always does a serviceable job in detailing the main events of the life of his subjects but as a biographer he is incredibly flawed. All of his biographies of the big three revolutionary figures go heavily into Service's own opinions about their worth. 'Stalin' is an odd one as it appears that Service actually seems to admire a great deal about one of history's greatest butchers. Service appears to suggest that minute details about Stalin are applicable in dissecting the whole. Service Service as always does a serviceable job in detailing the main events of the life of his subjects but as a biographer he is incredibly flawed. All of his biographies of the big three revolutionary figures go heavily into Service's own opinions about their worth. 'Stalin' is an odd one as it appears that Service actually seems to admire a great deal about one of history's greatest butchers. Service appears to suggest that minute details about Stalin are applicable in dissecting the whole. Service' main argument is that Stalin is not this unintelligent bungler Trotsky and (for the most part history) has made him out to be. I don't really see a compelling case as Service uses trivial bits in his analysis.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Becky J

    I struggled with the writing style in places (the writing is kind of odd, somehow choppy. It's almost like it had been translated from another language, which as far as I can tell it hasn't) and got annoyed with the author in other places ('Was Stalin an anti-Semite? Definitely no. Well, kind of. A little bit. Yes.') but I wanted to know the information in it, so I read it. If you want to know about Stalin, this is a great book to read, but the experience of reading it may not be great. I can't I struggled with the writing style in places (the writing is kind of odd, somehow choppy. It's almost like it had been translated from another language, which as far as I can tell it hasn't) and got annoyed with the author in other places ('Was Stalin an anti-Semite? Definitely no. Well, kind of. A little bit. Yes.') but I wanted to know the information in it, so I read it. If you want to know about Stalin, this is a great book to read, but the experience of reading it may not be great. I can't compare with other works on Stalin since I haven't read them yet, but I'm planning on getting to Simon Sebag Montefiore eventually.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Service, um, services us best when balancing Stalin's horrific actions with his delicate human side -- like he says, Stalin was a murderer, but he was also a poet and theorist. This bio falls short of greatness when subjects worthy of essays or new books are stuffed into tiny paragraphs: "A rapprochement took place with Tito's Yugoslavia. Overtures were made to the USA for a lessening of international tensions. The Korean War was brought to a close." Etc. Detail is the heart of literature, and t Service, um, services us best when balancing Stalin's horrific actions with his delicate human side -- like he says, Stalin was a murderer, but he was also a poet and theorist. This bio falls short of greatness when subjects worthy of essays or new books are stuffed into tiny paragraphs: "A rapprochement took place with Tito's Yugoslavia. Overtures were made to the USA for a lessening of international tensions. The Korean War was brought to a close." Etc. Detail is the heart of literature, and the best biographies have more of it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ronit Konch

    A beautiful biography of Stalin, the book delves deep into his past from his childhood onwards to uncover the man behind the myths that have sprung up around him. The general picture of Stalin is that of a murderous dictator and statesman, who had to undertake hard measures to put his country on the path of development and defeat the Nazis. The author considers this to be a far too generous treatment of Stalin as a whole. A man renowned for his brutality, Stalin’s policies were also highly destru A beautiful biography of Stalin, the book delves deep into his past from his childhood onwards to uncover the man behind the myths that have sprung up around him. The general picture of Stalin is that of a murderous dictator and statesman, who had to undertake hard measures to put his country on the path of development and defeat the Nazis. The author considers this to be a far too generous treatment of Stalin as a whole. A man renowned for his brutality, Stalin’s policies were also highly destructive towards his country, which he ruled with ferocious repression. The undesirability of such a high degree of repression was recognised by EVERY single one of his colleagues at the top level but they were too frightened of him to do anything. At the same time, he was a extremely hardworking man who hated indolence, was frugal in his personal life, was a humorous and gracious guest who gifted thousands of rubles (Russian currency) to old friends who he had not seen in years, and also had many of his family members killed. The book argues that the direction of Bolshevik policies had been set under Lenin’s rule. Many people like to put all blame on Stalin’s door and absolve Bolshevism of blame but the difference between Stalin and Lenin’s policies was of degree, not kind. Most measures that Stalin undertook, such as, liquidating whole social classes, murdering party colleagues, widespread official insensitivity towards the plight of peasants (the main victims of communism for it was on the foundation of their corpses that the country’s industrial and military edifice was wrought), were a hallmark under Lenin as well, though Stalin took them to a whole new murderous degree. It was especially fascinating to read about the ways through which Stalin maintained his grip on authority and his underlings, a bunch of highly ambitious individuals who lived in mortal dread of losing Stalin’s favour at any time, for it meant death. Stalin was not made in a day. The book lovingly details the processes which shaped him into the man he became. The violence he suffered from his childhood at his father’s hand, the highly aggressive Georgian culture in which he grew up, the inflexibility of his Russian priest-teachers towards his native Georgian culture, the repeated tragedies he suffered through life, his own individual foibles and last, but not least, the Bolshevik Marxist ideology that he followed, all came together to create the murderous dictator that ruled over what came to be called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). The author also systematically explores in various chapters Stalin’s relationships, friendships, intellectual developments (especially on the question of nationalism), and the complex relationship between him and the populace at large. The book manages to give a smooth narrative flow to the chief developments, economically and politically, affecting the Soviet Union and the world at large which Stalin helped shape. A book people should read to understand that monsters are not a separate breed from us but are part and parcel of being human.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Vern

    After the first 100 pages or so I was ready to give up. But I kept going and by about page 200 (of 600 total) it began to capture my attention more. I had studied Stalin, the October Revolution, and the USSR in college, but this biographer had more access to Russian and Soviet archives that were not available when I studied the subject in the late 60's, early 70's. Having recently read another more recent (late 90's) biography of Lenin I came away almost more confused about the true theory of So After the first 100 pages or so I was ready to give up. But I kept going and by about page 200 (of 600 total) it began to capture my attention more. I had studied Stalin, the October Revolution, and the USSR in college, but this biographer had more access to Russian and Soviet archives that were not available when I studied the subject in the late 60's, early 70's. Having recently read another more recent (late 90's) biography of Lenin I came away almost more confused about the true theory of Socialism and Communism. I think Lenin was a true believer in what is basically a utopian social theory, but once he came into power had no compunction against violence and terror to achieve this utopian society. He then came to realize that as much as he believed a social utopia was a worthy goal, that socialization, (government control of the economy), collided with the human condition. He began to accept that government control, efficient production, and individual liberties were probably not able to coexist. Before he could accommodate realty with his theory, he died. Once Stalin came to power after Lenin's death, he claimed to be a loyal follower of Lenin and Bolshevik theory, but in reality he loyalty was to Stalinism. He was contradictory in his political aims, could justify any position he postulated, caused the death and misery of countless thousands, (millions?) and managed to do away with any opposition, real or imaginary. As a Georgian, he early on supported nationalist pride, culture and practices of the Republics. Later, he eschewed nationalism, and in the end, though a Georgian, was a committed Russian nationalist. He did advance education of the masses in literacy and numbers. He industrialized the USSR. But at what cost? I had a negative opinion of Stalin prior to reading this book. Nothing in the book changed my opinion.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Aasin Peña

    I had already read Service's other two books on Lenin and Trotsky. While I found the other two great reads I have to disagree when it comes to this one. Service makes it very apparent that he dislikes Stalin and like I mentioned in my review of his Trotsky book, Service cannot help himself from putting in snide remarks. With Trotsky it is bearable, but with Stalin it felt like every page Service needed to tell us how bad Stalin while. Listen I understand that Stalin is a controversial figure, an I had already read Service's other two books on Lenin and Trotsky. While I found the other two great reads I have to disagree when it comes to this one. Service makes it very apparent that he dislikes Stalin and like I mentioned in my review of his Trotsky book, Service cannot help himself from putting in snide remarks. With Trotsky it is bearable, but with Stalin it felt like every page Service needed to tell us how bad Stalin while. Listen I understand that Stalin is a controversial figure, and he did a lot of bad things which are unexcuseable, but whether you want to argue about it or not there was a lot of good he did for the USSR as well. Blashemy I know, but facts are facts, and he did industrialize the nation and to this day many Russians do not view him all that bad. Service admits this even sometimes in the book, but very begrudgingly. Service though often makes some absurd remarks which really stretch the imagination. He says that Stalin admired Hitler of all things! While Service does try to reference and show evidence of it I found it rather hilarious, and a reminder of how much Service dislikes Stalin. I am sure if I look hard enough I can find Roosevelt or any other Ally leaders give some praise to Hitler in one shape or form. Just absolutely ridiculous. There were some other odd moments as well such as when Service seemed to imply that Stalin because he was from Georgia believed in witchcraft. It was just so odd, but if you have read this book you will understand what I mean. There are other books that look at Stalin's life in a much more neutral tone. I finished the book and did get a wealth of information, but the presentation was just a complete mess.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dan Keefer

    When it comes to a biography/history book, I have never read a better example of deep coverage of both historical events and the making of a man. Within these 600+ is not only insightful but spices things up with dashes of humor. The author neither sacrifices serious attention to his subject nor interesting readability. I have read about Russia extensively, and I always walk away with two things: 1) How amazing the history is 2) How dark life is for all but the most well-connected people. What a When it comes to a biography/history book, I have never read a better example of deep coverage of both historical events and the making of a man. Within these 600+ is not only insightful but spices things up with dashes of humor. The author neither sacrifices serious attention to his subject nor interesting readability. I have read about Russia extensively, and I always walk away with two things: 1) How amazing the history is 2) How dark life is for all but the most well-connected people. What are the odds that two of history's most powerful sociopaths could contemporaneously rise to absolute power and cause so much destruction in the world? The period been the two world wars was both horrifying and a signal that man can overcome almost anything without learning from the experience or example. This is a must read for understanding Stalin, his country and the people who failed to hold him responsible until after his, and millions of others' death. On to Mao who apparently made Hitler and Stalin look like they weren't even trying.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ernest Spoon

    With Robert Service's "Stalin" I finish my reading cycle of the Twentieth Century's three great monster. Out of the three, Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong being the others, Stalin was the most "intellectual," and, in some ways as Service relates, the most human. Service, however, does not absolve Stalin from his many crimes, mostly in the nature of political murders, and imprisonments, despite his "good" qualities. Unlike both Hitler and Mao, Stalin was a tireless administrator, a natural-born burea With Robert Service's "Stalin" I finish my reading cycle of the Twentieth Century's three great monster. Out of the three, Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong being the others, Stalin was the most "intellectual," and, in some ways as Service relates, the most human. Service, however, does not absolve Stalin from his many crimes, mostly in the nature of political murders, and imprisonments, despite his "good" qualities. Unlike both Hitler and Mao, Stalin was a tireless administrator, a natural-born bureaucrat. And I was surprised to learn he was more than competent news editor, Pravda to be sure, and author. Yet he will always remain in my mind as one of the Twentieth Century's great dictatorial monsters.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Schmitt

    This is the second Stalin biography I've read, and I think this one has a much more balanced and analytical feel than the nightmarishly up-close-and-personal Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Both books are very good, although I'm beginning to despair of finding any Soviet histories with decent economic analysis (not a strength of historians in general--they seem to mostly just repeat what they've heard elsewhere). Robert Service is clearly a strong writer, and I look forward to eventually gett This is the second Stalin biography I've read, and I think this one has a much more balanced and analytical feel than the nightmarishly up-close-and-personal Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Both books are very good, although I'm beginning to despair of finding any Soviet histories with decent economic analysis (not a strength of historians in general--they seem to mostly just repeat what they've heard elsewhere). Robert Service is clearly a strong writer, and I look forward to eventually getting to his other biographies on Lenin and Trotsky.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jai adlakha

    i found this book extremely interesting it gave a near perfect analysis of Stalin's mindset contrary from the pop culture image of Stalin as petty little tyrant (which he was not).to one of a ruthless pragmatist who believed in communism as far as it helped him keep power. a man who was sly and brutal enough he pulled the rug from under Trotsky and became the premier of the soviet union when the job he w given was specifically so that he could not rise from it .(a lesser man might not be able to i found this book extremely interesting it gave a near perfect analysis of Stalin's mindset contrary from the pop culture image of Stalin as petty little tyrant (which he was not).to one of a ruthless pragmatist who believed in communism as far as it helped him keep power. a man who was sly and brutal enough he pulled the rug from under Trotsky and became the premier of the soviet union when the job he w given was specifically so that he could not rise from it .(a lesser man might not be able to ) . though Stalin was no saint by a loooong stretch . this book is still a must read for anyone interested in the cold war ,the soviet union ,world war 2,or Stalin himself .

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Barnard

    This was comprehensive and a really good breakdown of a complex figure. It was obviously organised chronologically, but also thematically which was helpful for me as that's how I'm shaping the essay I read it for. The chapters were also short (about 10 pages) which I enjoyed, because it meant that I could read it little and often. If I had one complaint, it would be that it didn't go as in depth on specific topics as I was hoping it would; however, to be fair, it was only 600 pages long. Neverth This was comprehensive and a really good breakdown of a complex figure. It was obviously organised chronologically, but also thematically which was helpful for me as that's how I'm shaping the essay I read it for. The chapters were also short (about 10 pages) which I enjoyed, because it meant that I could read it little and often. If I had one complaint, it would be that it didn't go as in depth on specific topics as I was hoping it would; however, to be fair, it was only 600 pages long. Nevertheless, I'd thoroughly recommend it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dhawal Singh

    This is indeed one of the best biography I have read about an important historical figure. Detailed, critically analyzed and thoroughly researched. Took me 3 months to finish this but was completely worth it. In the end the following contents of a letter from Tito to Stalin gave a great finishing touch Stalin, Stop sending people to kill me. We've already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle. If you don't stop sending killers, I'll send one to Moscow, and I won't This is indeed one of the best biography I have read about an important historical figure. Detailed, critically analyzed and thoroughly researched. Took me 3 months to finish this but was completely worth it. In the end the following contents of a letter from Tito to Stalin gave a great finishing touch Stalin, Stop sending people to kill me. We've already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle. If you don't stop sending killers, I'll send one to Moscow, and I won't have to send a second. Regards, Tito How's that for confidence. Highly recommended guys, go for it if reading history excites you :)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia Fisher

    For the majority of the book, Mr. Service stayed on point. I found it annoying that at times he chose to embellish his writing with his personal opinion. I must say to Mr. Service, please just stick with the facts and allow me to make my own decision about Stalin's disposition. Otherwise this was a very insightful book that was supported by detailed footnotes to substantiate what was written. I applaud Mr. Service for his detailed research, something that must be difficult considering that so mu For the majority of the book, Mr. Service stayed on point. I found it annoying that at times he chose to embellish his writing with his personal opinion. I must say to Mr. Service, please just stick with the facts and allow me to make my own decision about Stalin's disposition. Otherwise this was a very insightful book that was supported by detailed footnotes to substantiate what was written. I applaud Mr. Service for his detailed research, something that must be difficult considering that so much of the Soviet-era archives are difficult to find, or have been destroyed.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    I'm somewhat bemused by the reviews everywhere suggesting that Service has given Stalin an easy ride. I saw little in here to suggest he was in any way a fan. I can only assume some people want their baddies to be portrayed with "oh what a bad man he was" constantly shoved down their throats, but that seems a bit pointless to me - I wanted to read a biography of Stalin, not a list of his crimes. This did that. I'm somewhat bemused by the reviews everywhere suggesting that Service has given Stalin an easy ride. I saw little in here to suggest he was in any way a fan. I can only assume some people want their baddies to be portrayed with "oh what a bad man he was" constantly shoved down their throats, but that seems a bit pointless to me - I wanted to read a biography of Stalin, not a list of his crimes. This did that.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Roz

    This has to be one of the most informative books I have ever read. I went into it wanting to know about the relations between Hitler and Stalin, especially regarding Lithuania. I have finished this knowing about so much more: the Russian revolution, North and South Korea, World War 2, the Cold War... In fact, the only thing that is not explained is how on earth this could have happened!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Sowery-Quinn

    Definitely a comprehensive biography of Stalin; however, a lot of the political parts were just too hard for me to follow. I was more interested in him as a person, his life, his relationships & the parts that pertained to World War II were also very interesting.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gilberto

    Amazing, but a over my head

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pauline

    Though the chronology is a bit messy, I found this book well-organized and easy to read. The photographs included were a nice addition.

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