24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
We return again to the subject of Stalin,
This review is from: Stalin: A Biography (Hardcover)
Gangster! Evil dictator! Georgian Al Capone! Robert Service uses all of these terms to describe Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhughashvili, known as Stalin, in this new biography. That he also uses terms such as intellectual, paterfamilias, singer of songs and lover of wine, to describe the `man of steel' disgusts and alienates some readers. Apparently, we must distance ourselves from such a man, make him somehow inhuman, in order to fit him into our modern worldview. More interesting, and more useful, is a biography that seeks to understand the human factors, for Stalin was not some alien dropped from outer space, but a man.
This is the work of a professional historian who is deeply immersed in both the primary sources (many newly available) and the historiography of Stalin. Service seeks to undertake a multidimensional approach, looking at political, economic, personal, international and many other factors of both Stalin and the world in which he lived. Among the more interesting points Service brings out, is the importance of Stalin in the pre-revolutionary period, including his importance and high place (although less visible than some of the others) in the party structure, debunking the myth that Stalin came out of nowhere, suddenly and mysteriously knocking the Bolshevik train off track. Stalin was Lenin's protégé and student, and although he differed on several key points, there was continuity between the two. In a sense this is the sequel to the author's works on Lenin.
If there is one thing I wish could be added to a generally excellent work, it would be while Service sufficiently discredits both Leninism and Stalinism I would have preferred, since he was on the subject, a discussion of the failure not only Bolshevism but of Marxism in general. Admittedly it is slightly beyond the scope, but it seems to leave open the question, could a Marxist state under some more benign leadership have worked? It is my belief that the historian of the twentieth century has already before him evidence to answer this question, and anyway, (with sincere apologies) let us hope no one will ever undertake such an experiment. That being said, in all a very good biography suitable for all readers.