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on November 4, 2017
Someone gave me The Rachel Papers when it came out but I never looked at it. When I saw this book I bought both it and Experience at the same time.

I am kicking myself now for not finding my way to his writing sooner. Some of our best contemporary history is coming from literary figures and journalists rather than academe. Svetlana Alexievich is another example.

Amis shows how we are trained to treat the horror of Hitler differently than the horror of Stalin which manifests mainly as a conditionalizing of the latter. You can make Soviet jokes even to this day (the foibles of Potemkin gone wrong).

Amis’s literary style — lots of asides, background, reflections on his family — may take an America a bit to slip into. I love his style.

If there is redemption to any of this story it must be found in the ability of men and women to survive unspeakable horrors. It should make us feel kinder to Russian and other people’s who shared the Soviet experience.
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on July 3, 2015
A great work. Martin Amis at his best. A chilling portrait of Stalin, sometimes a baffoon sometimes a genius. Successful politicians tend to be ruthless, but in a grim survival of the fittest milieu of the Bolshevik state it seems that a man of Stalin's ability and Machiavellian brilliance would rise to the top. The amazing thing is that even today there are those among us who still deny the Ukrainian famine and the Great Famine or worse yet try to justify them.
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on December 5, 2012
This book concentrates on Stalin's abnormal psychology, and the impacts of his murderings on Russia, which was his greater victim. Amis is very good on the twisted workings of Stalin's mind. I read Francis Carr's "Ivan the Terrible" more or less simultaneously; the pathology was more or less the same. Ivan Grozny did even more damage to Russia than did Stalin.

Amis also shows the moral putridity of the British intellectual class in confronting monstrosities.

For bald narrative I would read Conquest first. For insider detail, Simon Sebag Montefiore's "Young Stalin" and "In the Court of the Red Tsar"; but for emotional impact, Amis is hard to beat, for this the most important maker of the modern world.
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on January 14, 2014
Koba The Dread made me want to get rid of it. It made me mad, and left me thinking about the terror that we can cause by taking fixed ideas to the limits. The book is a great description of what happened under Lenin and Stalin's power. It's documented and with enough references to other authors and players involved with the Soviet Union. If you want a bunch of cold history thrown at you to wake up, this is a great book that will do just that.
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on September 29, 2012
Excellent book and eminently readable considering all the bodies left in its wake. That, of course, is a testament to its author, Martin Amis. Amis, even in his most rollicking fiction, can have the darkest of dark sides; so approaching Koba the Dread as a nonfiction topic may seem daunting. But Amis is a skillful man of letters, and the reader's efforts here are well-rewarded. This reader has grown up in a post-Stalin world, and I thought that I had a fairly good grasp on the subject. This work expanded that knowledge tenfold.
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on August 8, 2004
Amis' little tome is a splendid anlysis of the psychology of authoritarianism. If you are looking for a book about the Soviet Union in World War II, the Gulags, the Russian Revolution, and the like -- look elsewhere. In short, "Koba the Dread" examines the utter banality of the autocratic mindset, the often twisted, cruel, and irrational thought processes utilized by dictators (in this case, Stalin): Paranoia, hate, hypocrisy, cruelty, self-aggrandizement, fear, and murder. This book is disturbing because it is filled with endless quotes, ancedotes, and snippets about death, torture, sadism, and slavery in Stalin's Russia. Amis tries to find some deeper, existential meaning to "the twenty million" who died under Stalin against the backdrop of the literary career of his (once) pro-Stalinist father Kingsley Amis, on one side, and the death of his young and innocent sister, Sally, on the other (One recommendation is in order: If you have no familiarity with the overall history of the Soviet Union or the life of Stalin, it might prove benficial to read an introuctory text, first...). In the end, Amis' work is one man's eloquent cry against the barbarity of modern authoritarianism...
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VINE VOICEon April 28, 2006
The 20th century was both the world's brightest and bleakest hundred year term. Brightest in so far as the ingenuity that was applied to raising living standards in large parts of the world; bleakest in so far as the manner in which various dictators practiced human carnage on a grand scale. It was a century of great paradoxes.

Martin Amis has done a great service to history and its interpretation with his slim work, "Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million." This book is part history and part a personal treatise on the corruption of the Soviet Union under the reign of Stalin.

In analysing the 20th century, we too often only think of the Jewish holocaust when we consider mass carnage. Bad though the holocaust was, it had no monopoly on depravity and death. In the decade before Hitler pursued his final solution, Stalin was working assiduously to manufacture his own hell on earth. An estimated 20 million souls were put to death by firing squad, torture or deliberate famine. While there were no gas ovens, Stalin was still able to terrify a nation.

In writing this review I am in no way seeking to downplay or deny the horrors of Nazi Germany. Nor, for that matter, is Amis. Instead, Amis is simply trying to place the maniacal ideas of Stalin into a broader perspective. Stalin was a butcher plain and simple. He was deluded and dangerous. His mindless politics scarred the world.

No reader should be deterred from reading this book on the grounds that they may be horrified by a cold analytical writer. Amis is a writer of great depth and this work should be read by all those persons seeking an insight to the contradictions and evil that and was Stalin.
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on June 5, 2015
Written in a mildly sarcastic style, this is a great companion to more serious histories of the Stalin period. The author pokes fun at some revisionists and also intellectuals of the time who saw Stalin as "candid and honest" and Lenin as "Christ-like."
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on November 20, 2015
Gripping and heartbreaking. Western intellectuals who spent decades rationalizing the terror and repression of Stalin's brutal police state contributed to the suffering of its millions of victims.
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on January 14, 2013
Excellent book. Everyone should know what happened in the Soviet Union in the 20th century. Martin Amis is a great writer and he makes you feel the dread of the midnight knock on the door, the absurdity of the "crimes" being prosecuted, the brutality of the interrogations, the terror of the long train ride to the Gulag, and the insanity of those years under "Comrade Koba".
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