From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Here is a life-and-times biography in the grand style: deeply researched, well written, brimming with interpretations. Oxford historian Service, author of an acclaimed biography of Lenin, provides the most complete portrait available of the Soviet ruler, from his early, troubled years in a small town in Georgia to the pinnacle of power in the Kremlin. Most previous biographers have depicted Stalin as a plodding figure whose only distinguishing characteristic was brutality. But Service describes a man who was intelligent and hardworking, who learned from experience and who played an important role in the Russian revolutionary movement. On so many of the complex issues of Soviet history—including Stalin's rise to power within the Communist Party, the policy shift to forced collectivization, the Great Terror and the prosecution of the war against Nazi Germany—Service provides lucid accounts based on his own research and the most recent scholarship. Stalin was the key figure behind every major development from the mid-1920s onward. He based his policy decisions on his understanding of Marxism-Leninism and on a hardheaded, realistic assessment of his own often uneasy position and of the Soviet Union's relatively weak standing in the world. By providing such a rich and complex portrait of the dictator and the Soviet system, Service humanizes Stalin without ever diminishing the extent of the atrocities he unleashed upon the Soviet population. 47 b&w photos, 4 maps. (Apr.)
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Stalin has ascended to an equal plane with Hitler in the pantheon of world-class monsters and mass murderers. Yet, perhaps due to the relative unavailability of primary-source material, much of Stalin's life and his motivations remained a mystery. But recently released Soviet archival material, of which this fascinating and unsettling biography takes full advantage, has shed new light. Service, an esteemed scholar of Russian and Soviet history, does not minimize Stalin's crimes or absolve him of responsibility for the horrors of the Soviet era. He makes clear that Stalin, from his youth, was a "damaged" personality with a propensity for brutality against both friend and foe. But, as Service convincingly illustrates, this monster was a human who could write sensitive poetry, dote on family members, and inspire loyalty. Furthermore, the paranoia that permeated the reign of Stalin and led to the Great Terror descended not from Stalin but from an adherence to a pseudoreligion that encouraged followers to shape, even twist, their perceptions of reality to conform to absolute truth. A necessary reappraisal. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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