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Stalin: Breaker of Nations Paperback – November 1, 1992

4.2 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Drawing on a wealth of new material from the former Soviet Union, Conquest presents a chilling portrait of the Soviet dictator as a mass murderer. Photos.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

YA-- Written in a fast-moving informative style, this absorbing biography charts Stalin's rise from obscure revolutionary flunky to power-mad dictator. Borrowing liberally from unsealed memoirs of survivors of the Stalinist era, Conquest offers psychological insights into the man who condemned millions of his countrymen to death in the purges of the 1930s and led his nation to become a leading world power. A compelling portrait for students and teachers of modern Russian and European history alike. --Richard Lisker, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (November 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140169539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140169539
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #209,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Raul Vasquez on January 24, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There have been many biographies written about Josef Stalin. Many recent biographies of Stalin such as "Stalin: The Court of the Red Czar" by Montefiore and "Stalin and his Hangmen: The Tyrant and those who killed for him" by Rayfield focus only on the sexual depravity and crimes of Stalin's followers respectively. A person should only read those biographies only after they have read an introductory biography of Stalin and have therefore come away with an understanding of Stalin as whole. Robert Conquest's "Stalin: Breaker of Nations" provides such a biography with the vital information for one to build a basic stable foundation of the life of this twentieth century tyrant. In the introduction Conquest modestly says, "This book is not a dissection of Stalin's character, but a sketch". It is important to keep this quote in mind as one reads Conquest's book. Many reviewers unfortunately are hasty in criticizing "Stalin: Breaker of Nations" for its lack of length (a mere 330 pages or so). Nonetheless, Conquest's "sketch" proves to be more thorough than many of the "dissections" of Stalin available. Indeed Robert Conquest's work on Stalin has been so extensive that he was chosen to be the main history consultant for the 1992 movie "Stalin", starring Robert Duvall.

Robert Conquest writes his book for the common reader who only has a minimal knowledge of Stalin and Stalinism. The book is nonetheless engaging enough for the serious Russian history buff. Anyone who reads "Stalin: Breaker of Nations" will at least come away with the conclusion that Stalin was the most prolific mass murderer in history (yes even more than Hitler). The purpose of the book is ultimately to stimulate enough interest for the reader to do some further research and reading.
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Format: Paperback
The master of Soviet scholarship and research, Robert Conquest, lightens up on his usual dense methodology for a slightly more easygoing character sketch on Stalin here. Conquest mentions in his prologue that the point of this biography is not to delve into extreme detail about the history of the USSR during Stalin's lifetime or all the political maneuvers and intrigue that took place. Therefore many historical details are intentionally left out, and more of a high-level view is given. That makes this book a much easier read than Conquest's other works, and it's significantly shorter too. On the other hand, you may be perplexed by the missing historical background if you have not already read Conquest's definitive works on the USSR, especially "The Great Terror" and possibly "Harvest of Sorrow." One criticism is that with Conquest's lighter intellectual mood, he sometimes loses the distinction between biography and political history, neglecting Stalin the man as a focus for the book at some points. Conquest also occasionally lapses into personal opinions, which is not a problem in his other works. This includes his criticisms of Franklin Roosevelt and British diplomat Anthony Eden, and the use of words like "useless," "crackpot," or "charlatan" for many Soviet theorists and scientists, such as the biologist Lysenko. Here all Conquest has to do is let the facts speak for themselves.
With that aside, here Conquest dives as deeply into Stalin's life and personality as possible, though some readers who are trying to understand the extreme depths of his evil may be disappointed. Of course, such deeply psychological info is impossible to obtain, and only the man himself could know what he was thinking, even though Stalin was probably quite unhinged mentally.
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Format: Hardcover
Robert Conquest is one of the better known authors on Russian history, specifically on the rule of Stalin and the Communist era. The beginning of this book lists over fifteen books written by Conquest on these subjects, along with books of poetry. There is even a fictional book listed, written in conjunction with Kingsley Amis. Conquest's sources are vast and are included at the back of the book, although a lack of footnotes is bothersome.
Conquest starts out his book where it all began, in the country of Georgia at the birth of Stalin. We learn there is some confusion over Stalin's birth date and his birth father. Life is hard for young Iosif; his home life is abusive and the family moves around a bit. Stalin ends up enrolled in a seminary school, where he spends five years studying Russian and reading banned Western books. School discipline is strict, and this discipline and arbitrary rules radicalizes young Stalin. Stalin falls in with Marxist revolutionaries and begins his long march to infamy. Conquest's account of Stalin's revolutionary years is a long litany of arrest and internal exile. Stalin repeatedly escapes from Siberian exile only to be rearrested. Stalin does manage to move up in the ranks, becoming known to both Lenin and Trotsky. When the revolution breaks out, Stalin ends up on the front lines, where he takes part in a few unimportant actions (which are elevated to godlike military exploits once Stalin is in charge). Iosif defies many orders and tends to take matters into his own hands, a trait that others will die for when Stalin assumes control.
The rest of the book is the monster. After the death of Lenin, Stalin begins his climb to power by systematically eradicating his fellow Politburo members.
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