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Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar Paperback – September 13, 2005
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“An extraordinary book. . . . For anyone fascinated by the nature of evil—and by the effects of absolute power on human relationships—this book will provide new insights on every page.” —Anne Applebaum, Evening Standard (London)
“The first intimate portrait of a man who had more lives on his conscience than Hitler. . . . Disturbing and perplexing.” —Richard Pipes, The New York Times Book Review
“Superb. . . . No Western writer has got as close. . . . A dark and excellent book.” —The New York Review of Books
“Terrific. . . . A deeply researched and wonderfully readable accomplishment—scholarship as a kind of savage gossip.” —Time
“Unprecedented in its intimacy and horrifying in its implications, not merely because it shows that the engineers of one of history’s greatest holocausts were depraved . . . but also because they emerge in these pages as surprisingly normal.” —The Washington Post Book World
“A marvelously well-researched book. . . . Montefiore has written a supremely important book about Joseph Stalin, a biography that other scholars will find hard to equal. This is sure to be one of the outstanding books of the year.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Ultra reader-friendly, lively, gossipy and packaged with revelations about the intimacies and intrigues of Stalin the man and his courtiers. Brilliant.” —Evening Standard Book Page
“A book that had to be written. . . . Montefiore’s biography is far different from anything in this genre. A superb piece of research and frighteningly lucid.” —The Washington Times
“Gripping and timely. . . . Montefiore has illuminated wider aspects of the history of the USSR. This is one of the few recent books on Stalinism that will be read in years to come.” —Robert Service, The Guardian (London)
“Montefiore combines his research among the primary sources and the fruits of his interviews into a focused, gripping story about a man, who, along with Mao, Hitler and Genghis Khan, has to be in the running for history’s greatest mass murderer.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“[A] masterful and terrifying account of Stalin as seen within his close entourage. . . . Seldom has the picture been put in finer focus than by Montefiore.” —Alistair Horne, The Times (London)
“Horrific, revelatory and sobering. . . . A triumph of research.” —John le Carré, The Observer
“I loved the totalitarian high baroque sleaze of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Stalin. . . . One of the 2004 Guardian Books of the Year.” —Simon Schama, The Guardian (London)
“A grim masterpiece shot through with lashes of black humor. . . . The personal details are riveting.” —Antonia Fraser, Mail on Sunday
“A well-researched and insightful book. . . . The narrative adroitly catches the atmosphere of the time.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review
“I did not think I could learn anything new about Stalin, but I was wrong. A stunning performance.” —Henry Kissinger
“Montefiore’s deft combination of biography and history brings Stalin alive, so that he becomes as complex and contradictory as any of the great characters in fiction.” —The New York Sun
“If you plan (wisely) to read only one book about Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, let it be Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Simon Sebag Montefiore, writing with the skill of a novelist . . . has based his highly readable biographical thriller solidly and factually not only on all of the preceding scholarly studies of the Soviet dictator but also upon newly available archival materials.” —The Seattle Times
“A large and ambitious overview—and under-view—of the Soviet leader’s life and epoch, drawn from an impressively wide array of Russian sources.” —The Atlantic Monthly
“Spectacular. . . . An impressive and compelling work, using important new documents.” —The Spectator
“Sebag Montefiore has done a valuable service in drawing our attention to a hitherto little-studied aspect of Stalinism. As his Stalin demonstrates, the personal relationships of those who ran the Kremlin provided an essential dynamic for the development of the Stalinist system. Isolated from the masses, these members of the privileged elite depended on one another for emotional sustenance to an extraordinary degree.” —The Times Literary Supplement (London)
From the Inside Flap
In a seamless meshing of exhaustive research, brilliant synthesis and narrative elan, Simon Sebag Montefiore chronicles the life and lives of Stalin's court from the time of his acclamation as "leader" in 1929, five years after Lenin's death, until his own death in 1953 at the age of seventy-three. Through the lens of personality-Stalin's as well as those of his most notorious henchmen, Molotov, Beria and Yezhov among them-the author sheds new light on the oligarchy that attempted to create a new world by exterminating the old. He gives us the details of their quotidian and monstrous lives: Stalin's favorites in music, movies, literature (Hemmingway, "The Forsyte Saga and "The Last of the Mohicans were at the top of his list), food and history (he took Ivan the Terrible as his role model and swore by Lenin's dictum, "A revolution without firing squads is meaningless"). We see him among his courtiers, his informal but deadly game of power played out at dinners and parties at Black Sea villas and in the apartments of the Kremlin. We see the debauchery, paranoia andcravenness that ruled the lives of Stalin's inner court, and we see how the dictator played them one against the other in order to hone the awful efficiency of his killing machine.
With stunning attention to detail, Montefiore documents the crimes, small and large, of all the members of Stalin's court. And he traces the intricate and shifting web of their relationships as the relative warmth of Stalin's rule in the early 1930s gives way to the Great Terror of the late 1930s, the upheaval of World War II (there has never been as acute an account of Stalin's meeting at Yalta with Churchill and Roosevelt) and the horrific postwar years when he terrorized his closest associates as unrelentingly as he did the rest of his country.
"Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar gives an unprecedented understanding of Stalin's dictatorship, and, as well, a Stalin as human and complicated as he is brutal. It is a galvanizing portrait: razor-sharp, sensitive and unforgiving.
"From the Hardcover edition.
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This book does a marvelous account at portraying those around him including his family.
I have read this book twice, and thoroughly enjoyed it both times.
No book has given such a lucid, descriptive, and fascinating account of the man, his closest so circle and the country at the time. I also like the fact that unlike many other biographies it does not preach or lecture on the negatives of socialism ad nauseum. It merely tells the facts
Top international reviews
In the preface, Montefiore acknowledges his collaboration with the other masterful scholars of Stalinism, Robert Service and Oleg Khlevniuk, so this leads me to think of this book as not a competitor to the other masterful scholars, but rather a stand alone work to be read on its own merits, along with the other works.
So why read this, by far the lengthiest out of the aforementioned works, rather than the more concise offerings from Service or Khlevniuk? Because this is by far the most broad ranging panorama of Stalin's court. It entirely lives up to its title, it covers all the characters and intrigue of Stalin's court, so think of this work not so much as a biography (although it definitely is) and more of a panorama. In this sense, the strength of this work is the insight into all the other characters, giving perhaps the fullest picture of the politics of the Stalin era this reader has yet read.
The book itself is lengthy and challenging, and this was completed on my second attempt. It begins as something of a slow starter, and the covering of Stalin's terror is very detailed and becomes lengthy at times, but if one wants a complete picture, then one is unlikely to be disappointed.
In short a masterful work, confirming Simon Sebag Montefiore as one of the pre-eminent historians of the modern day.
As someone with a somewhat limited attention span when it comes to longer non-fiction texts, I found myself gripped throughout Stalin by his sparkling prose and evocative descriptions. He presents a monumental amount of research and information whilst still keeping an almost movie-like narrative the whole way through.
Having read his Young Stalin a few years back, I knew that I would eventually get round to reading what is essentially the sequel. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t put off by the length - I was initially worried that it would be another half-read historical tome on my bookshelf, but Montefiore’s writing kept me reading until the end.
As with Young Stalin, he tells the story of one of history’s greatest in such a way as to present him as human. At times the reader almost sympathises with him, as we read of his personal tragedies. We discover more of Stalin’s personal relationships and the scheming and crawling of the members of the Politburo as they try to gain favour.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in learning about Stalin and his entourage. I’m sure there are plenty of great works out there, but Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar presents never before seen information in a highly accessible and readable way, a biography which I doubt will be rivalled for many years.
I find a lot of current history books tend to be rather heavy going, often as a result of their desire to be as comprehensive as possible. In this respect, Montefiore comes up trumps, being both highly readable - the adjective compelling is much overused (esp. on book jacket hype) but is totally apt here - and also very detailed.
This book is itself massively hyped, in a chorus of critical approval that is, fortunately, very well founded. One thing many comment upon is that, rather than just rehashing the Stalin-as-monster line, we get a very rounded picture, showing how he could charm and disarm, as well as decimating any and all in the more familiar tale of power-drunk paranoia.
With a central cast of characters that range from the wives to the cronies and henchmen, dominated of course by 'Uncle' Stalin himself, and a 'supporting cast' of faceless millions, death hovers over all.
Ultimately it's almost impossible to discern whether Stalin was just a Georgian gangster writ large, or an ideologue who dug a monomaniac furrow though history in pursuit of a Socialist utopia like a juggernaut over mountains of dead, or a bit of both. But what is certain is that this is a fascinating and deeply compelling story, adroitly told by a gifted historian and storyteller.
I expected to like this book more and I can't quite think why this solid, well researched and very well written book on a subject I am interested in didn't excite me. There is a good level of detail and I couldn't complain, given the title does explain exactly what's in it. But it did feel a bit claustrophobic and when the perspective widens (as in chapter 23 when the cultural scene is filled in) it felt much more engaging and informative. Perhaps I have been spoiled by Dikotter's excellently balanced books on Mao where the big perspective is so well integrated with the political and personal levels?
What makes this book so important is the author's attempt to get inside Stalin's mind which he does very well. And yet. In everything he said, did and ordered there is a dark corner which is completely unpredictable which is why those even in favour were all terrified. Time and again those who thought they knew Stalin got it wrong with fatal consequences: all were informers and informed upon by each other in a perfect circle of fear.
If you lined up all those who occupied positions of power during his reign, most of them would have a (red) cross through them. Violence, torture (for extracting false confessions) and murder were systemic, essential elements of Lenin's Bolshevism which Stalin expanded exponentially, even carelessly. Many millions died during the liquidation of farms (collectivisation) and the resulting famine. Many more millions were arbitrarily murdered and sent to the gulags during the 1937 Terror. The Second World War piled yet more millions on top of all of those, initially because Stalin failed to see through Hitler's intentions and because he had decimated the Red Army's officers, senior and junior.
The scale of the slaughter is so vast that's it's impossible to encompass it mentally. In these uncertain times, this is a work which should be read by everyone who's concerned with the so-called "populist" leaders around the world: this is the map to the deepest hell.
I wanted to be more interested in this, but maybe I'm just not as into historical figures as I thought I was.
There's no doubt tons of research gone into the book and the author knows his stuff, but it's not for me.
Now after reading this book we know why socialism in that vast country with all its hopes failed. The criminal gang of Stalin, Yezhov, Mekhlis, Beria and other cruel leaders at the top destroyed any vestige of humanity, or socialism that could have flourished after the October Revolution. The opposition in US and Europe although not without fault over came this sick version of socialism and it is no surprise that they did. Out of Fascism OF Hitler, Stalinism( not socialism by a mile), and capitalism of west the latter was the best of the worst evils..... and won through...
As Joseph Stalin himself before his truce with Hitler at the beginning of the war said , people had 3 choices in Europe of 1938, Fascism of corporal Hitler, The sick socialism of Stalin, or the capitalism of Chamberlain and his French and other allies. People chose the latter and today the question should be posed again what are the choices and the best choice?
What you get from this book is an understanding of how a man like Stalin could come to power, murder his way to the top, murder all his friends and rivals and still live to an old age. One sees the same utter fear in the way Ghaddafi or Ceacescu kept people under control until suddenly one day, everyone realised that everyone hated that one person.
This book with tell you exactly how, if people stick together as cowards, they can let one man take over everything.
Even worse, this book shows you how the Stalinist leaders, not only Stalin but Beria etc. were so casual about murdering millions that it makes you wonder if the early 20th century was a case of who is more evil - the Nazis or the Soviets.
Also, you will be struck, as I was, by how the communists declared war against the peasantry and how, when we thought this was just Russians, how the top leadership was dominated by non-Russians: by Georgians, some Armenians, Jews, Poles -- evil crosses all ethnic boundaries.
I highly, highly recommend this book -- the details which the author gives, the little notes from hundreds of interviews, letters from one person to another, enable you to really get into the mind of Stalin -- but be warned that you need to wear high boots to wade through the muck..
I received the books in good condition -- probably too much packaging :)