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Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia's Secret Archives

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Granted privileged access to Russia's secret archives, Edvard Radzinsky has broken down the iron curtain of myth, secrecy and lies that has surrounded Stalin's life and career, painting a picture of the Soviet strongman as more calculating, ruthless and blood-crazed than has ever been described or imagined.


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Granted privileged access to Russia's secret archives, Edvard Radzinsky has broken down the iron curtain of myth, secrecy and lies that has surrounded Stalin's life and career, painting a picture of the Soviet strongman as more calculating, ruthless and blood-crazed than has ever been described or imagined.

30 review for Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia's Secret Archives

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    What I remember very vividly from this one is that before the weird 1917 revolution the communists were like gangsters, they were on the run, they were holding up banks to finance the revolution, they were the rootingest tootingest shootingest communists in town, and young Jack Stalin was up for it, he was the Billy the Kid of the Caucasus, he was there when you needed him with his handy stick of dynamite. (I remember back in the 80s and 90s the IRA in Northern Ireland were exactly the same.) So What I remember very vividly from this one is that before the weird 1917 revolution the communists were like gangsters, they were on the run, they were holding up banks to finance the revolution, they were the rootingest tootingest shootingest communists in town, and young Jack Stalin was up for it, he was the Billy the Kid of the Caucasus, he was there when you needed him with his handy stick of dynamite. (I remember back in the 80s and 90s the IRA in Northern Ireland were exactly the same.) So when these bad boys stumbled into power it was perhaps not too surprising that they began to run the USSR as a series of mafia clans. They were ruthless, with their enemies and with each other. And Stalin became the Boss of Bosses, and he was the most ruthless, along with his enforcer, a glinty-eyed shimmer of implacable homicide called Beria Beria, I've just met a man called Beria And suddenly that name Will never be the same again Beria Say it loud and there's people crying Say it soft and it's almost like dying Beria I used to say it was the great tragedy of history that Stalin took control and disabled, maimed, perverted, corrupted, debased and killed the idea of communism for ever. But the guys who run capitalism are doing something broadly similar too. In the musical words of Fagin, I think we'd better think it out again.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Danj816

    I read this book in a span of about three or four weeks and could not put it down. It read like a novel and was very engrossing. It details every aspect of Stalin's life, first as the child Soso, then as the revolutionary Koba, and finally as the iron-willed dictator Stalin. The Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 is covered and then it details Stalin's rise in the Party. In 1922 he became General Secretary and two years later Lenin died setting in motion the power struggle that took place over I read this book in a span of about three or four weeks and could not put it down. It read like a novel and was very engrossing. It details every aspect of Stalin's life, first as the child Soso, then as the revolutionary Koba, and finally as the iron-willed dictator Stalin. The Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 is covered and then it details Stalin's rise in the Party. In 1922 he became General Secretary and two years later Lenin died setting in motion the power struggle that took place over the next five years between Stalin his rivals in the party, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Bukharin. Stalin emerged the victor in 1929 and consolidated his control over the Party and the entire country. He set in motion the five-year plans that made the Soviet Union an industrial nation overnight although at the cost of millions of lives. He next sought to eliminate his rivals, he had already done so before politically, now they were to be exterminated. Using the murder of his rival Kirov in 1934 as an excuse to start a purge of the Party, the "Great Terror" as it was known lasted for more than four years and saw countless show trials, arrests, deportations to the Gulag, torture, and executions. This is definately the highlight of the book as the author details the cruelty and the methods with which the NKVD liquidated "enemies of the people." In 1937 the purge that began in the party soon spread to every part of Soviet society as people were encourged to turn their neighbors in. It finally ended toward the end of 1938 with the entire Party and country being obedient to only him. This book also has some new revelations that are definately to be taken with a grain of salt. The biggest of these is that his planned purge of Jews toward the end of his reign was being done to provoke a Third World War with the West. I thought his overall evidence was a little weak but it was still interesting nonetheless. Also there are a few inaccuracies in this book as well that prevent it from getting five stars. One is the statement that Stalin was the first to have the hydrogen bomb in 1953 when in fact the U.S. had exploded one in 1952. But overall this was a very good read and is recommended to anyone interested in this time period of history.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Natalie K

    Thank goodness this book is OVER. I didn't learn very muchgranted, I've read a ton on Stalin, but still. it's hardly the "explosive" biography it promises to be. The writing style grated on my nerves. I know Radzinsky isn't a professional historian, but still, a semblance of objectivity would have been nice. That is, I was not a fan of the innumerable personal anecdotes sprinkled liberally throughout! The only good parts were the few pages that mentioned Admiral Kolchak (one of my favorite Thank goodness this book is OVER. I didn't learn very much—granted, I've read a ton on Stalin, but still. it's hardly the "explosive" biography it promises to be. The writing style grated on my nerves. I know Radzinsky isn't a professional historian, but still, a semblance of objectivity would have been nice. That is, I was not a fan of the innumerable personal anecdotes sprinkled liberally throughout! The only good parts were the few pages that mentioned Admiral Kolchak (one of my favorite people ever) and Mikhail Bulgakov (one of my favorite writers). The mention of those two pushed my rating from one star to two.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    Downright scary. But the author, with the aid of access to previously secret USSR official files, was probably better at getting inside the mind of a bloodthirsty monster like Stalin than anyone else previously could do. I can totally understand why Edvard Radzinsky has his reputation as the top historical biographer in Russia today. I'm looking forward to reading more of his stuff.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kostaz

    Pertaining to (apparently heavily) abridged audiobook. Abandoned 3/4s through after the author exhausted my patience. This reads like a hitpiece, created as folly to the needs of a Yeltsin-lead Russia, that required that everything about the Bolshevik movement be thoroughly discredited as cynical, duplicitous and criminal. More dispassionate accounts can easily be found from academic publishers. The author, who apparently is not even a historian, is more concerned with drawing conclusions about Pertaining to (apparently heavily) abridged audiobook. Abandoned 3/4s through after the author exhausted my patience. This reads like a hitpiece, created as folly to the needs of a Yeltsin-lead Russia, that required that everything about the Bolshevik movement be thoroughly discredited as cynical, duplicitous and criminal. More dispassionate accounts can easily be found from academic publishers. The author, who apparently is not even a historian, is more concerned with drawing conclusions about the character of this historic persona or another, than presenting historical events in any detail. He even goes so far as to presume what the various characters were saying to themselves at various junctions. This results in a readable dramatisation, but an illegitimate account of history. As a biography it rushes over certain eras and events at lightning speed, which leaves its rather stark claims in support of various conspiracy theories (Koba as police informant is one the author loves but barely spends 5 minutes supporting) without much backing. Some of the more outrageous devices in support of such conclusions include presuming the existence of documents which must have been destroyed and the Orwell-inspired theory of "in-depth speech," which is effectively a licence to read official texts, letters, speeches etc as being meant to convey the exact opposite meaning of what is said. Trotsky himself probably provides a fair-er assessment of Stalin the man, which is quite ironic. The hitpiece accusation stems from the political tone the text has with regard to (also) V.I. and Trotsky. One must be blind, or of a very particular predisposition to the Russian revolution, to not see the political goal of the author.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Connor Veitch

    Book gave me new insights into the life of Joseph Stalin. It gave more information on his early life, and the struggles he went through as a child. Most of the time Stalin is only seen in a WW2 setting but in this book he is seen throughout his whole lifetime.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bustion

    I read this book when I was in the ninth grade. I did not like it. It is full of conspiracy theories and garbage. For example the author claims that the USSR was planning to attack Germany first without producing any documents supporting his claim directly, only his own interpretation of the documents. He also focuses on Stalin's alleged anti-Semitism. I do not agree that Stalin was anti-Semitic. Even though he murdered many Jews in the USSR's government, he basically replaced them with other I read this book when I was in the ninth grade. I did not like it. It is full of conspiracy theories and garbage. For example the author claims that the USSR was planning to attack Germany first without producing any documents supporting his claim directly, only his own interpretation of the documents. He also focuses on Stalin's alleged anti-Semitism. I do not agree that Stalin was anti-Semitic. Even though he murdered many Jews in the USSR's government, he basically replaced them with other Jews, like Lazar Kaganovich. His Foreign Commissar Molotov, although Gentile, had a Jewish wife named Polina Zhemchuzina who had an American brother who was a businessman named Sam Karp. He claims Stalin was murdered by the Jews because he was allegedly planning to quarantine the Jews to Siberia right before he died, again without providing much evidence. It has been claimed that Stalin's mistress was a Jew named Rosa Kaganovich, Lazar's sister, and it is certainly true that many in his government were Jews, so I find this difficult to believe. If Stalin was murdered the Jews did not have anything to do with it. Peter Myers has said on his website that Stalin rejected a plan proposed to him by representatives of the United States to create a world government, I think that would be more likely to be the motive for his murder, not anything to do with Jewry. Radzinsky also falsifies information in his book. He claims that a banner representing the Virgin Mary was used by the Red Army during World War II. A reviewer on amazon pointed out this is false. In addition he says the USA lost China to Stalin, but actually Stalin had preferred Chiang Kai-Shek to Mao initially, and Mao and the Bolsheviks never did get along. So this book was full of inaccuracies, conspiracy theories, and half truths. It was not very good.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Derek

    The author's purpose of Stalin is to entertain and inform. I think the author's purpose is to entertain. I think the author Edvard Radzinsky wanted to entertain the readers or Stalin because many people think it is very entertaining to learn about the role some leaders had in Wold War II. I think another one of the authors purposes was to inform because he is letting all the readers of Stalin know how much of an impact Joseph Stalin had in World War II. So overall I think the authors purposes The author's purpose of Stalin is to entertain and inform. I think the author's purpose is to entertain. I think the author Edvard Radzinsky wanted to entertain the readers or Stalin because many people think it is very entertaining to learn about the role some leaders had in Wold War II. I think another one of the authors purposes was to inform because he is letting all the readers of Stalin know how much of an impact Joseph Stalin had in World War II. So overall I think the authors purposes were to entertain and inform the readers of Stalin. The theme of this book is how one man can make a huge impact either good or bad. In my opinion i think the theme of this book is how anyone can make an impact on a lot of people just by teaching people about what they think is right. Although Joseph Stalin had a horrible impact on most of the things he did it still shows that just by gaining a few followers that you can do anything you want. That is why I think the theme of this book was how one person can make a huge impact on society and how people view things. In my opinion the style of this book is a narration because it explains many different scenarios on things Stalin did, and it tells the reader about how he managed to become a powerful leader and that he showed no mercy to anyone who thought his ways were wrong. That is why in my oppinoin this book is a narration. In my opinion I would give this book about at eight out of ten stars because it is very informing but can be a bit confusing for me at times. I would recommend this book to about anyone that is into books about World War II, anything to do with the army, or people who just love to read books about history and peoples different ideas.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Leon Keylin

    The research done in this book is solid. I read both Russian and English stories, articles, and even books on the recently (if you can call mid nineties that) opened archived by the FSB (then KGB). Radzinsky does little to interfere with his opinion. He is solely the messenger here, the message is what has been rumored about, spoken of, conspired around, and basically shared in millions of dining rooms, "skomeyak" while old men played dominoes. Most of what is projected to the reader has been The research done in this book is solid. I read both Russian and English stories, articles, and even books on the recently (if you can call mid nineties that) opened archived by the FSB (then KGB). Radzinsky does little to interfere with his opinion. He is solely the messenger here, the message is what has been rumored about, spoken of, conspired around, and basically shared in millions of dining rooms, "skomeyak" while old men played dominoes. Most of what is projected to the reader has been known for some time, especially in Russia proper. Some of the most incredible finds are not really anything knew to most Russian; mainly those that read "Suvorov" back when he first made allegations that based on the numbers, his own eyes when documents passed him, that Stalin was, indeed, planning to attack Hitler first. The difference with Radzinsky and Suvorov, is the incentive. These finds, of course, would be, and were met with outrage. Partisans would never want to submit they sacrificed so much just for some madman's play. The maginitude of personal destruction, farms, families, culture, religion, all for what? The more documents come to light, the more truth and evidence that this was, in fact, a very real possibility. Radzinsky does an excellent job of sifting through a lot, picking up where there was little trace, and attempting to explain, as subtle as he can, the sheer magnificance of the issue.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Riley

    This is a lively, well-written and dramatic biography of Stalin. That said, it doesn't break very much new ground, and some of Edvard Radzinsky's theories seem to lack solid historical support: that Hitler invaded Russia only as Stalin was planning to attack Germany, or that Stalin was plotting a final nuclear holocaust before he died in 1953. I was also skeptical of the author's use of the theory of "in-depth speech," under which the meaning of things said by Stalin and other Communists is This is a lively, well-written and dramatic biography of Stalin. That said, it doesn't break very much new ground, and some of Edvard Radzinsky's theories seem to lack solid historical support: that Hitler invaded Russia only as Stalin was planning to attack Germany, or that Stalin was plotting a final nuclear holocaust before he died in 1953. I was also skeptical of the author's use of the theory of "in-depth speech," under which the meaning of things said by Stalin and other Communists is interpreted as being hidden in layers, with yes actually meaning no. It is similar to the "Aesopian language" often cited by anti-Communists in America and appears flawed for the same reason: through it you can conclude someone meant one thing or its total opposite, though the words were the same.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Delgee

    This is a good book. Radzinksy has his facts and proves them. Sometimes he makes guesses but they are well calculated and predictable rather than some wild random ones. Overall I liked his writing style. Reading the book, I wondered how someone could be so stone-hearted devoid of compassion toward another human being same as himself. I wonder how he dealt with it inside himself. Probably something like: "For the greater good" was always on his mind. One thing to mention about the author is even This is a good book. Radzinksy has his facts and proves them. Sometimes he makes guesses but they are well calculated and predictable rather than some wild random ones. Overall I liked his writing style. Reading the book, I wondered how someone could be so stone-hearted devoid of compassion toward another human being same as himself. I wonder how he dealt with it inside himself. Probably something like: "For the greater good" was always on his mind. One thing to mention about the author is even though he states in the beginning of his book that he is writing from a neutral point of view, I couldn't help but notice his hatred toward this man in the text.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ali

    Despite being an easy entertaining and rather informative read, I'd be very careful recommending this book to others. The author seems to have some big claims for which historical evidences are just not strong enough. That being said though, reader can use his or her own judgment, disqualify the claims and learn about the factual evidences.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Christian Bauman

    This has been sitting on my shelf unread since 2004 or so. I do that with biographies, especially big ones: buy them and them give them time to breathe. Anyway, not long shy of reading Amis's House of Meetings, was reminded I was overdue on this.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nick Wallace

    A wonderfully presented biography of one of history's great bastards.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ns

    Great writer; great access to materials.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Edy Gies

    I loved this book not exactly a page turner but it does show how completely evil Stalin was. The end was chilling and poignant.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jim Talbott

    An incredibly entertaining book, Radzinsky creates a portrait that summarizes much of what was both compelling and horrible about Stalin.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marisa

    Well researched and compelling - read like a novel.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    The research and information contained in the book is very good. So if you need a resource for the life of Joseph Stalin and his part in history I highly recommend it. It is well written.

  20. 4 out of 5

    John Yiannoudis

    detailed, innovative approach. A bit tiresome due to size

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rithun Regi

    Comprehensive read on Stalin. Compulsive reading.Stalin was more evil than Hitler.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Edvard Radzinskis Stalin is literally and figuratively an enormous work. But perhaps a quarter of a million words is still insufficient to do justice to a subject as monstrously bloodthirsty as Jozef Stalin. Even a list of names of those he ordered killed might not be longer than this tome. Published in 1996, the book claims to be the first in-depth study of Stalin since the release of documents that happened at the demise of the Soviet Union. Exactly what role this material played is still Edvard Radzinski’s Stalin is literally and figuratively an enormous work. But perhaps a quarter of a million words is still insufficient to do justice to a subject as monstrously bloodthirsty as Jozef Stalin. Even a list of names of those he ordered killed might not be longer than this tome. Published in 1996, the book claims to be the first in-depth study of Stalin since the release of documents that happened at the demise of the Soviet Union. Exactly what role this material played is still unclear, but what it did not do was change the author’s opinion of his subject. In hindsight, it is perhaps not possible to hold a different view. Today, even the most die-hard supporter of Bolshevism would acknowledge the utter perversity of Stalin’s crimes, but what always seems to be lacking in studies such as Edvard Radzinski’s is a fair description of the context in which the excesses unfolded. What is clear about Stalin is that he was a survivor, despite, or perhaps because of the fact that many who became associated with him were not. From the very start, however, as a local activist in Georgia, he was a ruthless operator. In the name of collective action, he displayed a single-minded devotion to self-promotion. Like a stereotypical gangland street-fighter, he survived by standing on the bodies of those he could knock down. Thus, in a state that claimed its authority came from “the people”, Stalin became, effectively, the archetypal absolute monarch. Like in medieval kingdoms, where so many people at court seemed to end their lives on a chopping block having offended the all-powerful ruler, there was apparently no shortage of those who were willing to be admitted to the dangerous inner circle. Perhaps the rewards were worth the risk. Perhaps refusal, especially in the case of Stalin, guaranteed an even faster promotion to the butcher’s axe. Overall, the book is rather predictable and even reads like polemic in places. Perhaps worth reading… I finished it two years ago and thought it not worth reviewing…

  23. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    I enjoyed Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia's Secret Archives because I learned more about Stalin. I honestly think the book appeals most to anyone interested in Soviet or Russian history, but thats not the only reason its a good read. The book presents a wide view on an important point in history that I believe isnt taught as much as it should be. The book almost makes you feel bad for Stalin and sympathize with him, but of course its easier to I enjoyed Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia's Secret Archives because I learned more about Stalin. I honestly think the book appeals most to anyone interested in Soviet or Russian history, but that’s not the only reason it’s a good read. The book presents a wide view on an important point in history that I believe isn’t taught as much as it should be. The book almost makes you feel bad for Stalin and sympathize with him, but of course it’s easier to sympathize with those around him. My favorite part of the book is one of the quotes at the very beginning that displays how feared Stalin was as a ruler, and how he really was like a father figure. I almost laughed hearing that even Winston Churchill couldn’t help but stand when Stalin walked into a room. I would recommend this book to a classmate because of how it highlights a time in history that, as I’ve stated previously, that isn’t focused on enough in school. There’s a lot to learn from it and how devastating the time was for so many. The type of reader to enjoy this book would likely be someone who is into history.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    stopped reading at 11 % progress It's a good book for all I can say. It's a chronological and in-depth exploration of the stalin. Littel soso turned into the rebel of Koba, who would later become 'like a tsar' as Stalin himself put it. Stopped reading due to shifting interests in other books. Would recommend this book since it's nicely written and (can't really tell) probably historically acurate.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jay Wright

    This is an interesting book to read. Do not expect this to be a traditional biography. The author depends on oral histories and records in the Russian KGB archives. Few have had access to these sources. Even though it is not well footnoted, it is well informed and appears accurate. It is very readable.

  26. 5 out of 5

    John Roberson

    A bit disappointing and short on detail, and frankly I would have gotten more from re-reading Robert Conquest. Possibly better for someone who hasn't read much on the subject yet, but it adds nothing that hasn't been dealt with better in other books. And the fact it's a Stalin biography that only took me a couple of days to read in itself says something.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joe Collins

    This is for the audiobook version. Most of the information I have heard before, but not to the details that the author covers. It is a good covers of the mystery about how he came to power and welded it causing the murder of millions to embed the vision of how he wanted to be seen by his subjects and the world as a whole for his own ego and cult following.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tass

    Garbage that tries to misinterpret and continues with the disinformation about Stalin from a populist author (not even a historIan). Written at the Height of Western pillaging of Russia People need to know that most documents regarding Stalin are still classified as at 2019 and most claims made by this idiot author and the likes of Conquest dont stand up to critical Historical analysis.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Steven Passmore

    First off I don't know how old this book is but it seems like dated gossip. Some of the things claimed in the book are disproven by the release of KGB files. The author has a penchant for scandals and drama.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Robbertus

    A compelling read, but the amount of guess work and insubstantiated conclusions makes this a partially inaccurate framing of Stalin. I reccomend this book only If you are willing to read more litterature about the subject.

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