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Stalin: A Biography


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Robert Service is the author of Lenin: A Biography, and Russia: Experiment with a People and is the author of numerous other books on Russian history, including his History of Twentieth Century Russia

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Robert Service is the author of Lenin: A Biography, and Russia: Experiment with a People and is the author of numerous other books on Russian history, including his History of Twentieth Century Russia.


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.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Stalin was a mass murderer responsible for changing the political and social spectrum of Russia's old tsarist empire through unimaginably vicious means. But, according to Service (history, St. Antony's Coll., Oxford; A History of Modern Russia: From Nicholas II to Vladimir Putin), if we only know him in these terms we miss the full persona: "Stalin was a bureaucrat and a killer; he was also a leader, a writer and editor, a theorist (of sorts), a bit of a poet (when young) a follower of the arts, a family man and even a charmer." Service's volume is similar to Simon Sebag Montefiore's Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar in wanting to view Stalin out of the glare of myopic 20th-century writers. But Service's biography is full-scale, eking out the details of Stalin's childhood and education (including his nearly complete seminary instruction), while Montefiore keeps Stalin within the context of 1929-53. Service has used material newly released from Soviet archives to understand Stalin during the Bolshevik revolution, showing how he learned butchery from Lenin and struggled to survive as Lenin's successor. Service's biography is even more readable and accessible than Montefiore's. Highly recommended for academic libraries and public libraries with a Soviet history collection.-Harry Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Syst., Iola Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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