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Stalin: Breaker Of Nations [Paperback]

Robert Conquest
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

23 Nov 2000
Robert Conquest is the foremost authority on the Stalinist period of Soviet history. The culmination of a lifetime's work, this book is a masterly portrait of a man who 'perhaps more than any other determined the course of the twentieth century'. Conquest focuses on Stalin's terrifying character, perhaps the closest to a monster that humankind has ever produced. Stalin emerges as a man 'unnatural' and 'unreal', who gave his personal authority to the slaughter of millions, but whose vanity demanded their adulation. Most surprisingly, Conquest demonstrates that Stalin's astounding power was not the reward of ability; it was the creation of a man whose mind was 'of profound mediocrity, melded with superhuman willpower'.'There is no one better qualified to write Stalin's life than Robert Conquest, who in his many books about the Stalinist era has told the story with such intimacy, expertise and passion...Conquest tells the tale with an informed hatred for his subject, and a fine sense of irony which makes this book indispensable reading' A.N. Wilson, Evening Standard

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; New edition edition (23 Nov 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842124390
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842124390
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,148,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Book Description

A powerful and illuminating portrait of the character of the Soviet dictator.

From the Publisher

Masterly portrait of evil by the foremost Western authority on Stalin. “There is no one better qualified to write Stalin’s life…Conquest tells the tale with an informed hatred for his subject, and a fine sense of irony which makes this book indispensable reading” A.N. Wilson, Evening Standard

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A very detailed study 13 Mar 2014
By Frank
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is for the serious student of Stalin's life. There is a lot of fine detail of the political and economic arguments and how Stalin worked his way to absolute power. A fine addition to the library.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very useful 27 Jan 2004
By annaand
Format:Paperback
Gives and in-depth insight into life in Russia under Stalin and his attitudes towards policies and foreign affairs. Although taking a while to get through, would recommend it to anyone studying Stalin for AS or A2. Includes some valuable material and is generally a good read.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  31 reviews
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Breaker of Stalin 22 July 2002
By doomsdayer520 - Published on Amazon.com
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. What we see is a man possessed by such extreme paranoia, not to mention a severe persecution complex, that he became one of history's worst monsters, mostly because he deeply needed to validate himself. Not much different from a typical schoolyard bully by the way, except this bully was at least indirectly responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. Stalin also wrecked the idea of socialism once and for all, which may have once been genuinely concerned about "the people" and equality, although it was always doomed to failure as an economic impossibility. Instead the world was inflicted with Stalinism, the doctrine in which tyrants consolidate personal power by eliminating opponents, suppressing any vestige of independent thought, crushing the population, and ruining one's country for decades (if not centuries) to come. Robert Conquest sums up Stalin succinctly at the end of the book - "...hope that no one like him will ever appear again."
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive introduction to Stalin and Stalinism 24 Jan 2005
By Raul Vasquez - Published on Amazon.com
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. If one wants further information on Stalin's crimes, one can pick up Robert Conquest's book entitled "The Great Terror: A Reassessment".

I strongly recommend "Stalin: Breaker of Nations" to anyone who wishes to have a firm grasp on the essentials of the early Soviet era. I especially wish to highlight Chapter 12 (entitled " War") of the book, which points how the Allies (Roosevelt in particular) were incompetent when it came to standing up to Stalin.

If you want some further readings on Russian History, just remember that the best Russian historians start with the letter "R" (Robert Conquest, Richard Pipes, Robert Service, Richard Overy, Robert Leckie, and Robert Payne).
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Monster 22 Jun 2002
By Jeffrey Leach - Published on Amazon.com
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. Conquest succinctly covers the internal power struggles, the show trials, the war against the peasantry, the treaties and war with Hitler, and the post-war era of lies and murder. Along the way untold millions die of famine, executions, and imprisonment in the gulag system. The most interesting information in these sections is the rise of the personality cult, where Stalin is elevated to the status of a god. Conquest reveals the ridiculousness of this cult. When one of Stalin's speeches is released on records, one side of an album is devoted entirely to applause. A picture in the book, from a celebration of Stalin's 70th birthday, shows Stalin's head in the sky emitting beams of light over the lowly masses, like some bizarre sun. This is sick, sick stuff.
Conquest attempts to account for Stalin's behavior by showing that Stalin has no links to humanity (his wives died and he has few friends). Some of his attributes reek of sociopathy: his emotional expressions always seem to be forced, as though he is acting a part and not really feeling anything, and his natural state is one of cruelty. Conquest also shows how Stalin is really, well, nothing. The guy is a vacuum; he is not Russian, and he doesn't really share the traits of a typical Georgian. It is as though Stalin rose up out of the ground from nowhere. Isn't that how Damien appeared in "The Omen"? Maybe they should check his mother's grave and see if a jackal's skeleton is in there.
This book should be required reading. I did have some problem with Conquest's writing style, which I thought was a little obtuse. This may be my own fault, as I have been reading literature for the past month and I'm out of practice with textbook language. This book gets five stars for its subject. Let's never forget about this monster.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of a tyrant by historiographic nemesis 7 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is not a biography in the strict sense, but a historiographical essay on Stalin, along the lines of Lukacs' more recent "Hitler in History," by a scholar who is probably the greatest living expert on Stalin outside Russia. It is a very readable and insightful precis of the only monster who furnishes serious competition with Hitler for the title of "the most evil man in history" (and who, astonishingly, as the other review here demonstrates, still retains various mindless partisans in sundry nooks and crannies). Robert Conquest has devoted the greater part of a lifetime painstakingly researching and documenting Stalin's crimes in such pioneering works as "The Great Terror" and "Harvest of Sorrow," earning himself the undying gratitude of the nations Stalin victimized as well as the catty resentment of Western leftist self-styled elites. Conquest is thus of course pre-eminently the man for a retrospective such as this. I highly recommend this book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blueprint for the Destruction of Nations 10 Jun 2009
By Daniel Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If there was a contest the goal of which was to write a one word book review of Robert Conquest's Stalin: Breaker of Nations, I'd create an antonym of the computer programmers' well-used acronym GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). Stalin: Breaker of Nations, is QIQO: Quality In, Quality Out.

A member of Stanford University's Hoover Institute, Conquest is British born, and maintains his British citizenship. Does he have the credentials to write a definitive biography of Stalin? As the Brits might say: indubitably. With a doctorate in Soviet history, a list of books published about Soviet history that is quite literally voluminous, and firsthand experience confronting Soviet expansionism during WW II while serving in the military, Conquest can go head to head with the best writers on Soviet history in the world. Lucky for us, the reader, Conquest's knowledge of his subject matter is profound and nuanced. Luckier still, he is able to bring the richness and horror of Stalin's swath of destruction and terror to the reader in engaging prose.

If you read history because you like to have your facts straight, similar to the sports fan that can expound on an inning by inning description of a Brooklyn Dodgers/New York Giants World Series, you'll be deeply satisfied by Stalin: Breaker of Nations. If you read history because accurate historical information (quality in) leads you to formulate well founded theories of human behavior and/or political science, you will find this book to be rich soil for well grounded speculation (quality out).

Why might you be tempted to invest your time in this book? Maybe because only once (Chairman Mao) have the actions of a single human being led to more deaths (15-20 million in the USSR, by solid estimates). Hitler, truly, was a putz, in comparison. Possibly because there might be tremendous value in examining the rise to power (with an eye towards preventing future recurrences) of a deeply malignant dictator. How did Stalin rise to power, and keep it? Breaker of Nations provides answers. Some Stalin pearls on the road to success: Choose an ideology that allows you to claim that you are doing everything "for the people". Develop an uncanny ability to charm those in your presence. Deliberately foster a down home, good ol' boy, "let's have a vodka (beer) together" persona. Regularly sneer at academic achievement, and systematically disenfranchise intellectual thought. Make science subservient to ideology (under Stalin evolution is dissed, genetic research is suppressed, absurd scientific theories are publicly endorsed). Make all decisions with utter confidence, avoid any input from experts. Ensconce yourself in a mono-ideological inner circle. Refuse to imagine the consequences of your actions. Appeal regularly to patriotism and nationalism. Promote torture as a political tool. Launch a determined attempt to subvert the nation's legal system to the goals of the regime. Most importantly of all, use domestic terror and murder on a scale that is jaw-dropping, mind-boggling, breath-taking, and soul-wrenching.

Stalin: Breaker of Nations, will leave a mark on you, a bruise that will not quickly resolve. The temptation is to identify Stalin as a man so evil that we need not take any responsibility for what happened under his watch. Conquest's high quality input demands a higher quality conclusion. What about Edmund Burke's assertion that "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing?" Why did western leaders, famously including Roosevelt (FDR), let themselves be duped by Stalin's "aw shucks, guys" persona? Is it reasonable to ascribe all of the evil that occurred under Stalin to Stalin alone? Was the reign of Stalin, as Conquest reportedly believes, the inevitable consequence of a flawed political ideology (Marxism/Leninism)? Or is it better to ponder Solzhenitsyn's comment "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?" I'm with you, Alex: Breaker of Nations isn't so much about Stalin, or Marxism, as it is about the hearts of men.
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