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Stalin and His Hangmen: An Authoritative Portrait of a Tyrant and Those Who Served Him Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Length: 592 pages Word Wise: Enabled

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Review

'Portraits of successive Soviet enforcers – Dzerzhinsky, Menzhinsky, Iagoda, Ezhov and Beria – which possess a ghastly fascination’ -- Sunday Telegraph

‘A superb and chilling analysis of the Stalinist soul through the characters and barbarities of its hangmen’ -- Daily Telegraph

‘A thorough study of the half a dozen men who made the USSR a hell on earth for three decades’ -- Guardian

About the Author

Donald Rayfield is Professor of Russian and Georgian at Queen Mary College, University of London. He is the author of a number of books including The Literature of Georgia: A History and Anton Chekhov: A Life.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2134 KB
  • Print Length: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (31 Mar. 2005)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI9VLM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #213,117 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This brilliant study offers a deep insight into the mechanics and dynamics of the Bolshevik leadership, and into the mind of Stalin himself - more so than I recall the other couple of books on him I've read in the past doing. It also nails once and for all the tired myth that Stalin's terror tactics were a necessary evil in order to lick the country into shape for the war against Hitler. As Rayfield demonstrates, that war was almost certainly won despite Stalin rather than thanks to anything he did.

As the catalogue of horrors unfolded, I found myself wondering if Mussolini was indeed on to something when he gleefully mused whether Stalin had secretly converted to fascism. As Rayfield memorably points out, Stalin 'was no more a communist than a Borgia pope was a Catholic'. Even so, we are shown how the moral anarchy in which Stalin could operate was created from the outset by Lenin and the Old Bolshevik leadership. And although Hitler and Stalin clearly admired each other's tactics, Rayfield is perceptive on the essential difference between Hitlerism ('a cancer on the body politic, letting the body apparently function normally until the cancer destroys it') and Stalinism ('the larva of a parasitic wasp - devouring and converting to itself the body politic that it has invaded.'

There are some fascinating and even amusing facts to relieve the horror. Those famous Cheka leather coats, for instance, (later copied by the Gestapo) were apparently the result of Dzierzynski's solicitude for the health of his underlings (the typhus louse prefers wool to leather).
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By Lonya TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 9 Feb. 2005
Format: Hardcover
Baudelaire once wrote: "I am the wound and the knife! I am the blow and the cheek! I am the limbs and the wheel - The victim and the executioner!" In many respects that sums up the lives of Stalin's (and Lenin's) henchmen that ran the USSR's security apparatus from the Russian (October) Revolution through the death of Stalin. Donald Rayfield's "Stalin and His Hangmen" provides an excruciatingly morbid examination of the men and the organization that facilitated Stalin's rise to total power and the means they used to achieve that end.
Rayfield, a professor of Russian and Georgian at the University of London, has provided a scholarly, yet compelling history of the men who built and maintained the Soviet security regime. As stated in his preface, Rayfield's purpose in writing this book was not to add yet another biography of Stalin but, rather, to examine the means by which Stalin gradually assumed total power in the USSR. He does so by focusing on the men who facilitated that rise to power by creating a brutally efficient killing machine exceeded in the 20th century only (perhaps) by Hitler's Holocaust.
Rayfield focuses on the lives and bloody career of five leaders of those security organs (commonly known by a succession of acronyms or initials, the Cheka, GPU, NKVD, MVD, MGB, and KGB): F. Dzerzhinsky, V. Menshinksy, G. Iagoda, N. Ezhov, and L. Beria. Along the way we see the machinations that caused the ousting of Trotsky from power and his eventual murder.
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Format: Paperback
Rayfield presents an astonishingly detailed account of how Stalin manipulated his underlings into decades of murder, torture, and the systematic destruction of their own country.

I addition to the normal brutal tactics of smashing anyone who go in his way (which some might argue were a legitimate means to an end), Stalin took a special delight in confusing those close to him by sending his favourites off for torture, or by holding grand funerals for people whose murder he himself had arranged. He commissioned a sycophantic biography and then had its author murdered. Many of his top murderers and torturers ended up on the receiving end of the treatment they had meted out. This way, nobody knew where they stood. The book makes it clear that Stalin's aim was absolute power for himself, not any kind of communist dream. The peasants were not producing enough food for the cities, so the answer was to torture and starve the peasants. They still did not produce enough, so the answer was more of the same. Entire nations were sent into slave camps or internal exile (often without even a change of clothing) with no apparent purpose other than to terrify everyone. Even the president of the USSR had to stand by while his wife was tortured and imprisoned. People arrested more or less at random were tortured for months until they "betrayed" the names of totally innocent friends, who would be imprisoned and tortured in their turn. Thus the farms, universities, military etc. lost millions of people, to no apparent end except Stalin's power.

Aside from the relentless horror of Stalin's regime, which gets a lot less popular attention than Hitler's very different brutality, Rayfield does us a favour with staggering amounts of detail.
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