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Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar [Hardcover]

Simon Sebag Montefiore
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
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Book Description

10 July 2003

There have been many biographies of Stalin, but the court that surrounded him is untravelled ground. Simon Sebag-Montefiore, acclaimed biographer of Catherine the Great¿s lover, prime minister and general, Potemkin, has unearthed the vast underpinning that sustained Stalin. Not only ministers such as Molotov or secret service chiefs such as Beria, but men and women whose loyalty he trusted only until the next purge. Here is the Stalin story from the inside, full of revelations. How the death of Stalin's wife was hushed up - was it suicide? How the Soviet leaders and their families lived and partied inside the Kremlin walls. What happened on the first day of war with Germany in 1941. The fullest account of the meeting between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill that settled the fate of the axis powers. And how the Great Terror in which 10 million died actually happened.

Robert Service (St Antony's, Oxford), former head of Russian history at the School of Slavonic Studies, U. of London: 'Simon Sebag Montefiore has pulled it off. His book succeeds in giving us an intimate picture of daily life in the Kremlin under Stalin. The arrests and killings are not ignored; indeed Montefiore supplies extra chapters and verses on the process by which the Soviet dictator moved against his enemies real and potential. An abundance of the sources are wholly new. The result is a gripping account. Stalin was a vengeful conspirator and a murderous leader. But he was also 'normal' in many ways. He was convivial, solicitous and even flirtatious. When he wanted, he could be quite a charmer. This duality has long been under-appreciated, but it helps to explain why Stalin was admired as well as feared by his associates - and indeed why his power endured. This is a fundamental theme and it is one of Montefiore's that he handles it with excitement and cogency.'

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 693 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; First Edition edition (10 July 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842127268
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842127261
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 87,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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More About the Author

Simon Sebag Montefiore is the novelist and historian whose bestselling books, published in over 40 languages, have won prizes both in fiction and non-fiction.
'One Night in Winter' won the Best Political Novel of the Year Prize and was longlisted for the Orwell Prize. His thriller-love-stories set in Russia -'One Night in Winter' and 'Sashenka' - are both out in paperback.
Amongst his history books...
'Catherine the Great & Potemkin' was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson, Duff Cooper, and Marsh Biography Prizes. 'Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar' won the History Book of the Year Prize at the British Book Awards. 'Young Stalin' won the Costa Biography Award (UK), the LA Times Book Prize for Biography (US), Le Grand Prix de la Biographie Politique (France) and the Kreisky Prize for Political Literature (Austria). 'Jerusalem: The Biography' won Jewish Book of the Year Prize (USA) and was Sunday Times number one non-fiction bestseller (UK).
'The Romanovs:1613-1917' will be published in 2016.
He read history at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge University where he was awarded his Doctorate of Philosophy. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Visiting Professor at the University of Buckingham, Dr Montefiore is the presenter of 3 BBC TV series Jerusalem (2011); Rome (2012) and Istanbul/Constantinople - 'Byzantium: a tale of 3 cities'...

Follow the author on Twitter: @simonmontefiore. For more information see:

Product Description


The publicity for this has been fantastic and it is still selling like a train, currently no. 6 on THE SUNDAY TIMES & no. 1 on EVENING STANDARD bestseller lists. The following pieces have run: an interview with Simon and his wife Santa in VOGUE (July issue); an article on Stalin's women in the SUNDAY TIMES News Review (29 June); a piece on Stalin's houses in the DAILY TELEGRAPH(8 July); a piece on his research in THE FINANCIAL TIMES (5 July); a book digest in THE DAILY MAIL (8 July) and an article in BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE (August issue). The TV programme, STALIN: THE TERROR, which Simon was the historical consultant on was shown on BBC 2 25 July. The reviews have been amazing: 'This is an extraordinary book..... he has succeeded in bringing alive a group of characters who for too long have seemed too dull to merit much historical investigation, and provided a glimpse of what life was really like behind theKremlin walls.... 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, THE EVENING STANDARD 'Montefiore's new material is important, because it allows for a far more rounded portrait ofStalin....... Montefiore provides rich detail of daily life and family relationships in a world of human values turned inside out.'Antony Beevor, THE SUNDAY TIMES 'his masterful and terrifying account of Stalin.... seldom has the picture been put in finer focus than by Sebag Montefiore. It is partly through his diligent interviews with the children of survivors and his admirable combination of history and gossip that one sees the awful banality, the brutal crudity of the men who carelessly sent so many millions to their senseless deaths'Alistair Horne, THE TIMES 'Grimly brilliant'Andrew Marr, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH 'This is a thoughtful book of first-class scholarship as well as transfixing narrative of a vast nation walking head-first into a meat-grinder........ anyone reading this book will feel profound gratitude to Montefiore for a fascinating investigative analysis of the pathology behind the greatest and most senseless sustained blood-letting in world history.'Andrew Roberts, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH 'this grim masterpiece'Antonia Fraser, THE MAIL ON SUNDAY 'Its extraordinary revelation of the evil - the complete amorality - at the heart of the dictator's court will change the way historians approach the great historical questoins about the Stalinist regime.Orlando Figes, THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 'Montefiore's superb book'Tim Abrahams, THE SUNDAY HERALD 'spectacular..... an impressive and compelling work'Philip Mansel, THE SPECTATOR 'Magisterial.... Sebag Montefiore's book is well-written; he evidently has a superb grasp of Russia'Lesley Chamberlain, THE INDEPENDENT 'Thanks to Simon Sebag Montefiore, there is no longer the slightest justification for thinking of Joseph Stalin as anything other than a moster'Roy Hattersley, THE OBSERVER 'Gripping and timely.... This is one of the few recent books on Stalinism that will be read in years to come.'Robert Service, THE GUARDIAN 'A riveting portrait of the man and his ruling circle.'Marc Lambert, THE SCOTSMAN 'An astonishingly good and important book.'Simon Heffer, COUNTRY LIFE 'this magnificent portrait of the dictator'Richard Overy, LIT REVIEW Simon was on THE TODAY PROGRAMME (BBC Radio 4) on 8 July, THE THE ARTS SHOW (BBC Radio Scotland) on 11 July, SUNDAY PROGRAMME (GMTV) on 13 July, THE MORNING SHOW (BBC Radio 5 Live) on 18 July, together with BBC RADIO BRISTOL and BBC RADIO LEICESTER. On Saturday 19 July he was on LOOSE ENDS (BBC Radio 4) on 23 July BBC BREAKFAST NEWS (BBC 1),27 July BREAKFAST WITH FROST (BBC 1) and their were lots of previews for theBBC programme. We had a great launch party on 8 July with numerous diary stories. Simon has done a number of excellent events and sti

Book Description

The remarkable untold story of the Soviet tyrant and the men and women who sustained him in power in the Soviet Union for nearly 30 years

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Nadya and Stalin had been married for fourteen years but it extended deeper and longer than that, so steeped was their marriage in Bolshevism. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
This item has not been released yet and is not eligible to be reviewed. Reviews shown are from other formats of this item.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
I share many of the comments of previous reviewers. Yes, it is a daunting size, and shorn of maps, photographs and references the narrative is still nearly 600 pages. Yes, it is sometimes difficult to remember who is who among the various magnates. Yes, sometimes the writing style is a little strange. Having said that, it is really worth persevering with. By having made great efforts to obtain first hand evidence, either from the archives, or by interviewing those still alive, Montefiori gives a new perspective on the lives of those in Stalin's closest circle.

The book is not a history of the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the great issues faced by the nation during his reign are not dealt with in detail. That, however, is not the purpose of the book. Much has already been written of the Ukrainian famine, the destruction of the Kulaks, the Terror and Stalin as a war leader. The book concentrates on Stalin's court, a microcosm of the appalling brutality occurring on a wider scale in the nation. In this respect, at least it could be said that the soviet leaders shared the hardships of their subjects, living in constant fear of Stalin's mood swings, which could see them demoted, sent to the Gulag or executed. Nor did it stop with them. The families of the soviet magnates were equally liable to capricious destruction, and even children were imprisoned or killed.

They were able, however, to live in some splendour in the dachas and apartments of the former ruling class. This was true for Stalin, as it was for his underlings, and the book explodes the myth of his ascetic lifestyle.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The superb measurer of doses 26 July 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating and at times magisterial portrait of Stalin, and his court he held sway over through more than two decades of Russias most turbulent recent history.
Using a huge range of sources of both official and personal reminiscences, Sebag continues where he left off with Young Stalin. Sebag is intellectually honest enough not to attempt psychologically profiling this enigmatic and extraordinary human figure.
What emerges is a man of iron-willed determination to ascend to power in a time of immense social upheaval.
Stalin was hugely well read- an autodidact for life- with a library of 20,000 books This was the Dictator, Writer and Literary Critic. Humanising elements of his character are frequent throughout his life. Small acts of kindness and often spontaneous acts of generosity to his suffering citizens, coupled with a calculated determination to mercilessly exterminate his enemies. The destruction of Zinoviev and Kamenev is macabre high theatre. The build up to the Great Terror is facilitated by the calculating Political murder of Kirov, which acts as a trigger for a wide ranging annihilation of Political opponents.
What emerges from the portrayal of the Kremlin, is an incestuous tight knit group of radicals, whose qualities were extraordinary and often seemingly incongruent. Loving family men, loyal friends, and yet as political animals and government officials, sadistic, perverted and utterly ruthless.
The state stage emerges as an experience through which its leaders would emerge warped beyond all human recognition, slaughtering as they did millions of their own citizens.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fawning to death 27 Aug 2003
This book is both a confirmation and a revelation as it looks into the politics and intrigue at the court of the Red Tsar. Stalin is shown to be the paranoid, manipulative, tyrannical ideologue history has portrayed him as and additionally it is revealed how through cunning and political mastery this blood stained fanatic manages to get hold of and retain an ever increasing grip on power. We are also told the stories of the various toadies and their families who danced with the devil as they jousted for influence, prestige and survival. The courtiers in this bleak drama are nearly as evil and ruthless as their master or else simultaneously revering of and intimidated by him. The pulsating core spreading the poison is Stalin himself as he proceeds to kill all his enemies, real or imagined, and it has to be remembered that all the friends and acquaintances he sent to the torture chambers and death were merely the top of a pyramid of millions. Like Hitler, the man is driven by the logic of his delusions and he probably managed to kill more people. The fawning sycophants both encourage and act upon his malicious instructions as they denounce and threaten each other with levels of menace apportioned to their current state of favour with the tyrant. Such favouritism was usually short lived after which it was a battle for survival that was rarely won. As this jostling went on in the bear pit these cold-hearted bureaucrats were enacting the cruel, pitiless will of Stalin on the long suffering population of the Soviet Union.
There are many tales about the monstrous Yeshov and the chilling Beria, who was not a committed communist at all, and how unrestrained they could indulge in their sadism and depravities. Both came to bad ends.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for understanding the way Stalin ran a nation.
Great to explain how evil Stalin was and how he twisted everyone around him to be mass murderers without a care in the world. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Ron
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic read
He may have been a bad man but what a leader, powerful and corrupt but to his people a hero. A great read if I must say and again an insight to the Russian culture and history.
Published 24 days ago by Honeybun
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!
It is almost unbelievable what a murderous lot they were. No one was safe from the paranoid clutches of the Party's executioners but even they met their deserved end eventually.
Published 29 days ago by Gordon UK
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing unspeakable truths of history
This is an unbelievable, shocking, amazing book. I could not put it down. Sebag Montefiore's years of research is a great benefit to history and I am not reading 'one night in... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. Imogen M. Skirving
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional historical research
Slower pace than the prequel Young Stalin, reflecting the declining energy in the dictator himself at the height of his power. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Patrick CT
4.0 out of 5 stars A monumental book
I am at the moment reading this book which is an epic undertaking- I am not a historian but coming from a neighbouring country to the previous USSR and having some interest in... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jamshid Nikkhah
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
This is an absolutely brilliant and compulsive read. I could not put it down for long and was sorry when I had finished it. Read more
Published 6 months ago by christopher balnaves
4.0 out of 5 stars A narrative history of stalin's personal life.
Many books have been written about the man from Georgia who rose to the top of Soviet politics few however have concentrated solely on his personal life. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Joseph Conboy
4.0 out of 5 stars Good service
A quick and good service provided by this buyer. Certainly an interesting read for any student of history, especially for Soviet history
Published 7 months ago by Thomas Berwick
4.0 out of 5 stars Best History/Biography book I've read
Wow! Just could not put down the book. The brutality of this man and his people were just unbelievable. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Uche
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