on 11 April 2005
This is a brilliant analysis and a must read for anybody interested in the history of Europe in the 20th century. Too bad that the writing leaves to be desired, with poorly structured chapters and, at times, unnecessarily convoluted syntax.
I found it irritating and reader-unfriendly to read, say, 'Hitler and Stalin had three points in common', without enunciating what they were, but launching into the first point with lots of (interesting) asides, going on for -- sometimes -- pages, keeping you wondering what the second point might be, and then springing that upon the reader, who has to figure out that this is indeed the second point referred to many paragraphs ago, and still no sign of what the third point might be.
Also, too often, I read a sentence and didn't understand what it meant. So, I reread it, trying to figure out where the subject, the verb, and the object were, and mentally inserting missing commas and semi-colons. Sometimes that helped and sometimes I had to try again. Mostly that worked but sometimes I just gave up and moved on.
As I said: brilliant content but a good editor could improve its readability -- and get rid of 200 pages in the process.
on 6 August 2010
Hitler and Stalin - Parallel Lives by Alan Bullock is a very good book about arguably the two dominant figures in twentieth century history. It is a well-written, informative and on the whole a well structured book. It does not try to make out that one was worse than the other but instead puts them into context and shows that although they rose to power in different ways and believed in different ideologies they both created totalitarian dictatorships which killed millions and subjugated even more. The few slight problems are the fact that at times because of the comparison between two histroical figures of this significance is that it does not focus on certain issues in great depth due to the confines of space. Also because it is a slightly strange structure for a book chronologically it does jump a round a little. As well as this it is also a rather large book and therefore requires a bit of effort to get through. Overall, though it is still a very good book.
on 15 April 2014
What I found good about this book was the comparison between the two despots and the uncanny similarity of their background and upbringing. Although Alan Bullock does not make a judgement about who was the worst of the two, the reader can draw their own conclusions from the Author's inferences.
Hitler had a messed up childhood culminating in the death of his beloved mother. Witnesses including the family priest had never seen someone so wrought with grief. As a teenager, he made sacrifices on behalf of his sister whom he loved. He feared his overbearing father, who as an older man at the time of his birth, died of old age when Hitler was fourteen. Orphaned at eighteen, he found all of a sudden he had to become the bread-winner. His father had thwarted his son's artistic ambitions by insisting he follow him into a civil service job. In the end Hitler's education fell apart and he was contemptuous of his teachers. Failing to be accepted into art school, Hitler only found his niche in the trenches of World War One.
In contrast, little is known about Stalin's childhood (by Alan Bullock's own admission) because he eliminated anyone who had known him in the early days and either buried or destroyed any record of himself. What we do know is that like Hitler, he was an altar boy, he loved his mother, but hated his brutal and unloving father. He drifted into criminality and then political activism and subversion from about the age of twenty. Having toyed with training as a Russian Orthodox priest, he too rebelled against authority, centred around Russian imperialism and the Church.
Another comparison Bullock makes is their style of doing things. Hitler thrived on danger and risk (he won the Iron Cross twice in WWI) and camaraderie. His fellow soldiers thought he was a nut. Stalin, cool and calculating, shied away from risk and open confrontation. He played his cards close to his chest. Hitler was a great speech maker, expert at picking up upon the sentiment of his audience; Stalin, sitting quietly and underestimated by his rivals, plotted his way to the top through his control of bureaucracy and his innate cunning. A natural gambler, Hitler believed in big, bold moves and outrageously ambitious plans even when the odds were stacked against him; by contrast, Stalin made small incremental inroads, only moving when he knew the odds were stacked in his favour. Stalin's analysis of Hitler was that he was a man who didn't know when to stop.
Ironically, it transpires that Stalin was about as big an anti-Semite as his Nazi counterpart and had plans to murder millions of Jews just seven years after the discovery of the Nazi death camps, but died before he could implement them. Hitler was a fierce nationalist, Stalin an anti-nationalist who turned his back on his Georgian compatriots and persecuted them as much as he did the other peoples of the Soviet Union. Hitler killed six million Jews; Stalin killed eight million Ukranians among others. Hitler trusted his coterie despite recognising their character flaws and was reluctant to fire and replace them; Stalin trusted no-one and systematically eliminated those who had served him well (a succession of heads of the NKVD for example, after they had served their purpose).
Another irony: Hitler despised Jews as he believed they controlled Soviet Communism; Stalin didn't trust Jews as he believed they were agents of American capitalism.
In old age, Stalin had a paranoia that his mostly Jewish doctors weren't trying to prolong his life (known as The Doctors' Plot) and therefore he planned a Jewish pogrom to remove most Jews from Soviet life. Hitler's mother was treated for her terminal illness by the family's Jewish doctor. An eternally grateful Hitler remembered this 30 years later, had him tracked down and gave out a signed order that any Nazi official who prevented his safe passage from Germany at the time of Kristalnacht would face grievous consequences themselves. Claims that Hitler himself had Jewish blood have been dismissed, but he is likely to have had some Czech on both sides (his parents were closely related cousins).
Hitler signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in order to get his hands on vital Soviet supplies of raw materials in the early part of WWII and ultimately to turn on his ally. In return he gave the Soviet Union blue-prints of German military design knowing that Germany was the next step ahead. Stalin fully lived up to his part of the agreement and more, believing that ultimately he would bring down the Nazis by revolution from within. Stalin couldn't believe Hitler would renege on their pact and wouldn't be so foolish in invading a territory so large as the USSR and so was ill-prepared when it happened. Both believed they were great generals who could micro-manage the war. After a while Stalin had the sense to stand back and let his top brass take over. Hitler failed to see his own limitations and never did.
It has to be said: this book covers a huge amount of ground and perhaps tries to come to terms with too much material. On the face of it, it is well organised, splitting up the chapters according to the age of Hitler and Stalin and the stage where they were in their careers, but when you have a chapter or section dedicated to one, the reader often finds that the passage has been hi-jacked by the life of the other. In the last third of the book, it becomes more of a chronicle of WWII and the other major players (Western Allies and Axis) and I think it steals the show from the two subjects.
At the same time, I found that the writing was somewhat lacking in detail, facts and figures. The chronicle of Hitler's life comes to an abrupt end when he commits suicide in his bunker, but I found the writing just petered out. So too, when Alan Bullock comes to summarise the lives of the two despots in the final chapter titled 'Perspective', I found it to be too brief and shy of casting a verdict.
This may be an 1,100 page book of the two dictators, but it can provide little more than an overview of such an enormous field of history. I thought it was very good in the early chapters, but went down hill progressively from then on. You get the impression that Hitler and Stalin had more in common than they cared to believe and would have got on very well had they met. What one does learn from this work is to treat children kindly for one never knows what kind of monsters one is creating for the future.
on 20 April 2011
This is a superb piece of historical writing by a master of his craft. Bullock's quiet analysis, and careful, humane judgements show why he has such a worldwide reputation as one of the Twentieth centuries greatest historians.
on 13 January 2005
The first photo you see in this book is of the elementary school classes of both Hitler and Stalin. By one of those bizarre coincidences, the young Adolf and Josef are both standing in the back row, third from the left, and both are striking cocksure, even arrogant poses. It may have been a sign of things to come... Lord Bullock's treatment is fascinating, moving from one man to the other, one in Austria and then Germany, the other in Georgia and then Russia, both unknowing of each other, yet both moving inexorably towards the most mammoth collision in history. He shows how alike they are - and at the same time how different. Both were doctrinaire in their different ideologies, but in different ways, both exterminated enormous numbers of people, for quite different motives. Both are thoroughly evil, but in different ways, Hitler, secure in power, seeking to promulgate the bizarre idea of the Aryan nation, Stalin, seeking to consolidate his grip on power, destroying anything that looked even vaguely like a class enemy and therefore a potential threat, from the landed peasants to the Russian officer corps. A fascinating look at the two greatest monsters of resent history.
on 11 January 1999
This is not a light book, but it flows extremely well and pulls off the trick of comparing and contrasting the lives of the two greatest tyrants of the twentieth century. Bullock builds on his earlier biography of Hitler and later works on the Cold War. Writing with the lay reader in mind, he has provided nearly 100 pages of bibliography, appendices and glossary.
on 2 February 2004
Lets cut to the chase, this book gets my highest possible recommendation. So similar, yet so different, arguably the two most negatively influential people of all time. Both brought forth unspeakable horrors but the way they did it and to whom they directed their wrath were very different. The scale unfortunately, was equally vast.
A paranoid and a megalomaniac, their lives intertwined, the only way to tell their stories is to intertwine them and thats what Bullock has done here.
A fascinating and eminantly readable account that will open your eyes to just what made these potent personalities tick.
on 29 July 2013
A really good read and a thorough account of two of the world's most appalling dictators. Full of new insights and details not gleaned from other biographies. My only slight criticism is that sometimes the parallels seemed a little contrived and there were occasions when I found it a little heavy going. Having said that, I have read it twice, some years apart, and enjoyed it both times.
Hitler and Stalin - Parallel Lives, is an outstanding portrait of two of the twentieth century's most savage monsters; a century that unfortunately is not short of candidates for the title. Alan Bullock has undertaken a daunting assignment - a parallel biography of two widely discussed dictators - and has excelled in not only that task but a further one on top, an analysis of the organisations they created and how those bureaucracies functioned. Though this is a `great man' view of history, the terrible impact these two personalities had on their time cannot be underestimated and deserves special consideration.
Parallel Lives is structured with alternating chapters, Hitler then Stalin and as the narrative progresses into the ravaged end of the Second World War, as the two foes face each other on the bloodily redrawn map of Europe, Hitler and Stalin's stories become related paragraph by paragraph. This audacious intertwining on the part of Alan Bullock serves the narrative superbly. The organisation of such a wealth of material is simply outstanding; the big sweep of momentous forces is ably conveyed but Bullock can also interject individual meetings, of say Hitler and his generals, where vivid quotations and personal contemporaneous notes are used to convey the atmosphere: the bureaucratic rivalry and disorganisation in Hitler's case or the abject terror of Stalin's party officials.
Whilst avoiding cheap psychobiography, Bullock traces the sources and channels of Hitler's driving motivations, his hatred and anti-Semitism from his earliest documented speeches and writing, through to the literal acting out of his insane fantasies of the Holocaust and the drive for Lebensraum in the East. This `intentional' approach is contrasted with a `structural' approach - how the Nazi regime was a bureaucratic mess, that policy instructions from Hitler were proclaimed in broad generalisations and left for subordinates to turn into reality, "...in accordance with the Fuhrer's wishes" so that the actual conspiratorial planning for the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem becomes difficult to determine (though Bullock places the actual decision sometime in July 1941, accurately in this reviewer's opinion).
Stalin's driving force, according to Bullock, was broadly similar: both men saw themselves as agents of history. Stalin, however, unlike Hitler, was deeply mistrustful of all around him and not only had murdered or exiled all those that were closest to him politically but took his paranoia out on the whole of Soviet society, decimating the officer class of the armed forces, the managerial and industrial class, peasant society and eventually the party bureaucracy itself. Stalin's communist party was incredibly organised and structured, totally unlike the Nazi apparatus. The fear that Stalin generated, the insanity of the purges and show-trials, life in the gulags, all come within Bullock's grasp of history and mastery of detail.
Alan Bullock impressively conveys the personalities, the history, the party growth and organisational structure of the most impacting, monstrous individuals the twentieth century produced. His distillation of such a vast quantity of research, his presentation of evidence and weighing-up of judgements, are exemplary and should set a benchmark for any future historian looking to tackle the banality of evil. Hitler and Stalin - Parallel Lives, is a masterpiece; those looking for a history of the first half of the twentieth century and the monsters that shaped it, need look no further.
on 21 October 2004
This book is large. There's no denying it, so unless you're genuinely interested in History and particularly these two figures there is no point starting it as you won't finish it. But for those of you who feel the period and individuals are really worth knowing about, then this is the book for you.
It cleverly combines the two characters so that they are discussed side by side rather than the more common, and if i may say so, more dreary approach of one after the other.
Parallel Lives runs through the entire lives of the two men whose names every child shall know until the end of human-kind.
This book is a must read for an extensive background knowledge for the first half of the last century. Recommended.