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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
This is a great biography. It's fast moving, full of action and Montefiore really brings the young Stalin to life as you flick from page to spell-binding page.

You find yourself at turns liking the passion and charisma of the protagonist, and then repelled by his nascent cruelty and emotional coldness.

This book really explodes the myth that Stalin...
Published on 25 Aug 2008 by R. A. Hooker

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Poor typesetting makes Kindle edition bad value
Thoroughly enjoyable book but my advice is to buy the paperback rather than the Kindle edition which is full of the usual Kindle typesetting errors.
Published on 14 July 2012 by ed


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Poor typesetting makes Kindle edition bad value, 14 July 2012
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This review is from: Young Stalin (Kindle Edition)
Thoroughly enjoyable book but my advice is to buy the paperback rather than the Kindle edition which is full of the usual Kindle typesetting errors.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Young Stalin - brilliantly written, an engaging masterpiece, 19 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Young Stalin (Kindle Edition)
those who think reading about history will be boring should read this book. It brings a piece if history, which to this day still affects our lives, in such a way that the reader is transported back to the events themselves. What could be a dry read is actually very engaging and absorbing - just what you'd expect from Simon Sebag Montefiore.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A major caveat, 30 April 2012
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This review is from: Young Stalin (Paperback)
This is an excellent biography of the young Stalin, unearthing a vast amount of hitherto unknown history. There is however a major caveat regarding the paperback edition; there are no notes, which I regard as essential in a book of this quality.Go for the hardcover where you will find all the notes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stalin's Rise To Power, 29 Nov 2009
This review is from: Young Stalin (Paperback)
Young Stalin covers the life of Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (Stalin/Soso) from his early years up until 1917, from his Georgian youth to the October Revolution. Simon Sebag Montefiore has brought together untold anecdotes from relatives of the major players of the time, and sifted through vast catalogues of archived information, to create a work of outstanding depth and power.

The only son of a shoe-maker and domestic servant Stalin was born in Gori, Georgia; his father a failed businessman and drunk, his mother a dominating and suffocating matriarch. His mother, a deeply religious woman, didn't think twice about using her charms to make sure young Stalin was accepted into the Tiflis Theological Seminary under scholarship. But it was here that Stalin began to read banned literature, including Marx and eventually the writings of Lenin. Stalin learned how to provoke, inspire, and instill fear in others to great effect at the seminary before he left. Eventually he would organise strikes, mastermind bank robberies, murders, and the pirating of ships as well as publish newspapers and pamphlets. At almost every turn he, and the Bolsheviks, were betrayed and double crossed by trusted members.

Throughout the book the presence of printing presses are vital, always being moved, hidden or stolen from elsewhere in order to have his voice heard. Of course, Stalin was imprisoned and exiled on numerous occasions, but most of the time the authorities didn't seem to know where exactly he was or who he was - given his habit of using multiple aliases. Escape was part of the routine, as were the various affairs with women in whose towns he was exiled. The idea of Stalin as merely a just an opportunist thug is entirely shattered - he was cunning, focussed, callous and resilient.

Young Stalin is masterfully told, an epic tale of one man's Machiavellian rise to power and an insight into how the paranoid terror he would eventually unleash came into being.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great detail, nice work, 10 Jun 2009
This review is from: Young Stalin (Paperback)
I bought this book knowing little about Stalin other than he was the leader of Communist Russia etc. This book gives a detailed insight into the making of the man, from childhood priest schooling to Georgian Gangster. I found it to be one of those books that you think 'you couldn't write this stuff'. Fascinating to the end, a book not simply for history buffs or fans of the communist era. It takes Stalin out of the 2D light of ruthless leader of Russia and shows that perhaps here was a man who fought for progress but lost vision along the way.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Warning From History, 27 Sep 2008
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This review is from: Young Stalin (Paperback)
This is a well-researched, well-written, very depressing, and very important book. Those who were reluctant to admit the enormity of Stalin's crimes tried to comfort themselves, when it became impossible to deny them any longer, with the illusion that Stalin was somehow an aberration, an opportunistic bureaucrat who happened to be in the right place at the right time to steal the Marxist Revolution from Lenin and Trotsky. This book demonstrates how Stalin was in fact the model Leninist activist, who played important roles in the Bolshevik project from the earliest stages. As Lenin's principal "fundraiser", his techniques were those of the gangster: protection rackets, bank robbery, even piracy. The tragedy of Young Stalin is how easily a talented young man is corrupted by an evil ideology that draws him from romantic poet to revolutionary to terrorist to gangster: the boundaries are not as clear as some prefer to believe. Finally, the same characteristics he develops as a successful gangster turned him into a successful statesman - and one of the biggest mass murderers in history. Most depressing of all is learning that Young Stalin was not without his attractive side, that he was an energetic charmer with a surprising gift for poetry, and one wonders what he might have achieved if the negative side of his character had not been exploited by a corrupt dogma. As it was, he became a truly horrible man, and a timely warning to young people today of how the superficial attractions of violent politics exploit and destroy naive ideals.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Startling Insights from Our Own Doorstep, 16 April 2009
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A. R. Drenth - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Young Stalin (Paperback)
Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Montefiore's second book on Stalin sets out to answer a question you can readily imagine asking of someone responsible for the deaths of 25 million people in a reign of terror: how does one come to be such a person? The title of his previous book, Stalin: the Court of the Red Czar, suggests that he can be seen as part of the pattern of Russian history. This book asks the opposite question; how was he different from others of his era?

This is not mainly a book about Russian and Soviet history. We do not learn much about the political beliefs and theories of Stalin and of his contemporaries Lenin, Trotsky, Molotov and other, less well-known figures, or about the last days of the Russian Empire. Rather, it concentrates on Stalin's personal life and circumstances: his home and family life, the country of his birth, Georgia - especially his home town, Gori - his education for the priesthood, his literary ambitions, and his early life as a gangster, bank robber, lover and political agitator. He clearly had a great facility for being in the thick of trouble, and for creating trouble to order. When you learn that Gori was "one of the most violent towns in the Tsar's empire: religious holidays were celebrated with organized brawls involving the entire population from toddlers to greybeards", such characteristics come as less of a surprise.

The book rings with such historical chords. One of the most striking examples is in Vienna, in 1913. Montefiore describes the expatriate Stalin, the future Soviet dictator, seeing the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph riding to his offices from the Imperial palace in a golden carriage, attended by bewigged footmen. The corresponding image of Stalin displaying his own power, in the parades of Soviet military hardware - tanks, artillery, massed ranks of soldiers - from the post-war Kremlin, springs irresistibly to mind. What's more striking is that another twentieth-century tyrant saw the same spectacle of power at the same time; Adolf Hitler was also in Vienna in 1913, as was the future Marshal Tito, ruler of Yugoslavia in the post-war era, at uneasy arm's length from Stalin.

Montefiore's book is both intriguing and frustrating for such insights. What a nugget of historical gold that moment is, but we hear no more about what might have caused the last days of the Habsburg Empire to result in two such very different outcomes on the ideologies of two of the titans of the twentieth century. Though both were comparably tyrannical ... And what of the tendency of the Caucasus to generate conflict, a sort of Russian Middle East? Wonder why Gori sounds familiar? It was occupied by Russian troops during the South Ossetian War in ... 2008.

Among such telling details, there is a wealth of less memorable information about Stalin's early life. You are compelled to agree that Montefiore's research is impeccable, his erudition deep and his conclusions inescapable. His access to recently opened and neglected Soviet archive and oral sources forms a rich and substantial underpinning to his work. His excellent footnotes reinforce his credibility.

Young Stalin sounds like the title of an obscure European play. Montefiore's achievement is to shed light on that obscurity, with startling flashes of insight into an area on Western Europe's doorstep, about which we know surprisingly little, and will hear more.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good overall, but dragged in places, 20 Oct 2008
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This review is from: Young Stalin (Paperback)
I enjoyed reading this book, and actually finished it, which I often do not manage with books of this length. I thought it started off really well, and the last 100 pages or so were really good, but I struggled around the middle. I have been fascinated by Russian history for a long time, so had a reasonable, if somewhat rusty, knowledge of the background. If you were completely unfamiliar with the period, I suspect there would not be enough background information to really put things into context. I hesitate to order the earlier work by the same author, as it is even longer, and reviews suggest it does not read as well as this one. Although there are plenty of pictures, I would have liked even more. Particularly of some of the other prominent Bolsheviks, like Kamenev and Zinoviev etc.
A good read, but probably not the best starting point from which to approach Russian history.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vivid account of Stalin and pre-Revolutionary Georgia, 23 April 2009
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This review is from: Young Stalin (Paperback)
Although it justly won the 2007 Costa Biography Award, this book is also a valuable work of history, providing lay reader and history student alike with valuable insights not just into Stalin himself but also into the years leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution in the southern climes of the Russian Empire.

When Stalin was born, the annexation of the ancient realm of Georgia was still a matter of recent history and resentment still ran high. What is particularly fascinating is how the indigenous Georgian aristocracy aided and abetted the revolutionaries in the early years of the twentieth century, providing financial support, protection and even, on several occasions, lending the revolutionaries their own passports and travel documents to allow them to move freely between the Caucasus and North Europe, both within and without the confines of tsarist rule. I was surprised how not only the Georgian princes but the imperial security forces and bureaucracy reacted to the terrorist acts of the revolutionaries - a conflicted mixture of heavy-handed, brutal reprisals and venal collusion; it smacks not only of incompetence at times but also of complacency - it certainly appears that the liberal or nationalistically minded nobles of Georgia had little real idea of the true nature of the revolutionaries or what their success could ultimately mean for their freedom or even their own lives and those of their families.

In those turbulent and heady times, to many the revolutionaries must indeed have seemed Romantic, a sort of latter day group of Byronic freedom fighters, much as the Greeks had been seen when shaking off the yoke of Ottoman rule. And the escapades of Stalin and his comrades do make for a gripping read - daring heists, betrayals and reprisals, last minute escapes and sundry deeds of daring! Simon Sebag Montefiore paints a masterly picture of these events, with a novelist's eye for detail and narrative.

In his previous volume, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, it was sometimes difficult to appreciate how some of Stalin's comrades retained such affection for him, and frequently displayed such little circumspection about how they behaved around him, after his rise to power. The exhilarating shared experiences that this book relates goes some way to explaining this and how they mistakenly figured the bonds they had developed before the Revolution remained mutual. It also clarifies how his `court' at the Kremlin came to be such a tense and unlikely juxtaposition of Marxist ideology, Mafia-style feuds and allegiances, and good, old fashioned pre-revolutionary autocracy.

In addition, I would also say that this book demonstrates, more successfully than any other account of Stalin I have read (including the author's previous volume), his ability to charm and delight - often with fatal results for those taken in. It explains his effect upon Roosevelt during those important conferences of the Second World War and the subsequent consequences for the western world when Roosevelt perceived him to be a more reasonable and altruistic figure than Churchill, whom he characterised as a cantankerous old imperialist.

Sebag Montefiore vividly captures the conflicting elements of his young personality - the lover of music, the writer of fine poetry that was acknowledged as such by his literary peers, the likeable rogue at the seminary running the priests ragged, his wide reading and erudition, and his ardent loyalty to adolescent friends; plus, of course, his single-mindedness, his ruthlessness, his brutality and his apparent lack of conscience.

As with his earlier work on Stalin's later life, the book appears to be meticulously researched and includes documentary sources and personal reminiscences that apparently haven't been published in any form before now. Sebag Montefiore writes with academic rigour but also with lucidity and a narrative sweep that makes this a compelling read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinatingly readable and a history lesson too!!, 12 April 2009
This review is from: Young Stalin (Paperback)
Extraordinary story of an idealistic seminary chorister who became a monster meglomaniac paranoid narcissist, thriving at 'his' best in war torn disruption and cultural revolution, but most definitely his worst for those who crossed him, innocently or not.

If you want an insight into the makings of paranoid delusion of grandeur, in which an individual believes that he is an important person or is carrying out great plans, at any cost, then this book must surely rank near the top of any curious historical analyser's foundational character study of such an illness.

There is no doubt of course that Stalin found his historical self-importance, and is ranked by present-day Russians as the third most important 'Name of Russia' in a poll conducted last year. But mythologising this person must surely bring into question the motivations of such a poll and provide a psychoanalytical reading into the hearts and minds of Russian society, its culture making and identity. Or is it a case of selective memory syndrome, the overlooking of the abominable weaknesses of character and action, for the sake of finding heroic strengths?

Psychological history making apart, Montefiore's new data provides a fascinating enquiry into our love-hate relationship with the past, especially where rich complex and alluring enigmatic personalities are concerned. In concentrating on Stalin's early years from childhood to his initial rise to power within the Bolshevik movement and the October uprising, the book unwittingly ellicited much sympathy from me, as in each turning of the page I could sense the seeds of hatred were being shaped, and any tenderness finally snuffed out by the death of his wife.

However at times the book does read like The Godfather Part 1, due to its epic proportions (There is already a Stalin (1992) that could be regarded as Part 2). Beginning with Stalin's brutalised and impoverished street-gang upbringing, and dsyfunctional relationships with his abusive father and attractive mother, Josef Vissaionovich Djugashvili, known familiarly as Soso, already displays an exceptional political intelligence. He is an enigmatic master of disguise, a man of paranoic intrigue and a Machiavellian cool customer. This is a fictionalised documentary that romps along like a superhero comic.

A political essayist (founder of Pravda) and a dynamo of Bolshevism, Stalin became the crucial lynchpin and tactician of Lenin's Georgian operation, before arriving at his position, along with Trotsky - who he notoriously loathed - as Lenin's closest ally and chief architect of the new Soviet order. Essentially he was a thug that master-minded extortion racquets, bank robberies and hold-ups, bringing in much needed funds to oil the party machine. At the same time he carried the air of an intellectual, and had a voracious appetite for books, learning languages, keeping abreast of scientific and political trends, and not without least, writing pretty decent poetry.

Lenin recognised Stalin's unholy mix of character and skills, and seemed to appear like a surrogate father figure as well as the father of the Soviet nation. Their buddy relationship provides much focus and human warmth for Stalin through out the book, as well as a certain amount of complicity. There is the sense that Lenin was equally shady, but cared not to get his hands dirty, leaving his foil to do the work.

Young Stalin is packed full of illuminating information that reads like an exhaustive who's who reference manual. This can sometimes over-complicate the narrative as it stitches together found documents lost in archives, and anecdotal evidence from traced descendants of Stalin's childhood friends; forming them into a coherent style, must not have been an easy task.

However the author employs a number of literary devices to lighten the journey. For example, the epilogue is a flash-forward when Stalin is old and grey. After the great terrors and purges, he decides to get in contact with some of his former friends - now more probably nostalgic acquaintances who he hadn't exterminated or sent to Siberia. By this stage of the book you were left in no doubt as to the crushing power of the man - I even wondered how I might refuse such an invitation.. as on arrival you are guided to the garden to wait on the General Secretary, as he prunes roses secateurs in hand!

A gripping read.
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Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Paperback - 1 May 2008)
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