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62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fawning to death
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...
Published on 27 Aug. 2003 by Andrew Murray

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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Detailed, fascinating - and a bit hard to follow
Montefioere has undoubtedly devoted countless hours to the research of this book. It is a fascinating read, and the author avoids judging Stalin's action, leaving the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. The fanatical dicator's life is documented from his birth to his death, giving what appears to be a historically accurate portrayal of the life of Joseph Stalin -...
Published on 24 Feb. 2004 by Joachim LÝvf


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62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fawning to death, 27 Aug. 2003
By 
Andrew Murray "strobe97" (Cumbria, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Hardcover)
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. The story of Molotov is told and how his wife was exiled by Stalin and then re-united with her husband after the dictator's death. Molotov and his wife only survived because of Stalin's demise. Kruschev is another court crony who is far from unblemished. There are many insights into how these bureaucratic murderers were often kind and tender to their wives and children, yet so desperate when out of favour with the leader that they would betray their families, sometimes, in a supreme irony, in order to save them but always to try and save themselves. The book teems with anecdotes revealing the reactions of the courtiers when caught in Stalin's glare of hate.
The author does a commendable job at emphasising the dangers of tyrannical power and ideological fanaticism. He shows how the power and weakness of human nature in all its blood feasting lust and incredible displays of kindness and sympathy always prevails against ideology, both thwarting it and diminishing it. This beautifully written work is an excellent example of the many historical analyses that show how ideologues can only enforce their narrow, bigoted promises of some false nirvana through force and terror. It also shows how lunatics and evil come to power on the back of apologists, ideological sympathisers, cynical careerists and people who look the other way until the dark forces gain an unstoppable momentum that can usually only be ended by the death of the tyrants or war, often at the cost of the lives of millions of innocents.
The last chapter, simply a postscript, is surprising as it relates the attitudes of courtiers who survived and their descendants to the homicidal dictator. It is amazing to think that some of these sad victims can still make excuses for one of mankind's biggest killers. This has many parallels with the woolly, muddled and blind opinions we can still hear today in defence of vicious murdering tyrants. Stalin's useful fools indeed. The book is impeccably researched and the sources include living descendants of the players in the nightmare, Russian archives and other letters, documents and histories. The last 100 or so pages attribute these sources. It is very hard to fault this book but perhaps the editing is a little loose in places and some of the content could have been a bit tauter but apart from these extremely minor criticisms the book can be recommended wholeheartedly.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sebag Montefiore truly is the Vozhd, 26 Aug. 2003
By 
Antonio (BogotŠ, Colombia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Hardcover)
This is the most enjoyable book I've read about Stalin so far. It is more readable than Volkogonov and Ulam, not as speculative as Radzinski, more detailed than Conquest and Bullock. For the nonacademic reader it distills all the knowledge about the Vozhd, and adds to this store by judicious use of newly released archives and interviews with a few survivors from the Stalinist era, and with the descendants of key member's of the red court. It also condenses (sometimes not as successfully as one would have hoped) recent books about some of these key members, such as Taubman's on Stalin, Knight's on Beria and Kirov, Jansen's on Yezhov, Sergo Beria's on his father, Molotov's conversation with Chuev, inter alia. So, if you want to know all that's key about the Soviet Union in the Stalinist era, this is the book to read. This is not just a book about personalities, but also a real history book, Just because it's fun doesn't mean it's not history.
Sebag Montefiore's contention is that leadership in the Soviet Union was fairly collegiate up to the time of the suicide of Stalin's second wife in 1932, and that all the key drivers for the Great Purge in 1937-1938 were already in place before Kirov's assassination in 1934. After that, Stalin's power grew absolute, never more so than a few days after operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union (22 June 1941), and in fact he decided virtually everything, squirreling away in his vast memory all key facts that would allow him, years or even decades earlier, to launch yet another purge or send yet another apparatchick to meet the firing squad. But even at the very end, Stalin had to think carefully before demoting his powerful barons, such as Zhdanov, Malenkov, Bulganin, Khruschev or Beria.
This is was easy for him to do because he had a powerful intellect, boundless energy and a remarkable talent for mischief. He wasn't a gambler like Hitler or Mussolini, but rather a chess player who wasn't above oportunism when it suited him.
Sebag Montefiore's Stalin is truly awe inspiring in the catholicity of his interests. He decides everything, from the titles and sizes of Pravda articles, to the poems and novels that can be published, to the movies that may be shown, to the operas and plays that may be played, to the names of towns, factories and streets, to all construction projects, large and small, to the names of those that would perish on the various Terrors that he and his minions unleashed, under his orders. I don't believe I know anyone, not even famed King Philip II, who was able to run a huge empire spanning many time zones, while intervening in such detail. His hunger for acknowledgement was seemengly bottomless. He wanted to be the country's first intellectual, its first military leader, its first political chief, its chief aesthete and its only real free man. However, he was never truly free, because his immense gifts were overshadowed by a suspicious nature bordering on the paranoid, and an inability to love anyone. For him, people were really abstractions, who only became real because of their interactions with him. The entire Soviet Union, and indeed the entire world, were, in his mind, mere extras to a colourful pageant that he ran all by himself. He might have launched a second holocaust against the Jews if he had lived a few years longer, as might have easily happened. He was on the verge of purging the entire leadership. The jury is still out on whether he would have launched a nuclear attack. At the end of his life, when he was scarcely rational, he might have done if there had been an excuse in Europe to do so. Yet he also had all sorts of peculiar preferences. Who knew that he had a good singing voice, and that he particularly liked religious hymns, which he enjoyed singing with Malenkov, a former choir boy? Who knew that he favoured a certain politician from the Caucasus, simply because he had the same name as a priest that he had befriended in the early twentieth century? Come to think of it, who knew that Beria loved westerns, that everyone loved Pauker's imitations of Kamenev and Zinoviev, that Zhdanov was a prude and that Kalinin was a ladies' man?
The key test here is Samuel Johnson's on Paradise Lost: Does one wish Red Tsar were longer. Well, I did. So will you, perhaps.
Although Sebag's coverage of Stalin is matchless, he was not so successful with a few of the barons of his Court. Some of them, like Beria, Ordzhonikidze, Voroshilov, Kirov or Molotov do come alive, surprisingly in the latter's case (who knew old "iron arse" was actually a tender husband to Polina Zemzushina? Who knew of his romantic, and even sensual letters to her?). Other, like Malenkov or Khruschev or Bulganin or Zhukov could have had more air time. Khruschev is particularly shortchanged, given Taubman's excellent biography, which Sebag quotes here. He was surely not just a glutton and a vulgarian as he appears in this book. A few virtual unknowns (to me), such as Mekhlis (the "shark" or "gloomy demon") and Andreyev, would have borne greater detail. Especially the former's almost animal voracity is horrifying to witness, providing the frisson that one looks for in this type of literature (it is surely not wrong to admit it?). Perhaps another book, with sketches about key members of Stalin's Court, and especially interesting episodes or transcripts of Mr Sebag Montefiore's best interviews used in the bookis in the works? Mr Sebag Montefiore: I would buy such a book and am sure there is a market for it. Stalin and his men deserve the same sort of detail that we have about Hitler and his.
Most of the good stories one has read, or heard about Stalin are here, which will also make this an excellent reference book. The real test is Samuel Johnson's concerning Paradise Lost. Do I wish Sebag Montefiore's book had been longer? I do. That is the hallmark of a memorable book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars bad, worse, worser, worsest, 6 May 2015
By 
M. Baerends - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Hardcover)
The sequel to 'Young Stalin' starts when Stalin succeeded in reaching top positions in the world of political criminals known as Bolshevists. In control of the full might of the Bolshevist state, he was able scale up from the small-time terrorist acts in which he used to indulge as a youngster, to mass slaughter.

Although the story is familiar, the inside perspective that Sebag Montefiore provides is utterly fascinating. The picture of Stalin's close surroundings is a rather bleak and chilling one, with his henchmen and even family relatives having to live in fear as much as the population at large - of course his fellow communists were a bit more deserving of such a fate than the poor population. I will never forget the image of Stalin 'inviting' his cronies to what must have been rather exhausting soirees of movie-watching (they had to watch the same movies over and over again & pretend to like them), heavy drinking and childish humiliations, with every one in constant fear of any hints from the boss's side that he was fed up with them (resulting in imprisonment, torture and a miserable death in a far-away concentration camp). An absolute pageturner.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and accessible, 11 Jan. 2004
By 
Paul Donovan (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Hardcover)
Rather than offer a conventional biography of Stalin, Montefiore has chosen to go down a more complex route with "The Court of the Red Tsar". Montefiore's text focuses not just on the individual, but on the "magnates" that surrounded Stalin and their interaction with him. It extends beyond the immediate circle of politburo members to include their families, and other individuals (for instance Stalin's bodyguards), and gives a compelling and well-researched insight into the way in which power was wielded in the Soviet Union during this era. The subtitle "Court of the Red Tsar" is highly illustrative - for Stalin alluded to his public persona on occasion as that of a "Tsar", and spoke of Russia's need for such a figure. The "courtiers" and intrigues also bear many similarities to the Romanov court the Bolsheviks replaced.
Montefiore's has benefited from the opening up of official records from this time, which has enabled him more certainty than some of the earlier generations of Kremlinologists were able to achieve. He has also been able to interview surviving members of Stalin's circle (inevitably, mainly the children or grandchildren of those in power), and had access to unpublished biographies from the period. Of course, the fall of the USSR has facilitated this - even under Gorbachev, this sort of discussion would not have been terribly forthcoming.
Montefiore has a writing style that is accessible to the general reader, and also provides a helpful "cast of characters" and family tree for Stalin (important with the complexity of relationships among the early Bolshevik grandees). His coverage of purges of the "Terror" of the 1930s and of Stalin's handling of the Nazi invasion is particularly well written. There is a wealth of information and insight in these sections that breaks through the traditional stereotypical analysis of these periods. There was a genuine belief among the elite that the accusations levelled in the "Terror" were correct - even as friends and family were being accused on trumped-up charges. There seemed almost acceptance that some innocents would be caught up in the process. Stalin's physical and mental collapse in the early days of the Nazi invasion and his apparent belief that he would be arrested are compellingly written. The naivety with which he clung to the belief "Hitler did not order this, he does not know" parallels in a macabre way with the earlier belief of friends and family of those caught up in the "Terror", that "Stalin can not know what is happening".
Overall this is a well researched and well written account of Stalin's era. Eschewing a traditional biographical format to focus on the "court" of Stalin works extremely well, because the "court" is the structure that Stalin himself promoted. For someone with a general historical interest, or for a dedicated Kremlinologist, this is a fascinating work, likely to serve as a benchmark for analysis of Stalin for years to come.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful account of Stalinist Russia, 15 Nov. 2014
By 
Gregory B. Strong (Tokyo) - See all my reviews
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Montefiore is a great popular historian and this audio book enabled me to get through a book that I wouldn't have had the time to read thoroughly. Much has been learned since the dissolution of the USSR about Russian archives and about Stalin himself. I learned a great deal about Stalinist Russia, a terrifying period of world history. In this volume, Montefiore does a great service in humanizing Stalin and his inner circle and providing listeners with a manageable overview of recent scholarship on the years following the death of Lenin. I'd once read Trotsky's biography of Stalin and accordingly thought Stalin a mediocrity. Montefiore discounts Trotsky as arrogant and self-centered and the portrait of Stalin that emerge from this history is of a highly-intelligent, ruthless man, perhaps even a psychopath, certainly paranoid. Stalin's purges were senseless, erratic, and largely counter-productive, plunging Russia into a bloodbath of engineered starvation in the Ukraine, terrifying political purges, and military incompetence at the outbreak of the German invasion of Russia in 1941. These days I feel that Stalin, Mao, and Hitler were 20th monsters and that their accomplishments, at least the accomplishments of Mao and Stalin could have been achieved by other party members with far less loss of life, and probably even a better material standard of living for most Russians.
The reader of the volume had an engaging, interesting voice. The only problem I had with this audio-book is the profoundly depressing nature of its content. Essential listening or reading though if one hopes to understand modern Russia.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Devil Is A Communist..., 27 May 2010
By 
Ian Millard - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Hardcover)
A superlative biography of Stalin. I must have read dozens of books about Stalin himself, let alone Soviet history of the 1917-1989 period (the latter date being the true date of Soviet collapse, not the official 1991); have never seen a book which both relates at least a detailed outline of what was happening in the Soviet Union under Stalin and at the same time manages to conjure the claustrophobic domestic and politico-military atmosphere around this most feared of modern dictators. Stalin himself joked with Churchill that "the Devil is a Communist and God is a good Conservative!" as his entourage waited anxiously in the background.

Naturally, it might have been possible to include more detail about the various policies which Stalin pursued during his time in power: Collectivization, the Five-Year Plans (pyatletki), the various purges (chistki), the uneasy rapprochement with the German Reich from 1939-1941, the Great Patriotic War (i.e. the "Eastern Front" of the Second World War). To do so might well have made this quite thick book thousands of pages long. I think the author was right to concentrate closely on Stalin's inner circle. Others have done the same (see, e.g., Nikolai Tolstoy, Stalin's Secret War) but to my mind not so well. The author manages to keep focus on Stalin himself, while not letting the surrrounding Soviet dreamworld disaappear entirely into the background.

There are innumerable books about the Stalin period, of course, some of which concentrate on political manoeverings, some on the European-Russian war, others yet on the fate of Stalin's political or other enemies or supposed enemies (among which, both Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago and Sudoplatov's Special Tasks are well known).

Prokofieffs's book on The Spiritual Origins of Eastern Europe has interesting sections on Stalin from an esoteric viewpoint. worth reading after this book, perhaps.

An old Jew in London once told me that the Sebag-Montefiore family are considered to be "Jewish royalty". It may be that the author's own background gave him the confidence not to fail to identify the many Jewish people in the story. Some were Old Bolsheviks, including Lenin (Ulyanov), Trotsky (Bronstein), Zinoviev(Apfelbaum), Kamenev et al, while some were Soviet Stalinist "magnates", as he terms them, such as Kaganovitch. Some were the wives of Russian or other non-Jewish people around Stalin, such as the wives of Voroshilov and Molotov (Scriabin). Some were victims of Stalin in the end, such as the Kremlin Doctors. The authjor does miss a few noted simply by name in the text, such as Zoya Zarubina and NKGB General Eitingon.

I was also interested to see that, unlike some writers, Sebag-Montefiore does not feel the necessity to dwell exclusively or excessively on the victimhood of the Jews within the Soviet Union. He writes that the deportations of some of the nations (Chechens, Tatars, Ingushi etc) in the period after 1942 approached that of the "Holocaust". In fact, I found Sebag-Montefiore to be fair throughout.

The author does use facts well known but which may be new to many, such as the sheer number of people arrested and either killed or resettled not even during the 1930's or after the 1939 Fall of Poland, but after the later victories of Soviet forces: in 1943 alone, about a million people arrested not even in the whole Soviet Union, but in areas re-taken by Soviet forces after Stalingrad and Kursk.

I liked the photographs included, most of which I had never previously seen. There are several black and white photos of some of Stalin's many dachas (i.e. country places) which show some of them as remarkably attractive little or not so little homes.

There are a couple of minor quibbles. I cannot see that it is really accurate to call a few of those mentioned in the book, notably Lenin, "hereditary noblemen", though that is accurate from the pedantic point of view, Lenin's father having been a schools inspector who was raised notionally to the hereditary nobility in the same way that in the UK in the 19th Century, some highranking civil servants etc became baronets.

The important point about this book is that it brings Stalin, indeed the most literally monumental of brazen dictators, to life. His human points, including unexpected kindnesses mixed with the brutalities and monstrous unkindnesses, are detailed.

If anyone wanted to read just one book on Stalin, this would probably have to be that one.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, Great even - but no cigar, 9 Jan. 2004
By 
P. Roberts (Stockholm, Sweden) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Hardcover)
For those who have an interest in Soviet historical detail under Stalin, and for the personalities involved in Stalin’s Court, this has to be the definitive work. However, compliments are abundant in other reviews here.
The problems are subtler though: Far too little attention is given to explaining exactly how Stalin was able to achieve unrivalled power in the 1920’s era. A chapter explaining that he could be charming does not really give a convincing case as to why all who came into contact with Stalin were justifiably petrified of him. As another reviewer mentions, the key to this is in exploring in more detail the destruction of the left and right in the 1920 show trials.
Faults aside however, there is too much wonderful stuff in here to miss…
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Detailed, fascinating - and a bit hard to follow, 24 Feb. 2004
By 
Joachim LÝvf (Modum, Norway) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Hardcover)
Montefioere has undoubtedly devoted countless hours to the research of this book. It is a fascinating read, and the author avoids judging Stalin's action, leaving the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. The fanatical dicator's life is documented from his birth to his death, giving what appears to be a historically accurate portrayal of the life of Joseph Stalin - nothing more is needed, his remarkable career and savage brutality is immensely fascinating, although seldom pleasant.
The book is, however, hard to follow at times. As a casual reader I found it extremely difficult to separate the countless followers, magnates and bureaus which are mentioned, but I suspect that readers with a greater knowledge of the subject will appreciate the author's detailed style. Personally I found the numerous footnotes rather annoying, especially since quite a few of them would do just as well incorporated into the text.
All in all a good read, well worth the money.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, 7 April 2013
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This review is from: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Hardcover)
This book is a must for those wanting to gain an insight into the inner workings of Stalin's family and potentates. Serious History but very accessible.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating, gruesome insight into Stalin's court, 6 Jan. 2010
By 
R. Fried "Theatrepursuits" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Hardcover)
Well written, well researched and accessible read. The more one reads on, the more grotesque and fascinating Stalin's court becomes.
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