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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 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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