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Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar Hardcover – 13 Apr 2004

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; First American Editon edition (13 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400042305
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400042302
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 5.1 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,024,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

" Terrific. . . . Scholarship as a kind of savage gossip. . . . Deeply researched, wonderfully readable." - "Time"
" The first intimate portrait of a man who had more lives on his conscience than Hitler. . . . Disturbing and perplexing." - Richard Pipes, "The New York Times Book Review"
" Superb. . . . No Western writer has got as close. . . . A dark and excellent book." - "The New York Review of Books"
" A harrowing portrait of life in the dictator' s inner circle. . . . [Stalin] emerges from this book as a contradictory, creepily flesh-and-blood human being." - "The New York Times"
" Unprecedented in its intimacy and horrifying in its implications, not merely because it shows that the engineers of one of history' s greatest holocausts were depraved . . . but also because they emerge in these pages as surprisingly normal." - "The Washington Post Book World"

"Terrific. . . . Scholarship as a kind of savage gossip. . . . Deeply researched, wonderfully readable." -"Time" "The first intimate portrait of a man who had more lives on his conscience than Hitler. . . . Disturbing and perplexing." -Richard Pipes, "The New York Times Book Review""Superb. . . . No Western writer has got as close. . . . A dark and excellent book." -"The New York Review of Books""A harrowing portrait of life in the dictator's inner circle. . . . [Stalin] emerges from this book as a contradictory, creepily flesh-and-blood human being." -"The New York Times""Unprecedented in its intimacy and horrifying in its implications, not merely because it shows that the engineers of one of history's greatest holocausts were depraved . . . but also because they emerge in these pages as surprisingly normal." -"The Washington Post Book World"

Terrific. . . . Scholarship as a kind of savage gossip. . . . Deeply researched, wonderfully readable. "Time" The first intimate portrait of a man who had more lives on his conscience than Hitler. . . . Disturbing and perplexing. Richard Pipes, "The New York Times Book Review" Superb. . . . No Western writer has got as close. . . . A dark and excellent book. "The New York Review of Books" A harrowing portrait of life in the dictator s inner circle. . . . [Stalin] emerges from this book as a contradictory, creepily flesh-and-blood human being. "The New York Times" Unprecedented in its intimacy and horrifying in its implications, not merely because it shows that the engineers of one of history s greatest holocausts were depraved . . . but also because they emerge in these pages as surprisingly normal. "The Washington Post Book World""

An extraordinary book. . . . 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, "Evening Standard" (London)

The first intimate portrait of a man who had more lives on his conscience than Hitler. . . . Disturbing and perplexing. Richard Pipes, "The New York Times Book Review"

Superb. . . . No Western writer has got as close. . . . A dark and excellent book. "The New York Review of Books
"

Terrific. . . . A deeply researched and wonderfully readable accomplishment scholarship as a kind of savage gossip. "Time"

Unprecedented in its intimacy and horrifying in its implications, not merely because it shows that the engineers of one of history s greatest holocausts were depraved . . . but also because they emerge in these pages as surprisingly normal. "The Washington Post Book World"

A marvelously well-researched book. . . . Montefiore has written a supremely important book about Joseph Stalin, a biography that other scholars will find hard to equal. This is sure to be one of the outstanding books of the year. "St. Louis Post-Dispatch "
Ultra reader-friendly, lively, gossipy and packaged with revelations about the intimacies and intrigues of Stalin the man and his courtiers. Brilliant. "Evening Standard Book Page
"
A book that had to be written. . . . Montefiore s biography is far different from anything in this genre. A superb piece of research and frighteningly lucid. "The Washington Times "
Gripping and timely. . . . Montefiore has illuminated wider aspects of the history of the USSR. This is one of the few recent books on Stalinism that will be read in years to come. Robert Service, "The Guardian "(London)
Montefiore combines his research among the primary sources and the fruits of his interviews into a focused, gripping story about a man, who, along with Mao, Hitler and Genghis Khan, has to be in the running for history s greatest mass murderer. "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "
[A] masterful and terrifying account of Stalin as seen within his close entourage. . . . Seldom has the picture been put in finer focus than by Montefiore. Alistair Horne, "The Times" (London)
Horrific, revelatory and sobering. . . . A triumph of research. John le Carre, "The Observer "
I loved the totalitarian high baroque sleaze of Simon Sebag Montefiore s "Stalin." . . . One of the 2004 Guardian Books of the Year. Simon Schama, "The Guardian" (London)
A grim masterpiece shot through with lashes of black humor. . . . The personal details are riveting. Antonia Fraser, "Mail on Sunday"
A well-researched and insightful book. . . . The narrative adroitly catches the atmosphere of the time. "Los Angeles Times Book Review "
I did not think I could learn anything new about Stalin, but I was wrong. A stunning performance. Henry Kissinger
Montefiore s deft combination of biography and history brings Stalin alive, so that he becomes as complex and contradictory as any of the great characters in fiction. "The New York Sun
"
If you plan (wisely) to read only one book about Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, let it be "Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar." Simon Sebag Montefiore, writing with the skill of a novelist . . . has based his highly readable biographical thriller solidly and factually not only on all of the preceding scholarly studies of the Soviet dictator but also upon newly available archival materials. "The Seattle Times "
A large and ambitious overview and under-view of the Soviet leader s life and epoch, drawn from an impressively wide array of Russian sources. "The Atlantic Monthly "
Spectacular. . . . An impressive and compelling work, using important new documents. "The Spectator "
Sebag Montefiore has done a valuable service in drawing our attention to a hitherto little-studied aspect of Stalinism. As his "Stalin "demonstrates, the personal relationships of those who ran the Kremlin provided an essential dynamic for the development of the Stalinist system. Isolated from the masses, these members of the privileged elite depended on one another for emotional sustenance to an extraordinary degree. "The Times Literary Supplement" (London)" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

The remarkable untold story of the men and women who sustained Stalin in power in the Soviet Union for nearly 30 years - a SUNDAY TIMES bestseller. Abridged edition. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
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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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I have to admit to only purchasing this audiobook as I love listening to anything narrated by John Nettles. I would not normally be interested in this genre (for want of a better word) but because Mr Nettles is narrrating it I purchased it. John Nettles is a fantastic teacher, his narration is flawless, sensitive and informative. By my liking of Mr Nettles narration (here and on other audiobooks) I am learning so much about things I would never even give a moments notice to.

It's a very harrowing story and Stephen Sebag Montefiore has done a remarkable job in researching this subject and then writing it, it is only fitting therefore that someone with a commanding and powerful voice should be narrating, and that someone is the always excellent John Nettles.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8c9991b0) out of 5 stars 233 reviews
206 of 221 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8c9ab030) out of 5 stars Extraordinary Examination of the Banality of Evil 23 Aug. 2004
By Lonya - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Hannah Arendt, in her work Eichmann in Jerusalem, coined the phrase `banality of evil' to describe the rather bland existence of those who, like Eichman, were capable of committing unpardonable acts of unspeakable bestiality. Simon Sebag Montefiore's elegantly written Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar (Red Tsar) mines this same vein in his examination of the life of Stalin and his inner circle. Red Tsar provides the reader with an inside, almost voyeuristic, view of the life of Stalin and his circle from his accession to power after the death of Lenin until his own death in 1953. Montefiore does a masterful job of setting out the personal lives and inner workings of Stalin and his court against the backdrop of the extraordinary historic events that wracked the USSR during those times. During Stalin's rein the Ukraine was wracked by forced starvation in the Ukraine and rural masses were brutally killed and/or exiled in the anti-kulak campaign. Through show trials and purges and through a war on the eastern front that will probably never be matched for horror and brutality, Stalin and his courtiers lived lives of bourgeois expectations and affectation that would be recognizable if they were played out in Moscow, Idaho and not the USSR.

Red Tsar has been meticulously researched. Montefiore has done a marvelous job of examining newly opened Russian archives. He interviewed a large number of surviving family members of the inner circle and was provided access to diaries, memoirs, and personal correspondence that has not been seen by historians prior to this work. The end notes can be a bit confusing but it's clear that Montefiore's factual observations and his evaluations of those observations are grounded deeply in thorough research.

Red Tsar begins with the death, apparently by suicide, of Stalin's second wife, Nadya. Despite rumors that Stalin killed his wife Montefiore makes clear the emotional devastation visited upon Stalin as the result of her death and gives little credence to the rumor. The death of Nadya takes pride of place in Red Tsar because it is Montefiore's opinion that the emotional blow was the turning point at which Stalin began the transformation that would take him from strong ruler to brutal tyrant.

From this point Montefiore takes us back and examines the process by which Stalin acquired absolute power. Montefiore makes it clear that, contrary to popular belief, it took Stalin years to acquire the power that has since become enshrined in myth. He did not just intimidate people, he cajoled, he charmed, and he compromised. Even as late as the mid-1930's there were more than a few instances where Stalin did not quite get his way. Unfortunately, Stalin had a prodigious memory for slights and obstacles along his path to power. Stalin was, if nothing else, capable of long term thinking and he did not need instant gratification when it came to evening the score.

Montefiore does an incredible job of humanizing Stalin without once belittling the horrors that were committed in his name. Montefiore does not excuse Stalin by dispelling the myth that his life involved nothing more than engaging in evil acts. Rather, his fleshing out the person that was Stalin, highly literate, smart, often engaging and charming, devoted to his daughter points out the duality from which banality can give birth to evil. Further, this work is not simply an overview of Stalin's personal life. It is an overview of Stalin's court, Beria, Malenkov, Molotov, Krushchev, Yezhov (NKVD boss before Beria), and Zhdanov and their families. They all lived in the same apartment complexes in or near the Kremlin. They were friends as well as rivals and their wives and children mingled freely with each other and even with Stalin.

Stalin's interest in literature and the arts is also examined closely. Stalin had a strong interest in the arts and considered himself the ultimate arbiter. He was instrumental in having Gorky return to the USSR where he was treated as a returning hero. He peered over, edited, praised, or criticized the works of Babel, Akhmatova, Eisenstein, and Shostakovich. He was, perhaps, a dilettante, but a dilettante with the power of life and death.

Last, two portions of the book are particularly compelling. The first takes place in the immediate aftermath of the German invasion of the USSR in June, 1941. Totally despondent over the overwhelming early losses suffered by a military criminally weakened by purges and aware that Hitler had completely outfoxed him. He took to his rooms and would not come out. Finally, when his court finally saw fit to intrude on Stalin's isolation Stalin quivered and asked if they had come to arrest or execute him. Equally compelling is the story of Stalin's long medical decline and the horrible events surrounding his lingering death.

One caveat for readers new to Soviet history. Montefiore's treatment focuses on the inner workings of Stalin and his court. He describes the historic events that take place outside the court in a manner that assumes a certain baseline familiarity with those events. As good as this book is, the reader new to Soviet history might be well served to start off with a general history before delving into Red Tsar. Having said that, Court of the Red Tsar is a wonderful treatment of the inner works of life under Stalin. It should be read and savored.
67 of 71 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8c9ab084) out of 5 stars Horrifyingly Fascinating Account of Stalin 28 Jun. 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I must admit that I feel a bit of guilt for the compulsive manner in which I read this highly personal account of life in the court of Stalin. This well-told story is horrible, but fascinating.
Montefiore makes no effort to dissect the big geopolitical issues of the Stalin era, except to use them as a backdrop to the backstabbing, denunciations, groveling, and horror in which the senior leadership of the Soviet Union operated from the early 30s until the early 50s. Using in-depth interviews and newly-available archival information, including much of the correspondence between and among the senior leadership, Montefiore fleshes out what was going on under the surface, in particular the complex love-hate (mostly hate) relationship of Stalin to his court.
It's a wonderful account of a country run by leaders who viewed their role more as mafiosi than as leaders of a legitimate government. In a real sense, they were gangsters and that's the way they ran the country--including the way Stalin required the leadership to all participate in the Great Terror (he wanted all them to have blood on their hands and thus share in the collective guilt).
The author's behind-the-scenes view of the Great Terror is the centerpiece of the book. His portraits of Yeshov and Beria, the two most malignant monsters after Stalin, will now be etched into my memory.
But in the end, the book is a portrait of Stalin, a man who could turn on the charm, perform an act of kindness for an old comrade, then in the next moment sign the death warrants of hundreds of innocent victims. I disagree with other reviewers who criticize the author for treating Stalin too kindly. There's no question where Montefiore stands: he views Stalin was a monster, and Stalin's occasional human touches makes him even more so.
I've had long-term interest in 20th century Russian history, particularly trying to understand how a country could find itself in the hands of the personification of evil. This book helps answer the question.
A final point. Montefiore is an excellent story teller. I don't pretend to be in position to judge all his conclusions, but they have the ring of truth to them, and the author is good about telling the reader when he's departed from evidence into speculation.
I recommend this book. I only wish that in reading it, I lacked the guilty fascination that comes from watching an entire nation turned into a train wreck by a single evil man.
87 of 95 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8cf79b40) out of 5 stars Inside Stalin 17 April 2004
By Newton Munnow - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Any historical figure who has earned the suffix of an '-ism' has, most likely, long been shrouded in myth. Sebag Montefiore has dug deep into the archives and found an astounding amount of new material to chart the inner circle of Stalin's court, bringing the man out of the shadows and into the third dimension. You may well wish he'd stayed in the dark. STALIN makes for fascinating and often brutal reading. Most extraordinary is just what a closed and cosy court Stalin reigned over. Sebag Montefiore manages to recreate the lethal and intimate atmosphere that all who chose to be close to him were forced to endure. Most interesting are the early days, long before corruption had penetrated the Politburo. Here, the author uncovers the highest ranking officials taking trams to work, and Stalin's own wife begging 50 roubles off her husband for children's clothes. The descent soon begins, and Sebag Montefiore follows its course in excerpts from Stalin's own archives and interviews too numerous to mention. Every now and then, there is the tiniest slip. In one sentence, an official is described as both bald and red headed, but that is pure pedantry. It's hard to imagine a more fascinating biography hitting the shelves this year. Be warned, it's a 600 page hernia of a tome, but take comfort in the author's ability to keep the pages turning.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8c9ab30c) out of 5 stars A riveting look into the life of Stalin. 5 Sept. 2004
By Virgil - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Eventually it may come to pass that conventional wisdom among historians will be that there is no more influential or terrible figure in Russian history- outdoing even Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great or Catherine the Great- than Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvil who as a young Bolshevik took the name Stalin [Russian for steel]. The life of Stalin has been visited many times by historians, biographers, in memoirs by those who knew him. A picture emerges of a calculating, Machiavellian paranoid committed to a state enforced regime of communism but above all committed to the elimination of real and perceived `enemies' who stood in the way of his complete grasp of power.

Simon Montefiore has done an outstanding job in revisiting the life of Stalin viewed through the lens of his personal life. What emerges is a more human view [if one can use that term for a man responsible for the most deaths of the 20th century] of the life of Stalin. Montefiore shows Stalin the father, the husband and the in-law. And what an in-law he was. Traumatized by the suicide of his second wife Nadya, Stalin becomes increasingly morose and irritated by her family. To that end most ended up being arrested and dying within the Gulag system, rather than protecting them, their ties to Stalin and the intimacy that comes with it is responsible for their deaths.

Montefiore highlights how the inner circle of Russia's leadership strove to guess and to carry out their leader's policies. Stalin, the master manipulator, played his inner circle against each other. To be within the leadership was an honor and a dangerous place. One's fate and the fate of his family was tied to Stalin's mercurial attitude. On several occasions his sycophants wives were arrested [Malenkov, Proskrebychev] and kept in confinement or shot with their husbands remaining on with Stalin continuing with their work. It was not uncommon for high ranking members such as Beria, Malenkov and Kruschev to inquire with Stalin's repulsive secretary Proskrebychev on his mood before entering his office in order to brace themselves for his outbursts, outbursts that could lead to one's demise if not handled correctly. In one well-known story a famous Russian pilot and Air Force general responded to an outburst with a drunken accusation that it was Stalin's fault that planes were unsatisfactory. Within a week he was arrested and perished within the NKVD [secret police] headquarters.

What Montefiore draws is a man who acts much like a vindictive Georgian clan leader. His inner circle are expected to keep the same excrutiating hours as he did- going to bed daily at 6 am- to feast with him at 2 am [Kruschev called these dinners hell] and as he grew older, to drink heavily. No one was excused and no one wanted to allow the others much time alone with Stalin. The irony is he kept those around him in such a state of fear that when he suffered a stroke his guards were too afraid to even enter his home to inquire about why he had not ventured out all day.

This is an excellent study into his personal affairs and Montefiore did his homework, interviewing family members, reading correspondence and official documents. This isn't the first Stalin biography one must visit, others by Ulam, Tucker and Deutcher are recommended. But it does illuminate these political biographies and is certainly less `gossipy' then the entertaining Radzinsky biography of Stalin.

Highly recommended.
43 of 51 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8c9ab4c8) out of 5 stars Stalin liked to play billiards, Kaganovich played tennis 27 Oct. 2004
By M. Dog - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I had never read a biography of Stalin and chose this book. It was not what I was after. The book is for the reader that has a good grounding in Stalin's life and accomplishments (and Russian history) and is looking for the more day-to-day intimate or trivial details of the man's life. Below is an example of a typical page:

"Nadya played tennis with the immaculate Voroshilov, when he was sober, and Kaganovich, who played in his tunic and boots. Mikoyan, Voroshilov and Budyonny rode horses donated by the Cavalry Inspectorate. If it was winter, Kaganovish and Mikoyan skied. Molotov pulled his daughter in a sledge like a nag pulling a peasant's plough. Vjoroshilov and Sergo were avid hunters. Stalin preferred billiards."

This is not what I was looking for or even care about. Events in Russian history, like the Great Terror, leap into the text without warning as a kind of background to much more intimate details. I was looking for an explanation of these events within some historical context, not what deserts Stalin preferred after dinner while they were going on.

In addition, I thought the prose lacked any sense of drama, and the time frame jumped around so often it was difficult for me, being a novice of Russian history, to have any sense of place.

This book would have value if the reader had a firm footing in Russian history and a previous knowledge of Stalin's life. Then the intimate revelations of this work would flesh out the image of the subject.
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