Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar Hardcover – 13 Apr 2004
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" 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.
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.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
"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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