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Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar Paperback – 10 Jul 2014
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One of the two outstanding books of the year ... the most civilised and elegant chronicle of brutality and ruthlessness I have ever read, its prose cool and clear but never indifferent (Ruth Rendell Daily Telegraph)
Horrific, revelatory and sobering ... triumph of research and should be required reading in Russia. Book of the Year (John Le Carré Observer)
This grim masterpiece, shot through with lashes of black humour ... The personal details are riveting (Antonia Fraser Mail on Sunday)
Fascinating ... [Montefiore] concentrates, as any good historian should, on pushing forward the boundaries of our knowledge of the subject ... [He] provides rich detail of daily life and family relationships in a world of human values turned inside out ... scrupulously fair in the way he describes Stalin's qualities - including his ability to charm, his uncanny grasp of geopolitical issues, his brilliant handling of foreign statesmen and his genuine passion for literature (Antony Beevor Sunday Times)
Masterful and terrifying account of Stalin ... seldom has the picture been put in finer focus than by Sebag Montefiore. It is partly through his diligent interviews with the children of survivors and his admirable combination of history and gossip that one sees the awful banality, the brutal crudity of the men who carelessly sent so many millions to their senseless deaths (Alistair Horne The Times)
This magnificent portrait ... Montefiore has mined the rich veins of recent Russian writing on the Stalin age and of newly opened archives to give us an intimate history ... The stifling, contiguous life of the Soviet elite in and around the Kremlin is wonderfully conveyed, in some of the most striking and literary passages in the book ... A wonderfully rich and vibrant portrait of the Stalinist elite who lived in the shadow of a remarkable and dangerous colossus (Richard Overy Literary Review)
Read it or face social Siberia ... a cross-over success. Academically and intellectually rigorous, it's also a riveting read ... it takes a great writer to make it seem fresh. And Sebag Montefiore certainly does that ... his greatest achievement has been to "humanise" Stalin. Uncle Joe was a mass murderer and a paranoid sociopath. But he was also charming, friendly and flirtatious (100 Best Things in the World Right Now GQ Magazine)
Grimly brilliant (Andrew Marr Daily Telegraph)
Excellent ... This book is like a vast Russian novel full of characters, colour, terror, passion and treachery ... love affairs, marriages, divorces, imprisonments and killings (Susannah Tarbush Al-Hayat)
Montefiore has managed to get inside the mind of the 20th century's worst mass murderer. What he has found there will affect your view of human nature ... a thoughtful book of first-class scholarship as well as a transfixing narrative ... vividly recreated by Montefiore's caustically witty prose (Andrew Roberts Daily Telegraph)
The thrilling biography of Stalin - an international bestsellerSee all Product description
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In the preface, Montefiore acknowledges his collaboration with the other masterful scholars of Stalinism, Robert Service and Oleg Khlevniuk, so this leads me to think of this book as not a competitor to the other masterful scholars, but rather a stand alone work to be read on its own merits, along with the other works.
So why read this, by far the lengthiest out of the aforementioned works, rather than the more concise offerings from Service or Khlevniuk? Because this is by far the most broad ranging panorama of Stalin's court. It entirely lives up to its title, it covers all the characters and intrigue of Stalin's court, so think of this work not so much as a biography (although it definitely is) and more of a panorama. In this sense, the strength of this work is the insight into all the other characters, giving perhaps the fullest picture of the politics of the Stalin era this reader has yet read.
The book itself is lengthy and challenging, and this was completed on my second attempt. It begins as something of a slow starter, and the covering of Stalin's terror is very detailed and becomes lengthy at times, but if one wants a complete picture, then one is unlikely to be disappointed.
In short a masterful work, confirming Simon Sebag Montefiore as one of the pre-eminent historians of the modern day.
I find a lot of current history books tend to be rather heavy going, often as a result of their desire to be as comprehensive as possible. In this respect, Montefiore comes up trumps, being both highly readable - the adjective compelling is much overused (esp. on book jacket hype) but is totally apt here - and also very detailed.
This book is itself massively hyped, in a chorus of critical approval that is, fortunately, very well founded. One thing many comment upon is that, rather than just rehashing the Stalin-as-monster line, we get a very rounded picture, showing how he could charm and disarm, as well as decimating any and all in the more familiar tale of power-drunk paranoia.
With a central cast of characters that range from the wives to the cronies and henchmen, dominated of course by 'Uncle' Stalin himself, and a 'supporting cast' of faceless millions, death hovers over all.
Ultimately it's almost impossible to discern whether Stalin was just a Georgian gangster writ large, or an ideologue who dug a monomaniac furrow though history in pursuit of a Socialist utopia like a juggernaut over mountains of dead, or a bit of both. But what is certain is that this is a fascinating and deeply compelling story, adroitly told by a gifted historian and storyteller.
As someone with a somewhat limited attention span when it comes to longer non fiction, I found myself gripped my his sparkling prose. He presents a monumental amount of research and information whilst still keeping a movie-like narrative the whole way through.
Having read his Young Stalin a few years back, I knew that I would eventually get round to reading what is essentially the sequel. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t put off by the length, I was initially worried that it would be another half-read historical tome on my bookshelf, but Montefiore’s writing kept me reading until the end.
As with Young Stalin, he tells the story of one of history’s greatest in such a way as to present him as human. At times the reader almost sympathises with him, as we read of his personal tragedies. We read of Stalin’s personal relationships and the scheming and crawling of the members of the politburo as they try to gain favour.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in learning about Stalin and his entourage. I’m sure there are plenty of great works out there, but Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar presents never before seen information in a highly accessible and readable way, a biography which I doubt will be rivalled for many years.
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