Top critical review
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Solid, readable biography
on 19 December 2016
In my view, the biographer makes the biography. It's not just about mastery of facts, but how you intersperse them with perspective (I like a mixture of grand historical sweep populated with everyday details), characterisation (a good biographer makes you feel like you were in the room) and style (when you don't notice you're even reading).
Service does all of the above solidly. The knowledge itself is probably worthy of more stars - there is an incredible amount packed in to a single volume; a subject as huge as Stalin could easily fill two or three volumes - but I'm a pretty tough reviewer generally, so don't be put off.
If, like I was, you're looking for an insight into who this terrible man was, what he did and how he did it, you won't go wrong here. Nevertheless, it was a bit academic feeling and didn't quite have the magic which some biographers manage to include, ergo the three stars.