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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 7 March 2011
This book is fat heavy and detailed but is unputdownable.
It is so well written it flows easily despite being incredibly comprehensive .
The detail is wonderful. I imagine that this will always be a must read book for anyone interested in this period and in revolution.
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on 5 March 2005
Stalin has had more biographies than even the most dedicated russophile would care to read. So why read this one?
Well, many of Stalin's biographies are warped by the context they were written in. During the cold war the history of Stalin became a battleground in itself, with historians either portraying him either as a crazed bureacrat, a monster, or nigh on a God.
Service makes use of newly available evidence and weaves together a balanced, clear and comprehensive portrait of Stalin. More than any other biography of Stalin I've read it provides a rounded portrayal of this most controversial of figures. However, whilst being dispassionate helps Service cooly analyse his subject, this also leads to this biography being somewhat dry.
If you want to gain a thorough understanding of Stalin without worrying the autor has a hidden agenda, this biography is unsurpassed. However, if you want to get a feel for the warped version of reality that characterised life close to Stalin, and prefer something a bit more readable, Simon Sebag Montefiore's book 'Court of the Red Tsar' may be a better choice.
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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.
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on 19 December 2010
Very thorough biography. It is very careful and considered and he when he does offer his personal opinions or judgements they are always backed by evidence.
The writing can be a little dry at times but that is excusable in a book about his Stalin as his actions condemn him enough.
As I read it I grew to appreciate the dispassionate approach as the full horror of his crimes can sometimes be quite hard to take.
It amazes me that he still has admirers.
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on 26 November 2011
I found Robert Service's Stalin to be a very detailed and informative read. Although the writing is a little dry at times, it is very redable and service does manage to take the reader into the mind of Stalin - this is no mean feat given the mythologising surrounding him and state secrecy. The first half of the book, from Stalin's childhood in Georgia to his gradual rise to political supremacy is the driest section. Alot of it is taken up with political, Marxist or Leninist theory. Once Stalin reaches the summit the pace does quicken up annd the narrative flows. However, as another reviewer has stated, the Second World War is given relatively short treatment.

Stalin comes across as a murderous thug beset with political and personal paranoia about being overthrown in a coup, very much a psychopath. What struck me reading this book is how brutal the Soviet regime was, not just Stalin's in particular but Lenin and the post-Stalin eras also appeared bedevilled by political backstabbing and personal ambition. Numerous times I read of conspiracies (not all were imagined by Stalin's paranoia), show-trials, executions and whole groups of people being hauled off to the Gulag on little pretext. Service also tells us of Stalin's murderous treatment of his family, friends and colleagues.

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on 15 July 2015
Detailed but Service's writing style can grate. He also cruises over significant events such as Barbarossa 1941 and Beria's ousting with no critical engagement whatsoever.
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on 26 December 2005
Without much debate, one of the best works on Stalin. What is worthwhile mentioning here is: Unlike many American and European historians, biographers and political analysts who have had written, edited or commented on Stalin and his rise to power in the CC of the USSR quite acrimoniously and dubiously over the years, this book is quite different. Instead, Service does an EXCELLENT job of:
1. Taking into accounts as they were and not mentioning what he thinks on them. Rather criticising Stalin and his every political move, we get a clear account of his real motives, his way of thinking, pressures he handled, the question of being either in power or out of it.
2. His fights with Trotsky, later with Kamenev and Zinoviev and then finally with Bukharin are mentioned and exemplified in great finesse. What one ought to note is that contrary to what most historians (over the decades) have seen Stalin as: short-tempered and haughty, he was a man of great discipline, far-sighted and highly motivated political analyst.
His childhood, rise to power, dekulakisation, rapid industrialisation and collectivisation of farms and other facets of Soviet regime are very nicely introduced, mentioned and illustrated. Moreover what makes the reading even better is: opposite views from Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Bukharin and others are mentioned and contrasted. 5 stars overall!
Subhasish Ghosh
26th Dec 2005
St. Cross College,
University of Oxford
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on 21 August 2012
Service is a good writer in that his books, like this one, are hard to put down and very readable. However it does fall short of a work of historical study. Far too many exclamation marks and sweeping generalisations without anything more than anecdotal evidence. The history of Stalin's childhood is very interesting but there are better books out there. People interested in Stalin and Stalinism should read Stalin: A New History by Sarah Davies and James Harris.
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on 24 October 2015
Pretty good, it's big and managed to keep me engaged all the way through even though I am not a historian. It was bought as summer reading for my daughter pre IB, but I think you'd have to be a pretty serious teenager to read this through to the end. I can't comment on the accuracy but the first part -up until the mid twenties was fascinating, bit slow through the thirties but the forties and fifties picked up again.
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on 12 July 2007
This is well worth a read, although at times you may need to take a break from it as , by the very nature of its subject, it can be depressing. You really sense that Service has got into the mind of Stalin, but rather than sensationalising his material, he presents his research with a cool, detatched approach. By the end you have some undertanding of the system, ideology and paranoia that allowed Stalin to pursue his enemies, although Service never for one moment excuses Stalin, and his huge culpability for the crimes of his regime. Apart from the appaling catalogue of evils to his name, there are also numerous jaw-dropping moments at Stalin's rank incompetence. A terrible warning for us all.
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