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4.1 out of 5 stars
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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 19 January 2010
I had heard a lot about Stalin and the fact that he was a mass murder who killed even more than Hitler, so bought this book with great eagerness to learn more.

Robert Service research is exemplary and you really get a feel for the character of Stain and his psychotic / paranoid nature. My only criticism would be that maybe the book is a little too political and not enough is made of the mass murders and genocides that Stalin ordered and these are treated almost as an aside to the political progress and government of Stalin.

Overall this is a very good book and if you like your politics and want to learn how the Soviet Union was created then this is an excellent book.

I would definitely recommend
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on 8 March 2008
This is a really good book. While Stalin may be a character who it's hard to empathise with, Service approaches the topic with complete objectiity, leaving the reader to make up their own minds on the facts. The book is divided into nearly 50 chapters of ten to twelve pages each, which makes it easier to digest each separate issue and event the author addresses. Overall, great book for anyone keen on knowing more about Stalin.
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on 10 September 2011
This was a good read, especially in Stalins early years. It tends to move a bit to fast over the World War 2 and Cold War years. However, you get a better understanding of how Stalin operated and why he did things as he did. A great read for anyone interested in Soviet history.
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on 6 January 2013
No matter how hard Robert Service tries to humanize Stalin in order to
sympathetically portray his tyrannical psyche and thus carry the reader, it can still be quite a disturbing read. In saying that, it's also a very enlightening and strangely entertaining version of events.
If you're looking for an explanation or analysis of the mind that's responsible for 20 million deaths, then this book isn't for you. Service hints at the reasons but concentrates on the facts.
Stalin has to be one of the most complex megolamaniac tyrants of all time. Non materialistic, never truly part of the inteligentia, a loyal
student of Lenin, musician and poet, there has to be a better word than
complex, (maybe we should invent one) that comes close to describing this Georgian monster.
Started reading this book with a little trepidation, but feel as if
my "bravado" has been well rewarded.
In short I feel this book might serve as an introduction to any serious student.
It certainly doesn't tell the whole story, how could such a short volume?
For the inquisitive reader this book is informative and not too distressing.
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VINE VOICEon 22 March 2009
When you hear the name Joseph Stalin, you can't help but shudder at the very utterance of his name. What most of us would imagine is a murderous dictator whose only aim was to gain and keep the power he inherited from his predecessor, the first head of the USSR, Vladimir Lenin. We see him as heartless, cruel and calculating. This picture has mainly been placed in our minds by the Western media during the Cold War. But who is Joseph Stalin, was he really as evil and sinister as we all believe him to be and just what lead him to become the murderous villain we all believe him to be?

This book by Robert Service gives us the answers to the questions we have all asked. He does it in a completely objectionable manner through presenting facts that have recently been made known thanks to the release of unpublished material from the Moscow archives. Not once in this entire book does Service draw upon facts and make his own conclusions; he also does not choose to ignore some facts whilst choosing the more interesting ones. Throughout history, it can happen that a story of a particular event can be told from many different perspectives and told very differently. Robert realises this in the writing of his book so what he does is brings up the numerous different accounts and allows you to think for yourself which perspective may be the most plausible. An example of this would be in the chapter on the death of Stalin's second wife, Nadya. They are at a party together and Nadya leaves the party early and alone leading her to commit suicide. There are numerous accounts as to why Nadya left. One was that Stalin was flirting with the wife of a man who served with him in the Soviet-Polish war, Alexander Yegorov, another story was that he shouted her across the room using the word "you" which she took exception to and another that he flicked a lit cigarette at her. Service presents what he thinks may have been the most likely from what we come to know of Stalin's personality, but ultimately the reader makes the final decision.

Now is the time for admission from my part. I was much like those described in the first paragraph; entirely ignorant to whom Stalin the man really was. I literally know almost nothing about the USSR and the Russian Revolution as a whole, so it was quite silly of me to pick up this book in the hopes of learning a lot more about the Russian Revolution and communism as a whole. Robert Service is a well accomplished academic and this Biography isn't exactly a beginner's guide. However, this book as a whole was very much worth it as I learned a lot about Stalin the man and as a result learned a bit about the USSR, the way in which it ran as a government and also Stalin's main adversaries throughout his life.

So what have I learned about Stalin the man? I have learned a lot and thanks to Service's Biography of Stalin, I actually see a more human and psychological reason behind Stalin's downfall and almost emotionless personality. Although I am not condoning his actions of the past, I can't help but in a lot of respects pity the man. He was a very insecure and paranoid individual. He felt that everyone was against him, even his closest allies. His upbringing in his home country of Georgia was undoubtedly the biggest spark that was to ignite the murderous explosion of Stalin's wrath. This chronicles in detail Stalin from Birth up to death. It talks in detail about his political problems and his family life, those he loved and treated like dirt. Service is a truly talented Biographer and when I know more about the Soviet Union and the Russian Revolution, I will come back to this and hopefully understand it better.
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on 22 August 2014
A very academic study of the man including archival research from records released in the 1980s and '90s. A perfect complement to Simon Sebag Montefiore's biography.
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on 20 June 2013
Gives a lot of information....Does clearly benefit from the new information after the archives has been opened....the author has an excellent style
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on 5 August 2010
I read this book from front to back (well,of course.I'm not going to read it back to front - although some people do) over two weeks (I like to savor the flavor) and I must say it was a great read. What struck me about the book was Service's colorful use of language. Stalin and his henchmen would seem to have been in a constant state of inebriation i.e. drunk as skunks. Well, I suppose you had to be drunk or, at least, it helped (though not in Stalin's case) - to numb your senses and block out the knowledge of the horrors, depravity and obscenity of what Stalin was doing to Russia. Robert Service uses expressions like 'well oiled' and 'having a skinful'.This adds (for me) to the book's appeal. One feels Service would have made a great teacher of history, if the way he writes about it, is anything to go by. Robert says of Stalin: "He could charm a toad out of a tree." Excellent! Of Stalin's decrepit and withered appearance in later years Robert writes:" Stalin looked like a gargoyle that had fallen off a medieval church." Again excellent! The book is peppered with such wonderful insights. Robert throws doubt on whether Stalin's reaction to the death of his wife Nadya had as much effect on Stalin's future behavior as has been generally thought (by other historians). Another thing that struck me about Robert's book was his writing on how insecure Stalin felt - even right up to his death. One feels Stalin thought he could be 'taken out' at any moment. Stalin seems to have never felt safe from his enemies and maybe he was right to feel so. This paranoia of Stalin's was most likely a contributing factor to his maniacal, ruthless and vengeful murderousness.In the final analysis Stalin was nothing more than a homicidal maniac and serial killer with a pen in one hand and a telephone in the other. One dreads to think how many more millions would have perished if Stalin had had access to a computer, a mouse and an iPhone. Robert writes that Stalin himself may have been murdered - poisoned - perhaps by Beria with the help of Stalin's bodyguard. It is a distinct possibility.

A great read. Informative, insightful and entertaining (as even history can and should sometimes be).

Ivan the Terrible
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Good but too detailed and too long. Could have been slightly abridged.
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