Top positive review
82 people found this helpful
on 20 May 2007
A simply superb account of Stalin's early years, with an unparalleled depth of research. I had thought that Edward Ellis Smith's 'The Young Stalin' would be near-impossible to beat, but Sebag Montefiore has made important and revealing discoveries, not just in Moscow archives, but crucially in Georgia too.
For the first time, Stalin's pre-Revolutionary career as a professional revolutionary-cum-gangster, organising robberies - including the famous Tiflis one of 1907 - extortion, arson, piracy and murder is comprehensively laid out. But the author also shows that Stalin's political organisational skills, his importance to Lenin and to the Bolshevik movement - and the reasons for them - have been underplayed by enemies like Trotsky, who called him a 'mediocrity', so we get a more fully-rounded view of the young Stalin than was available previously, and one that helps explain his subsequent rise to power.
The author states that the book is the result of almost ten years of research, and he has truly found astonishing new sources. For example, memoirs about Stalin collected in Russia before the Terror in 1937 were often found to be surprisingly frank, tactless or derogatory - but they were not destroyed. They were simply preserved in the archives, and they have survived.
Stalin's attractiveness to women, and an impressive love-life - even when on the run - is laid out too, right down to the secret 1956 KGB investigation into Stalin's seduction and impregnation of a 13-year old girl during one of his Siberian exiles.
The author's interviewees even include a 107-year old woman relative of Stalin's first wife Kato, who told of the young couple's married life, how Stalin's in-laws blamed him for her early death at 22, and how Stalin lost control at the funeral and threw himself into the grave with the coffin.
The style is immensely readable too, never losing sight of the human factors amidst the detail, with well-written, compact chapters.
I enjoyed the author's previous work on Stalin : 'The Court of the Red Tsar', and would recommend both books to anyone interested in the subject matter. (I am also amazed that no televison company seems to have seen the potential to use the books as a basis for documentary programmes.)