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Customer Review

25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Massively informative, 1 May 2006
This review is from: Stalin and His Hangmen: An Authoritative Portrait of a Tyrant and Those Who Served Him (Paperback)
Rayfield presents an astonishingly detailed account of how Stalin manipulated his underlings into decades of murder, torture, and the systematic destruction of their own country.

I addition to the normal brutal tactics of smashing anyone who go in his way (which some might argue were a legitimate means to an end), Stalin took a special delight in confusing those close to him by sending his favourites off for torture, or by holding grand funerals for people whose murder he himself had arranged. He commissioned a sycophantic biography and then had its author murdered. Many of his top murderers and torturers ended up on the receiving end of the treatment they had meted out. This way, nobody knew where they stood. The book makes it clear that Stalin's aim was absolute power for himself, not any kind of communist dream. The peasants were not producing enough food for the cities, so the answer was to torture and starve the peasants. They still did not produce enough, so the answer was more of the same. Entire nations were sent into slave camps or internal exile (often without even a change of clothing) with no apparent purpose other than to terrify everyone. Even the president of the USSR had to stand by while his wife was tortured and imprisoned. People arrested more or less at random were tortured for months until they "betrayed" the names of totally innocent friends, who would be imprisoned and tortured in their turn. Thus the farms, universities, military etc. lost millions of people, to no apparent end except Stalin's power.

Aside from the relentless horror of Stalin's regime, which gets a lot less popular attention than Hitler's very different brutality, Rayfield does us a favour with staggering amounts of detail. How many hours of Stalin's time a particular acolyte was allowed, who looked at whom in a threatening way at a meeting, exactly how many grammes of bread the slaves in Siberia were allowed per day, how many cattle trucks were used to transport Turkic nomads to into exile and starvation, who betrayed whom after how many weeks of torture, and so on.

I hesitate to find fault with a work of such monumental scholarship, but two things must be said. Firstly, this is not a fun book. You will not sleep well after reading it. Secondly, Rayfield's English is not always easy to read. His word order gets tangled up so you have to read some sentences twice, and many of the translations from Russian don't seem to make sense at all.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone with any interet in Russia, 20th century history, or the nature of dictatorship.
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Initial post: 8 Feb 2011 13:11:38 GMT
Last edited by the author on 8 Feb 2011 13:12:15 GMT
Excellent review - I have just finished the book and was going to write a review of it, but your review was very thorough, so I did not see the need to repeat it all. I would second your recommendations, with a warning that the content is definitely shocking.
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