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Young Stalinby Simon Se Montefiore
Synopses & Reviews
A revelatory account that finally unveils the shadowy journey from obscurity to power of the Georgian cobblers son who became the Red Tsar—the man who, along with Hitler, remains the modern personification of evil.
What makes a Stalin? What formed this merciless psychopath who was, as well, a consummate politician, the dynamic world statesman who helped create and industrialize the USSR, outplayed Churchill and Roosevelt, organized Stalingrad, took Berlin and defeated Hitler?
Young Stalin tells the story of a charismatic, darkly turbulent boy born into poverty, of doubtful parentage, scarred by his upbringing but possessed of unusual talents. Admired as a romantic poet and trained as a priest—both by the time he was in his early twenties—he found his true mission as a fanatical revolutionary. A mastermind of bank robbery, protection rackets, arson, piracy and murder, he was equal parts terrorist, intellectual and brigand. Here is the dramatic story of his friendships and hatreds, his many love affairs—with women from every social stratum and age group—his illegitimate children and his complicated relationship with the Tsarist secret police. Here is Stalin the arch-conspirator and escape artist whose brutal ingenuity so impressed Lenin that Lenin made him, along with Trotsky, top henchman. Montefiore makes clear how the paranoid criminal underworld was Stalins natural habitat, and how murderous Caucasian banditry and political gangsterism, combined with pitiless ideology, enabled Stalin to dominate the Kremlin—and create the USSR in his flawed image.
Based on ten years of research in newly opened archives in Russia and Georgia, Young Stalin—companion to the prizewinning Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar—is a brilliant prehistory of the USSR, a chronicle of the Revolution, and an intimate biography. A thrilling work of history, unparalleled in its scope, full of astonishing new evidence and utterly fascinating: this is how Stalin became Stalin.
"Russian historian and author Montefiore presents an exciting, exemplary biography of the nondescript peasant boy who would become the most ruthless leader in Soviet history, a prequel of sorts to his Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Born in 1878 in the Caucasus of Georgia to an overprotective mother (who had already lost two sons) and a father opposed to education ('I'm a shoemaker and my son will be one too'), Stalin possessed a talent for poetry and mischief. Amidst his mom's trysts (with men she hoped would further Stalin's education), his father's alcohol-fueled violence and the powder-keg environment of the Caucasus, Stalin turned from priesthood training to gang life and petty crime. As he grew, so did his hatred of Tsarist Russia, leading him to meet the initial Bolsheviks, and to more spectacular and violent capers. From the start, Stalin proved a remarkable talent for meticulous planning, a skill that would become vital to the revolutionaries and, later, to his iron-fisted reign. Using recently opened records, Montefiore turns up intriguing new information (like the 'Fagin-like' role he played among 'a prepubescent revolutionary street intelligence' network), Montefiore captures in an absorbing narrative both Stalin's conflicted character-marked by powerful charisma and deep paranoia-and the revolution's early years with stunning clarity." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"For centuries travelers in Caucasia have depicted that mountainous land as a mysterious, enchanted place where the locals are savage and noble, the terrain majestic and wild, the rivers always turbulent. But exoticizing Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan has had a dangerous side effect: a tendency, particularly pronounced among Russians, to demonize Caucasians as bandits, terrorists and cheats. Caucasia's... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) most famous son was one of the greatest tyrants of the 20th century, Joseph Stalin. And so it was probably inevitable that biographers would look for some cultural link with the 'wild East' to explain the ferocity of a man who at his zenith devoured millions of Soviet citizens. British novelist and filmmaker Simon Sebag Montefiore has long been obsessed with Stalin and Caucasia. His initial foray into Staliniana was a comic novel, 'My Affair With Stalin,' in which a malevolent 11-year-old adopts the dictator's tactics to dominate his schoolmates. Reborn as a popular historian, Montefiore wrote biographies of Catherine the Great's lover, Potemkin, and of Stalin at the height of his power. A prodigious researcher, assisted by historians in Russia and Georgia, Montefiore has found new archival sources, interviewed survivors and visited the haunts and homes of the great dictator to produce a prequel to his 700-page 'In the Court of the Red Tsar.' Montefiore enfolds even what is familiar about Stalin in a vivid narrative rich with new details and sensational revelations. The future revolutionary was born in the provincial town of Gori, the son of a shoemaker, Beso Djugashvili, and his stern, religious wife, Keke. Determined that her 'Soso' should become a priest, Keke sent him to seminaries where the precocious boy displayed a talent for singing and poetry and shared the romantic Georgian nationalism of his compatriots. But as a teenager, embittered by the draconian regime of teacher-priests, Soso abandoned both church and nationalism and joined the fledgling Marxist movement. Adopting the nickname 'Koba' from a fictional Georgian outlaw, young Djugashvili soon became a militant activist, leading workers into a bloody confrontation with the police and organizing an armed terrorist band that knocked off enemies and staged daring robberies to finance the party. Stalin was repeatedly arrested and exiled to Siberia, only to escape and resume his work in the revolutionary underground. Rumors spread that he had ties to the tsarist police, but such speculations testify more to his continual intrigues than to any role as an agent of the infamous Okhrana. Leading us through these obscure years of Stalin's revolutionary evolution, Montefiore focuses almost exclusively on his personal rather than political side. Young Stalin is already a 'gangster godfather, audacious bank robber, killer, pirate and arsonist,' a Marxist fanatic with a need to command and dominate. The Caucasus was the essential environment in which this 'murderous egomaniac' was nurtured. The violence of the Russian Empire's southern periphery — where rebellious workers, peasants, anarchists and Marxists vied for power despite the state's brutal reprisals — shaped Stalin's conviction that bloodshed and terror were necessary means to his desired ends. 'Only in Georgia,' Montefiore writes, 'could Stalin the poet enable Stalin the gangster.' Even Koba's intimate relationships were perverse. He neglected his devout and devoted mother; subordinated his first wife to his revolutionary work, which led to her death; and took up with whatever woman, regardless of age, could satisfy his appetites. 'Stalin,' Montefiore claims, 'was attracted to strong women, but ultimately preferred submissive housewives or teenagers.' Stalin as womanizer is a new angle on the man of steel, though the evidence for his sexual exploits, while tantalizing, is extremely thin. In fact, Montefiore's portrait is often overwrought, and as an explanation of Stalin's path to power, it falls short, failing to deal adequately with his politics and thought. There is almost nothing in this book, for instance, on his intense involvement in the internal party squabbles among the Marxists or his role as a theorist of nationalism. Geography may be important, but it is insufficient context for a historian. Growing up in autocratic Russia, where suppression of open political dissent convinced thousands of people that the only way out of backwardness and oppression was armed rebellion, Stalin was in one sense not very unusual. But in another he was unique. His particular talents and lack of scruples enabled him to climb rapidly up the ladder of party politics, to impress Lenin and to build a loyal following. In February 1917, Stalin was far from the action, still exiled in the bitter darkness of eastern Siberia. Yet he was well poised when the revolution opened opportunities for those prepared to seize them. For all its drama, 'Young Stalin' leaves that deadly progression still a mystery. Ronald Grigor Suny, the Charles Tilly Collegiate Professor of Social and Political History at the University of Michigan, is editor of 'The Cambridge History of Russia, vol. III: The Twentieth Century.'" Reviewed by Ronald Grigor Suny, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
Book News Annotation:
Following up on his earlier Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (which won the History Book of the Year Prize at the 2004 British Book Awards), Montefiore here recounts the life of Soviet leader Josef Stalin up to the point of the October Revolution of 1917, focusing on "the intimate and secret, political and personal lives of Stalin and the small circle that ultimately came to create and rule the Soviet Union until the 1960s." He justifies this focus by suggesting that the personalities and patronage of a minuscule oligarchy were the essence of politics under Lenin and Stalin and that, therefore, Stalin's early history of brigandage, political gangsterism, and paranoia are explanatory of much wider issues of Soviet history. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The companion to the acclaimed "Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar" delivers the revelatory account that finally unveils the shadowy journey from obscurity to power of the man who, along with Hitler, personifies evil. 32 pages of photographs.
About the Author
Simon Sebag Montefiore is a historian of Russia whose works have been published in twenty-seven languages. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar was awarded the History Book of the Year Prize at the 2004 British Book Awards. Potemkin: Catherine the Greats Imperial Partner was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson, Duff Cooper and Marsh Biography prizes in Britain. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, novelist and television presenter, Montefiore lives in London with his wife, the novelist Santa Montefiore, and their two children.
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