Simon Montefiore: Stalin

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Simon Montefiore Stalin
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    Vintage Books, Random House Inc.
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    История / Биографии и Мемуары / на английском языке
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    New York
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Stalin: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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This widely acclaimed biography provides a vivid and riveting account of Stalin and his courtiers—killers, fanatics, women, and children—during the terrifying decades of his supreme power. In a seamless meshing of exhaustive research and narrative plan, Simon Sebag Montefiore gives us the everyday details of a monstrous life. We see Stalin playing his deadly game of power and paranoia at debauched dinners at Black Sea villas and in the apartments of the Kremlin. We witness first-hand how the dictator and his magnates carried out the Great Terror and the war against the Nazis, and how their families lived in this secret world of fear, betrayal, murder, and sexual degeneracy. Montefiore gives an unprecedented understanding of Stalin’s dictatorship, and a Stalin as human and complicated as he is brutal. Fifty years after his death, Stalin remains one of the creators of our world. The scale of his crimes has made him, along with Hitler, the very personification of evil. Yet while we know much about Hitler, Stalin and his regime remain mysterious. Now, in this enthralling history of Stalin’s imperial court, the fear and betrayal, privilege and debauchery, family life and murderous brutality are brought blazingly to life. Who was the boy from Georgia who rose to rule the Empire of the Tsars? Who were his Himmler, Göring, Goebbels? How did these grandees rule? How did the “top ten” families live? Exploring every aspect of this supreme politician, from his doomed marriage and mistresses, and his obsession with film, music and literature, to his identification with the Tsars, Simon Sebag Montefiore unveils a less enigmatic, more intimate Stalin, no less brutal but more human, and always astonishing. Stalin organised the deadly but informal game of power amongst his courtiers at dinners, dances, and singsongs at Black Sea villas and Kremlin apartments: a secret, but strangely cosy world with a dynamic, colourful cast of killers, fanatics, degenerates and adventurers. From the murderous bisexual dwarf Yezhov to the depraved but gifted Beria, each had their role: during the second world war, Stalin played the statesman with Churchill and Roosevelt aided by Molotov while, with Marshal Zhukov, he became the triumphant warlord. They lived on ice, killing others to stay alive, sleeping with pistols under their pillows; their wives murdered on Stalin’s whim, their children living by a code of lies. Yet they kept their quasi-religious faith in the Bolshevism that justified so much death. Based on a wealth of new materials from Stalin’s archives, freshly opened in 2000, interviews with witnesses and massive research from Moscow to the Black Sea, this is a sensitive but damning portrait of the Genghis Khan of our epoch. * * *

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Simon Sebag Montefiore


The Court of the Red Tsar


Lily Bathsheba

Praise for Simon Sebag Montefiore’s STALIN

“A marvelously well-researched book…. Montefiore has written a supremely important book about Joseph Stalin, a biography that other scholars will find hard to equal. This is sure to be one of the outstanding books of the year.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Ultra reader-friendly, lively, gossipy and packaged with revelations about the intimacies and intrigues of Stalin the man and his courtiers. Brilliant.”

—Evening Standard Book Page

“A book that had to be written…. Montefiore’s biography is far different from anything in this genre. A superb piece of research and frighteningly lucid.”

The Washington Times

“Gripping and timely…. Montefiore has illuminated wider aspects of the history of the USSR. This is one of the few recent books on Stalinism that will be read in years to come.”

—Robert Service, The Guardian (London)

“Montefiore combines his research among the primary sources and the fruits of his interviews into a focused, gripping story about a man, who, along with Mao, Hitler and Genghis Khan, has to be in the running for history’s greatest mass murderer.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“[A] masterful and terrifying account of Stalin as seen within his close entourage…. Seldom has the picture been put in finer focus than by Montefiore.”

—Alistair Horne, The Times (London)

“Horrific, revelatory and sobering…. A triumph of research.”

—John le Carré, The Observer

“I loved the totalitarian high baroque sleaze of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Stalin…. One of the 2004 Guardian Books of the Year.”

—Simon Schama, The Guardian (London)

“A grim masterpiece shot through with lashes of black humor…. The personal details are riveting.”

—Antonia Fraser, Mail on Sunday

“A well-researched and insightful book…. The narrative adroitly catches the atmosphere of the time.”

Los Angeles Times Book Review

“I did not think I could learn anything new about Stalin, but I was wrong. A stunning performance.”

—Henry Kissinger

“An extraordinary book and Simon Sebag Montefiore might well be one of the very few people who could possibly have written it…. For anyone fascinated by the nature of evil—and by the effects of absolute power on human relationships—this book will provide insights on every page.”

—Anne Applebaum, Evening Standard

“Montefiore’s deft combination of biography and history brings Stalin alive, so that he becomes as complex and contradictory as any of the great characters in fiction.”

The New York Sun

“If you plan (wisely) to read only one book about Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, let it be Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Simon Sebag Montefiore, writing with the skill of a novelist… has based his highly readable biographical thriller solidly and factually not only on all of the preceding scholarly studies of the Soviet dictator but also upon newly available archival materials.”

The Seattle Times

“A large and ambitious overview—and under-view—of the Soviet leader’s life and epoch, drawn from an impressively wide array of Russian sources.”

The Atlantic Monthly

“Spectacular…. An impressive and compelling work, using important new documents.”

The Spectator

“Sebag Montefiore has done a valuable service in drawing our attention to a hitherto little-studied aspect of Stalinism. As his Stalin demonstrates, the personal relationships of those who ran the Kremlin provided an essential dynamic for the development of the Stalinist system. Isolated from the masses, these members of the privileged elite depended on one another for emotional sustenance to an extraordinary degree.”

The Times Literary Supplement (London)

Introduction and Acknowledgements

I have been helped generously by many people in this enterprise from Moscow and St. Petersburg to Sukhumi, from Tbilisi to Buenos Aires and Rostov-on-Don. My aim here was simply to write a portrait of Stalin, his top twenty potentates, and their families, to show how they ruled and how they lived in the unique culture of his years of supreme power. This does not pretend to be a history of his foreign and domestic policies, his military campaigns, his youth or the struggle with Trotsky. This is a chronicle of his court from his acclamation as “the leader” in 1929 to his death. It is a biography of his courtiers, a study of high politics and informal power and customs. In a way, this is a biography of Stalin himself through his relationships with his magnates: he is never off-stage.

My mission was to go beyond the traditional explanations of Stalin as “enigma,” “madman” or “Satanic genius,” and that of his comrades as “men without biographies,” dreary moustachioed sycophants in black-and-white photographs. Deploying the arsenal of new archives and unpublished memoirs, my own interviews, and well-known materials, I hope Stalin becomes a more understandable and intimate character, if no less repellent. I believe the placing of Stalin and his oligarchs in their idiosyncratic Bolshevik context as members of a military-religious “order of sword-bearers” explains much of the inexplicable. Stalin was utterly unique but many of his views and features, such as dependence on death as a political tool, and his paranoia, were shared by his comrades. He was a man of his time, so were his magnates.

Molotov and Beria are probably the most famous of them but many are not well known in the West. Yezhov and Zhdanov gave their names to epochs yet remain shadowy. Some, such as Mekhlis, have hardly been covered even by academics. Mikoyan was admired by many; Kaganovich widely despised. They may have presented a grey mask to the outside world but many were flamboyant, dynamic and larger-than-life. The new access to their correspondence and even their love letters will at least make them live.

In telling their stories, this is inevitably a cautionary tale: of the many mass murderers chronicled here, only Beria and Yezhov were prosecuted (and not for their true crimes). The temptation has been to blame all the crimes on one man, Stalin. There is an obsession in the West today with the cult of villainy: a macabre but inane competition between Stalin and Hitler to find the “world’s most evil dictator” by counting their supposed victims. This is demonology not history. It has the effect of merely indicting one madman and offers us no lesson about either the danger of utopian ideas and systems, or the responsibility of individuals.

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