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Summary

Josef Stalin exercised supreme power in the Soviet Union from 1929 until his death in 1953. During that quarter century, by Oleg Khlevniuk's estimate, he caused the imprisonment and execution of no fewer than a million Soviet citizens per year. Millions more were victims of famine directly resulting from Stalin's policies. What drove him toward such ruthlessness?

This essential biography, by the author most deeply familiar with the vast archives of the Soviet era, offers an unprecedented, fine-grained portrait of Stalin, the man and dictator. Without mythologizing Stalin as either benevolent or an evil genius, Khlevniuk resolves numerous controversies about specific events in the dictator's life while assembling many hundreds of previously unknown letters, memos, reports, and diaries into a comprehensive, compelling narrative of a life that altered the course of world history.

In brief, revealing prologues to each chapter, Khlevniuk takes his reader into Stalin's favorite dacha, where the innermost circle of Soviet leadership gathered as their vozhd lay dying. Chronological chapters then illuminate major themes: Stalin's childhood, his involvement in the Revolution and the early Bolshevik government under Lenin, his assumption of undivided power and mandate for industrialization and collectivization, the Terror, World War II, and the postwar period. At the book's conclusion, the author presents a cogent warning against nostalgia for the Stalinist era.

Cover image: "Stalin is our banner!" poster, 1948. Collection of the Russian State Library, Moscow. © Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy, Reportage/Archival image.

©2015 Oleg Khlevniuk; Yale University (Translation) (P)2018 Audible, Inc.

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    2 out of 5 stars

Not bad, but...

This book is a modern review, stating that it uses new material from the ex soviet archives. It is a good general review of Stalin’s life, suitable for someone who wants to find out about this man and his life and times.

The archival material is not very prevalent throughout the book, and it is neither very illuminative nor does it give us new insights, so if you are a seasoned reader of books on this topic, it adds very little.

The narration is very good, and manages to tread a fine line between keeping the narrative flowing whilst recognising the numbers of death and human misery under discussion are truly breathtaking.

Overall, a good introductory book for the first time reader, read well.

12 people found this helpful

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Disappointing

Boring narrative ,lacking in insight and analysis.Fails to illuminate any of the personalities. Very disappointing particularly given the author's access to new archival material.

6 people found this helpful

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Both fascinating & important

For anyone interested in the political and everyday history of the Soviet Union, this book is invaluable, as well as very interesting. It is an objective account written by an insider, an Ukrainian with access to the newly opened Soviet archives, and reveals much that was hitherto unknown about those years. He shows Stalin, the man, as well as Stalin, the dictator. I definitely recommend it for anyone who understands the importance of history.

5 people found this helpful

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A good book but a lacklustre narrator

The book itself is a good introduction to stalin, and if the author released a longer edition similar to Ian Kershaws - Hitler, I would definitely get it. However, the narrator almost made me return the book. Every sentence feels slightly isolated from the last and so there is a distinct lack of of emphasis, punctuation and a monotone intonation. I wouldn't listen to a book with this narrator again.

2 people found this helpful

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Two thumbs down for the narration

The narrators delivery is the finest monotone. He manages to make Stalin and the history of Russia seem extremely boring.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Mr
  • 21-02-21

Get past the narrator to enjoy a great biography.

I chose to ignore the previous reviews about the narrator, if you can get past the lack of intonation, inflection or emotion in his performance, you'll find a thoroughly engaging and interesting biography of Stalin.

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Brilliant

I really enjoyed this biography and learnt a lot that WWII history lessons at school didn't mention.
Fascinating, horrific and sad.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent work

I am absolutely fascinated by this very meticulous and carefully written historical work. Thanks for pursuing this vocation of yours Oleg... I wish I could do it as well as you.

Skuli Gudmundsson

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boring narrator

some information didn't seem completely backed up but maybe it was referenced in a physical copy? appreciated dissection of stalin's character and think will listen again to take it all in.

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Beautiful translation

This was a wonderful 101 course on Stalin. Nora Seligman Favorov's translation was beautiful and Peter Ganim's narration was extremely clear, erudite and pleasant to listen to.

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  • Neil
  • 12-01-20

Loved it, but wouldn't want to live it

I loved the book, I initially didn't like the narration, but for real information he was great. Don't need too much drama. Stalin was one of the worst humans in history second only to Mao. Hitler was a freshman compared to these thugs. The book followed Stalin throughout his political life and hits you with historical facts throughout. I had to closely listen. The only drawback I found was it bounced forward and back with history. I am sure there are longer books on Stalin, but plenty of information here to get who this cold serial dictator killer was.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Gary O.
  • 17-11-19

Great book.

Great and unbiased bio of Stalin. Beware of wanting socialism and the people who push it. Inevitably you will end up with someone like Stalin.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Skeptical DoDo
  • 14-03-20

Stalin and Trump

Many are comparing trump to hitler, but after hearing this book I would say he is more like Stalin. It also gives great insight to the Russian people and the hold that Putin has on them.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Hokkaido
  • 08-07-19

Nuanced and clever

Great book in the genre of biographies of the worst dictators of the 20th century. Interesting thoughts on new Russian biographies of Stalin, trying different ways to rehabilitate him. Also very sympathetic that the author lets the reader know quite a bit about his historical method and about his ideas on writing biographies. Not only Stalin comes to life - he grew his own melons and enjoyed gardening - but also large parts of the political system and quite a bit of social history, fascinating and, of course, often very bleak and grim.

3 people found this helpful

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  • brian
  • 22-03-18

A well researched picture

An excellent look at Stalin, thanks to new information from archives debunking many myths and theories. Perhaps it's not the ultimate biography, but, it comes very close.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Jake S
  • 13-03-21

Informative; Bland Narration

I feel I had a great deal to learn from this book, but at times I struggled paying attention with the very bland narration.

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  • Phill
  • 06-07-20

Great content but poor narration

The book is not structured in a chronological sequence which makes it a little challenging. The narrator's voice is not fitting for this title, the researcher had done a great job in gather the information. As mentioned before this book doesn't lack content.

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  • Burt R. Weissman
  • 28-05-20

Review of “Stalin”, by Oleg Khlevniuk

Well written story complemented by lively and riveting narration. Well-organized chapter division. One of the better biographies on this, the cruelest tyrant in Russias’s long and tortured history.

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  • noisick
  • 05-04-20

kudos to the Russian and Chinese pronunciation!

As a native Chinese who also speak Russian, I was pleasantly surprised by how the performer nailed the a few Chinese names’ pronunciation. The Russian pronunciation was mostly on point as well. I know this is trivia but I am impressed, given how foreign names are usually slaughtered on mass media nowadays.

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  • Robert
  • 06-03-20

Solid Bio of Stalin

This is a solid bio of Stalin. It covers all the major events in his life and provides the most up to date info about him (ie, after Soviet archives where opened up after 1991).