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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin. 

In this remarkable, groundbreaking new book Sean McMeekin marks a generational shift in our view of Stalin as an ally in the Second World War. Stalin's only difference from Hitler, he argues, was that he was a successful murderous predator. With Hitler dead and the Third Reich in ruins, Stalin created an immense new Communist empire. Among his holdings were Czechoslovakia and Poland, the fates of which had first set the West against the Nazis and, of course, China and North Korea, the ramifications of which we still live with today.

Until Barbarossa wrought a public relations miracle, turning him into a plucky ally of the West, Stalin had murdered millions, subverted every norm of international behaviour, invaded as many countries as Hitler had and taken great swathes of territory he would continue to keep. In the larger sense the global conflict grew out of not only German and Japanese aggression but Stalin's manoeuvrings, orchestrated to provoke wars of attrition between the capitalist powers in Europe and in Asia. Throughout the war Stalin chose to do only what would benefit his own regime, not even aiding in the effort against Japan until the conflict's last weeks. Above all, Stalin's War uncovers the shocking details of how the US government (to the detriment of itself and its other allies) fuelled Stalin's war machine, blindly agreeing to every Soviet demand, right down to agents supplying details of the atomic bomb.

©2021 Sean McMeekin (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"Gripping, authoritative, accessible and always bracingly revisionist." (Simon Sebag Montefiore)

"McMeekin's approach in Stalin's War is both original and refreshing, written as it is with a wonderful clarity." (Antony Beevor)

What listeners say about Stalin's War

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    3 out of 5 stars

Fascinating, but flawed

I've read a wide range of books on this subject. This is easily one of the more interesting analyses. The author grasps thoroughly the basic point that many have struggled with, that as another great historian has said about the Soviets, 'they were Communists, it wasn't something that they put on in public, it was what they sincerely were.' There are a number of egregious errors, despite the authors praise of his editors. Just to pick up one, referring to Alan Brooke as an Airforce officer, for example, how difficult was that to check? If you're going to discuss military equipment, it might be a good idea to understand what you're talking about. The author doesn't seem to have a firm grasp of where the crew members in a tank are placed, if you want to mention technical faults in T34s, of which there were a great many, it's better to focus on real issues than mangle some that, seemingly, the author doesn't understand himself. For me, that simply undermines credibility elsewhere. That said, the political, diplomatic & economic arenas are what this book is about. The assessment of the roles of Roosevelt and Churchill, and their advisers, especially the advisers is brutal, but firmly based on the evidence base within the text. As a British taxpayer it still rankles that we not only paid our lend-lease debts in full, including interest, having bankrupted our country by 1940; but that the enemy, dedicated to the destruction of our society, were simply had theirs written off at 2cents on the dollar, in 1951. It's on a par with the British [Labour] Governments decision to sell the Rolls-Royce Nene to the Soviets, which went on to power the MiG 15, which our own pilots faced in Korea. Part of a long tale of Communist technology theft, from 1920 onwards, aided and abetted by western companies & governments. As the man himself said, 'When we hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope we use'. Lend-Lease has to be the biggest & best example of that, and the US let the Soviets off the debt. We deserved the cold war, we created it, this book tells that story.

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Excellent revisionist account of Russia in WW2

A gripping listen from the opening paragraphs. The arguments are strong and original. Some facts are just wrong. 2nd SS Panzer was not withdrawn from the Eastern Front after DDay, it was already in France and Max Hastings has written a book about it’s route to Normandy. I was expecting a final chapter to pull everything together, to explain WHY America was so soft on Stalin so was a little disappointed with the last chapters. Overall an excellent listen.

2 people found this helpful

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Stunningly revelatory, a must listen!

I'm normally not partial to explicitly revisionist historical works, as more often than not, they are revisionist just for the sake of being revisionist to make sales, drum up controversy or they are written from a clearly ideological point of view. This book isn't anything like that, it's revisionist to correct major past mistakes with new evidence and a new more objective look at the subject matter. Mind you, some of it is very different from all the other books I've read on the subject, so it does require some more investigation on my part to fully ensure the picture given here is correct, but a very strong case is certainly made.
This book sheds light on the true monstrosity of Stalin and the Soviet state and especially the Western leaders who enabled the Soviets to become a dominant world power and knowingly ignored their heinous crimes. This is a must listen for anyone interested in WW2, history in general or anyone wanting to know why things stand as they do in the current world. It's especially satisfying to have the lies and accepted narratives of the media and academia revealed, as they have always shielded the Soviet Union and communists in general, especially in the current climate where any discussion on these matters is frowned upon or even censored in the West. I can't recommend this highly enough!

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Perspective Altering

My entire view of WW II has been changed by this book, Stalin The Pawnmaster

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Interesting but flawed

The book tries to make a convincing case that Stalin was the real winner of World War 2. It is certainly provocative and entertaining for the most part, though it can get a little repetitive, especially when discussing US Lend Lease Aid to the Soviet Union.
The book is strongest when discussing Soviet expansionism during the period of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. All of this is widely known of course, but few histories look in detail at the territorial gains the Soviet Union made in this period (much of it kept by the Soviet Union and its successor states to this day). Yes, it was probably not realistic for the Western Powers to go to war with Stalin but then they could do little to help Poland either. The question of what would have happened if Britain and France had gone to the aid of Finland, or been provoked by the Soviet invasion of Poland to declare war on the Soviet Union, is one the great “what ifs” of World War 2. That they turned a blind eye to the latter is surely one of the greatest hypocrisies of history, but maybe it was a necessary one.
I am not convinced by the author’s arguments that the Soviets could not have defeated the Nazis without Western help. Recent research on the preparedness of the German army for war in the East suggest Barbarossa was doomed from the start. His attempts to smear Roosevelt - and to a lesser extent Churchill, as dupes of Stalin, spies within the US and “useful idiots” are not convincing either. They were well aware that Stalin was evil and untrustworthy. They were well aware that they would make compromises that would have consequences for millions of people who fell under Communist control. It is difficult to see what else they could have done other than allow millions of people to be treated as subhumans, enslaved and killed by the Nazis. Yes, Eastern Europe suffered 50 years of communist rule but at least most of their children and grandchildren can live in relatively free societies. Had the Nazis won, many of them would not even have been born. Western Europe, including ironically Italy and West Germany, experienced stability and (admittedly delayed in the Iberian nations) democracy.
Probably the most jaw dropping moment for me was right near the end when the author criticises Churchill for not taking Hess’s “peace mission” of May 1941 seriously. We are in conspiracy theory territory here and it is unworthy of a serious academic historian.
So, in summation I would say it is clearly shown that the Soviets gained a lot from World War 2 and they literally got away with murder, but I don’t think many people have ever had much argument with this. However, America emerged as a superpower and Britain emerged free, if greatly diminished, though few would argue its loss of Empire in subsequent years was a bad thing. That they did so was in large part to the sacrifices of the Soviet people. Yes they could have left the Nazis and Soviets to duke it out but the consequences of that would have been a dark age which might still be ongoing. So listen or read and enjoy but not without consulting other books for much needed balance.

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An eye opening look at WWII

Viewing WWII from a different perspective it was easy to become frustrated within our late leaders. Full of statistics it was never boring and the performance was excellent

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Sorry but this is boring beyond endurance

There is exciting and innovative history and there is the dry, plodding procession of detail. This is the latter. The details are great. It is accurate history but like eating sandpaper. Returned.

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  • V. J.
  • 24-08-21

The most fascinating book about WW2

Exciting view. Highly recommend . I’m reading about WW2 for years. This one is a mind blowing