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Stalin: A Political Biography

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Stalin, a Political Biography

30 review for Stalin: A Political Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Barry

    UPDATE: finished: Stalin's career, and this biography, cover an intense perid of Russian history from the last decades of the Tsars through revolution, civil war, World War, to the first decades of the nuclear age. It's an epic, brutal, at times heroic, and almost always tragic tale. Stalin seems to have moved across -and shaped - this vast world-historical stage driven more by calculations of immediate political expediency and the whisperings of his inner demons than by any grand design. There i UPDATE: finished: Stalin's career, and this biography, cover an intense perid of Russian history from the last decades of the Tsars through revolution, civil war, World War, to the first decades of the nuclear age. It's an epic, brutal, at times heroic, and almost always tragic tale. Stalin seems to have moved across -and shaped - this vast world-historical stage driven more by calculations of immediate political expediency and the whisperings of his inner demons than by any grand design. There is a lot to reflect on in such a story, and one strength of this biography is that it leaves room for those reflections, without beating the reader over the head with an ideological (or psychological) agenda. UPDATE halfway: Stalin's political behaviour makes sense when viewed in the context of his life. An intelligent child born to an abusive drunkard Father, his earliest life lessons must have been not to trust anyone, to keep his true thoughts hidden, to observe other people keenly, to bide his time and always protect himself against danger. His experiences in the Seminary and as a revolutionary can only have reinforced and rewarded those survival instincts and skills. His early life reads like a recipe for creating a Cunning Murderous Pyschopath. The danger, from the perspective of political history, is that we tend to write-off his career with those last three words, as if they prove there is nothing more to be learned from his story. In death, as in life, Stalin continues to be underestimated as a politician. Aside from the story of the man himself, of course, his biography is also a story of the rise and development of Bolshevism, the Russian revolution, and the Soviet State. A key lesson (informed by Joanthon Schell) I'm drawing from that second story is that while at certain times non-violent revolution (regime overthrow) is easy, social change following a revolution is nearly always hard, and is very often bloody. Most of the time, then, activists might more usefully focus their energy on the slow work of social change than on hopeless charges at the overt ramparts of regime power. EARLY THOUHGTS: It's fascinating to read (from the perspective of Stalin's involvement) about the Bolshevik revolution and realise just how contingent it was, how easily history could have been very different.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Glen

    An exhaustive look into the political biography of Stalin. obviously pre-1956, so the true horror is lacking. Still pretty good, and man other works on Stalin have used it as a source.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    I found parts of the book somewhat challenging, especially as my knowledge of Russian history and the timeline of the revolution are rather limited. Deutscher seems to assume that his readers are relatively well-versed in the essential points, which is probably valid at the time of his authoring. I found the later parts of the book more enjoyable, as I am better acquainted with the overall context of WWII and later 20th Century history. Here, the author provides rich details about Stalin and Sov I found parts of the book somewhat challenging, especially as my knowledge of Russian history and the timeline of the revolution are rather limited. Deutscher seems to assume that his readers are relatively well-versed in the essential points, which is probably valid at the time of his authoring. I found the later parts of the book more enjoyable, as I am better acquainted with the overall context of WWII and later 20th Century history. Here, the author provides rich details about Stalin and Soviet-era psychology that filled in some of the gaps in my knowledge. We get to better understand Stalin's fears and strategy in dealing with his western allies, given the context of the fragile Soviet state, which he had stabilized (albeit with brutish force) as a major power of the 20th Century. I imagine this would have been the case too, for the earlier chapters on Stalin's youth and rapid rise through the lower ranks of the Bolsheviks up to a leadership role in the October Revolution, if I had had a more foundational knowledge of that context. All in all, this is a book where you need to take your time and carefully read the nuanced details of what Isaac Deutscher is explaining, as he has much insight to offer, having lived through those times in proximity to many of the key players. However, I would not recommend it for a novice of the history of the Russian revolution like me.

  4. 4 out of 5

    William West

    The author, Isaac Deutscher, was a devout Trotskyist, which makes the objectivity with which he approaches this most difficult of subjects all the more remarkable. The Stalin he paints is a frightened, self-loathing, miserable man- possessing incomprehensible capacties for ruthlessness, but also remarkable energy and an ability to devote himself entiely to the problem at hand. (He never would have gotten far without that ability to focus on immediate problems, Deutscher suggests, because he cons The author, Isaac Deutscher, was a devout Trotskyist, which makes the objectivity with which he approaches this most difficult of subjects all the more remarkable. The Stalin he paints is a frightened, self-loathing, miserable man- possessing incomprehensible capacties for ruthlessness, but also remarkable energy and an ability to devote himself entiely to the problem at hand. (He never would have gotten far without that ability to focus on immediate problems, Deutscher suggests, because he consistantly displayed a short-sightedness that created unnecessary crises.) Unlike the standard, western "he was SO evil!" acounts, Deutshcer allows that Stalin was an indespensable leader in the struggle against Hitler, and the spread of Soviet influence into easter Europe is presented by Deutscher not as the result of thirst for empire but a desperate need to buffet Russia against a West (either in the form of the Axis or the "Allies") that terrified it. None of this should obscure the fact that the chapters on the purges read like a horror novel, the realization that a seemingly humble, ideologically devoted man was in fact meglamaniacally waiting for the moment when he could deface an entire generation, an entire episode of history, with His Face. The days immediately following Stalin's death sound like they call out to be dramatized by Beckett, or filmed by Bela Tarr.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    If at any point you want to get to the why of the following topics: Communism World War Two 20th Century History Russia/Soviet Union you have to read this book. Stalin for good or for bad was a colossus of the 20th Century. Deutsher writes this essentially political biography, with what I think is the insight of a former believer but without the bitterness or rancour that is often the case. It is by far the best biography of Stalin.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Derek Bridge

    The sub-title makes it clear that this book is not about Stalin, the man. This makes it quite dry. And its vintage (the bulk of it written in 1948) means that there is much that has come to light subsequently of which it is unaware. On the other hand, Deutscher has an almost journalistic familiarity with the events that younger historians cannot tap into. I found it hard-going but worth reading.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Riley

    Isaac Deutscher is one of my favorite historians, and his trilogy on the life of Trotsky is an incredible set of books. This biography of Stalin did less for me, though it is still insightful.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ajax Minor

    I'm on a mini roll, so as long as i've been discussing Isaac Deutscher's trilogy on Trotsky, i might as well wade in on Stalin. i read it in college, in a course about political trials, and was hooked on everything Soviet and Russian. next up was War and Peace and i never looked back. the Russian Revolution is detailed as brilliantly in this history as in any other. Stalin's life and career truly validate the phrase, 'you can't make this stuff up'. i won't repeat what other reviewers have said, b I'm on a mini roll, so as long as i've been discussing Isaac Deutscher's trilogy on Trotsky, i might as well wade in on Stalin. i read it in college, in a course about political trials, and was hooked on everything Soviet and Russian. next up was War and Peace and i never looked back. the Russian Revolution is detailed as brilliantly in this history as in any other. Stalin's life and career truly validate the phrase, 'you can't make this stuff up'. i won't repeat what other reviewers have said, but simply remark: READ IT. one question that haunted me after i finished the book was, 'what would had happened had 1) Lenin lived a great deal longer and 2) what if Trotsky had read Lenin's will at the Party Congress and denounced (and bounced) Joe? would he have matched Stalin's achievement in WWII, holding Hitler at bay, given his brilliant execution for the Reds during the Civil War?

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Warner

    At university I studied Quantum Chemistry but was friends with a lot of people studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and often was mistaken for being either someone studying PPE or Theology LOL This book was part of my wider reading on history and politics that I did when I was an undergraduate and it earned me the nickname of "Stalin" amongst a few of the people in the year below me - I think it was because I read it in the Junior Common Room and in the bar at college - it was for on At university I studied Quantum Chemistry but was friends with a lot of people studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and often was mistaken for being either someone studying PPE or Theology LOL This book was part of my wider reading on history and politics that I did when I was an undergraduate and it earned me the nickname of "Stalin" amongst a few of the people in the year below me - I think it was because I read it in the Junior Common Room and in the bar at college - it was for one term the "book in my bag". Deutscher possibly because he didn't like Stalin does a good deal of research on him and the early Soviet Union. It is not a hatchet-job in the way it could have been but it was not a hagiography. It is how I like my political biographies.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Katie Brennan

    amazingly clear-sighted despite being written in '49. kept thinking about how hard it would be to write a biography of a man who had so much influence and impact yet didn't seem to tell a soul what he was really thinking -- so here you get his maneuverings in detail, but also a sense that he's not there at all. i won't blame deutscher for this though. SO MUCH INTRIGUE, so many tears.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Gage Hoefer

    Fairly even handed for a Trotskyist, though Deutscher sometimes embarrassingly shows his hand when describing Trotsky and his writings during the '30's. I also think he tends to read too much of the life of Bonaparte and Robespierre into the life and choices of Stalin. Overall, pretty good book

  12. 5 out of 5

    William Sariego

    A classic, and still one of the better biographies available, despite its age.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    This could have been a turgid mess, but Deutscher keeps it interesting and relevant. A good book for anyone interested in Russian history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lara

    Stalin, una biografía política, ha constituido desde su publicación el libro base para estudiar el periodo que va de 1924 a 1953 en la Unión Soviética. Cuatro aspectos esenciales a tener en cuenta al leer el libro: 1) El autor, Isaac Deutscher, es un de los teóricos marxistas más importantesd el siglo pasado. Por lo tanto, más que una biografía, enfocada en las vivencias del individuo en cuestión, es un estudio de carácter histórico y sociológico, que pone en primer lugar las condiciones objetiva Stalin, una biografía política, ha constituido desde su publicación el libro base para estudiar el periodo que va de 1924 a 1953 en la Unión Soviética. Cuatro aspectos esenciales a tener en cuenta al leer el libro: 1) El autor, Isaac Deutscher, es un de los teóricos marxistas más importantesd el siglo pasado. Por lo tanto, más que una biografía, enfocada en las vivencias del individuo en cuestión, es un estudio de carácter histórico y sociológico, que pone en primer lugar las condiciones objetivas con que se fueron enfrentando los diversos actores en esos turbulentos años. 2) La postura política del autor, abiertamente trotskista, no influye como se esperaría en el balance general de la obra. Al contrario, como se especifica en el prólogo, fue recibida de formas totalmente antagónicas al momento de su publicación. Por un lado, los trotskistas y la derecha lo acusaron de ser un estalinista encubierto, mientras que los comunistas cercanos al bloque soviético lo acusaron de falsificador y calumniador de Stalin. Algo sí es seguro, si el el lector espera encontrar las clásicas calumnias contra Stalin, según las cuáles es igual o peor que el mismo Hitler, entonces quedará muy decepcionado al leer esta obra. 3) Desde su publicación, pero fundamentalmente desde la caída de la Unión Soviética, han salido a la luz un conjunto de documentos y nueva evidencia que han contribuido a enriquecer y a reabrir el debate en la historiografía soviética. Por lo tanto, algunos de los puntos que menciona Deutscher en su libro, a posteriori se han demostrado exagerados o sencillamente falsos. La identificación de estos puntos requiere de la lectura de historiografía moderna acerca de la Unión Soviética (ver, por ejemplo Losurdo, Stalin, Historia y crítica de una leyenda negra). 4) Como un corolario, el capítulo final, agrado años después, que narra el periodo 45-53, se encuentra fuertemente influenciado por "el informe secreto" de Kruschov y el proceso de desestalinización que se siguió.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kosta Barlas

    Great book for a history of the era. Deutscher goes beyond the standard, lazy, cold-war tropes that explain all the events in the USSR in this era by way of Stalin's personal megalomania and evil and looks at the material conditions underpinning every development. Outside of maybe a couple of lapses (impressively few given its 650 page length), Deutscher has given us a principled analysis that gives credit where credit's due while not sparing anyone, Stalin, Trotsky, or anybody else, from rightf Great book for a history of the era. Deutscher goes beyond the standard, lazy, cold-war tropes that explain all the events in the USSR in this era by way of Stalin's personal megalomania and evil and looks at the material conditions underpinning every development. Outside of maybe a couple of lapses (impressively few given its 650 page length), Deutscher has given us a principled analysis that gives credit where credit's due while not sparing anyone, Stalin, Trotsky, or anybody else, from rightful criticism. This lack of bias is especially impressive given that Deutscher was a Trotskyist who wrote a three-part biography of Trotsky with the hilariously hagiographic titles 'The Prophet Armed', 'The Prophet Unarmed', and 'The Prophet Outcast'. A profoundly well-researched work, I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a principled materialist history and critique of the USSR under Stalin.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bazookayaya

    The best Stalin biography. It's a wonderful assessment as the author is a Marxist looking at the protagonist through a neutral lens from the Left. While Isaac Deutscher is known to have written the famous Prophet trilogy on Trotsky, make no mistake : the latter is criticized here for his idealist tendencies, bias in his views of Stalin as well as tendency not to anticipate Koba's next moves and potential. The work is utterly addictive and just as well written as The Prophet. One can get a clear The best Stalin biography. It's a wonderful assessment as the author is a Marxist looking at the protagonist through a neutral lens from the Left. While Isaac Deutscher is known to have written the famous Prophet trilogy on Trotsky, make no mistake : the latter is criticized here for his idealist tendencies, bias in his views of Stalin as well as tendency not to anticipate Koba's next moves and potential. The work is utterly addictive and just as well written as The Prophet. One can get a clear understanding of Joseph Djugashvili's character against the backdrop of unique historical events and their material basis. Utterly thorough, great Marxist work from one of the best political writers ever.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brendan James

    From a biographer widely-known as an admirer of Trotsky, a bio of Stalin that's at times downright flattering. Final chapter -- added after Stalin's death -- is much more critical. Excellent detail on the political twists and turns not only of Stalin but of the Bolsheviks in general. Surprisingly breezy read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Varun Sadasivan

    As this is a propaganda biography and not an independent work , everything must be taken with a bucketful of salt and pepper. This book is a great insight into how the soviet government wanted to project Stalin as a leader , while reading the book I get a feel that the way it has been written it is intended towards people outside the USSR.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ahmed Hassan

    رغم كل فظائعه وجرائمه سيظل هو مؤسس روسيا الحديثه يكفيه أنه حول روسيا من بلد متخلف من القرون الوسطي الي بلد صنع القنبله الهيدروجينية وكل ذلك ف عشرين عاما فقط اهم ما يميز الكتاب الموضوعية ف النقد وتناول عيوب استالين بكل حيادية

  20. 5 out of 5

    David

    I think his treatment of Trotsky is superior but this is a wonderful biography of stalin without discernable slant for or against.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kasandra Mavrigiannaki

    Really good - one of the two books I used for my Russian history coursework that focused on Stalin's industrialisation efforts.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Þorvarður

    Excellent biography of Stalin, highly recommend.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Scot McAtee

    On the advice of a good friend, I picked this book up whilst living in Inchon, Korea in 1996. I wasn't really sure it would be worth the read, but what I really wanted to know was how the man got to be so powerful. It was a good read, and fifteen years later, I still recall passages from this book. I wouldn't say that it's a thrilling read, but anyone interested in Twentieth Century history will enjoy it. I wish that American high schools did a better job covering the 20th century but since we hi On the advice of a good friend, I picked this book up whilst living in Inchon, Korea in 1996. I wasn't really sure it would be worth the read, but what I really wanted to know was how the man got to be so powerful. It was a good read, and fifteen years later, I still recall passages from this book. I wouldn't say that it's a thrilling read, but anyone interested in Twentieth Century history will enjoy it. I wish that American high schools did a better job covering the 20th century but since we hit WW2 and then cherry pick everything since, books like this have helped me to fill in the holes of why things today are the way they are.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    This is the first book I have read about the Man of Steel and I would be happy to recommend it to anyone, even though the parts that seems to argue the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union were 'progressive' are dubious to say the least. Considering this book what first written when Stalin was still alive, it is a considerable achievement.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Karl

    A bit dry in parts, but very detailed and informative.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rodolfo Paes de Farias

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jill

  28. 4 out of 5

    Yuri Sharon

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bob Lefebvre

  30. 4 out of 5

    Deniz Kabaağaç

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