Edvard Radzinsky writes compelling and historically detailed biographies. I first read his "The Last Tsar" and found it fascinating. I received this book at about the same time, prior to my retirement, but was continually distracted from diving into it. Finally, on August 6, 2011, I began reading this tome and kept reading it, a bit at a time, through October 25, 2011. Why did it take me so long? I found myself mesmerized by the depiction of evil present in these pages. Stalin died a couple of years after I was born, but I knew far more about Hitler, who died more than five years before I was born. I knew Stalin was a tough man, who reached adulthood in tough times, but I never realized how truly diabolical he was. Radzinsky is far from neutral in his depiction of this man he had idolized as a child and came to question as he grew older. Yet, the author is very clear to distinguish supposition or deduction from documented fact. The documented facts are hideous enough, anyway. Caesar Augustus is said to have declared, "Better to be Herod's pig than his son." Similarly, it was extremely dangerous to be considered Stalin's friend or protege. If there are people, and I believe there are, who inspire those around them to be better than they otherwise might be, Stalin seemed uniquely able to do the opposite. He corrupted those around them and turned them into his assassins, all the while preparing to assassinate them, once he had rung every ounce of evil from them.
So was Stalin a monster or a man? Clearly a man, but one capable of truly monstrous acts. Was he ignorant or ingenious? Clearly ingenious, but always hiding his genius to profess ignorance to his adoring public for the terrible things he made happen. Was he a Communist or an Imperialist? On the surface a devoted Communist, but underneath the most effective and ruthless Tsar Russia has ever known.