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3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,117 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
Overthrowing the conventional image of Stalin as an uneducated political administrator inexplicably transformed into a pathological killer, Robert Service reveals a more complex and fascinating story behind this notorious twentieth-century figure. Drawing on unexplored archives and personal testimonies gathered from across Russia and Georgia, this is the first full-scale b ...more
Paperback, 715 pages
Published October 1st 2006 by Belknap Press (first published 2004)
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Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Caroline by: Kaput
Shelves: history, world
In reading this book I was undoubtedly punching above my weight. Much of it – mostly the political shiftings and chicanery described - went over my head. I also found the book fairly unstructured. This was probably because of my ignorance of the historical events of the period. No matter - time and time again I went to blesséd Wikipedia for overviews, and got a better grip on what I was reading.

For me, the more I read the book the more interesting it became. I was particularly fascinated to lear
Apr 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I just finished Robert Service's biographies of both Lenin and Stalin. His are probably the definitive biographies in that he is the only person to have written with access to Soviet records available since the demise of the USSR. It's interesting to compare both figures.

Both were cruel and dictatorial. While Lenin had no problem ordering people to be shot or sent to the Gulag, his demeanor was more hard hearted and apathetic to his victims. Whereas Stalin actually seemed to enjoy his persecutio
Mikey B.
Stalin as Communist Emperor

A very readable biography of Stalin that describes his entire life, from his beginnings in Georgia to the top of the Soviet Union. His relationship to Lenin and other members of the Bolshevik clique and his rise to power are all chronicled.

There is a letter from Tito to Stalin that was found in Stalin's desk drawer shortly after he died. Tito, in this letter, is out-dueling Stalin in threatening assassination attempts. It encapsulates the gangster tactics of the entire
Czarny Pies
May 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in World History
Shelves: european-history
This is a very well researched book. Robert Service makes the disconcerting decision to draw a balanced portrait of Stalin rather than simply demonizing him.

Stalin was a poet, a charmer, a politician, a bad father and a mean drunk. He proved to be a masterful negotiator with foreign powers and a highly skilled builder of political alliances. He had an intelligent view of Russia's ethnic minorities which allowed him to build a moderately successful union of communist states.

In Service's view, the
Robert Morrow
Apr 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Boy, am I glad this book is behind me! That comment has nothing to do with the quality of writing or the strength of the narrative. It has everything to do with the character of Joseph Stalin, a man completely devoid of any thought that human life had value. Spending much time with any truly evil person, be it Hitler, Stalin or Mao is a depressing experience.

The author opens the book strongly, going through Stalin's childhood and youth in as much detail as is available. We learn that he was alre
Jan 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Allegedly written using new and previously unused material, despite the fact that a look at the notes shows almost 80 percent secondary sources. The chapter titled "the big three" was particularly poor in this respect, as it relied almost entirely on Churchill's memoirs which if I am not mistaken were written after both Roosevelt and Stalin were dead, thus making it a suspect source of information by itself. The book is a biography NOT a general history of Soviet Russia, and must be treated as s ...more
Jul 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I struggled with the writing style in places (the writing is kind of odd, somehow choppy. It's almost like it had been translated from another language, which as far as I can tell it hasn't) and got annoyed with the author in other places ('Was Stalin an anti-Semite? Definitely no. Well, kind of. A little bit. Yes.') but I wanted to know the information in it, so I read it. If you want to know about Stalin, this is a great book to read, but the experience of reading it may not be great. I can't ...more
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Service, um, services us best when balancing Stalin's horrific actions with his delicate human side -- like he says, Stalin was a murderer, but he was also a poet and theorist. This bio falls short of greatness when subjects worthy of essays or new books are stuffed into tiny paragraphs: "A rapprochement took place with Tito's Yugoslavia. Overtures were made to the USA for a lessening of international tensions. The Korean War was brought to a close." Etc. Detail is the heart of literature, and t ...more
Apr 13, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Probably the best of the three Service books about the Russian Communist leaders, but still very weak. Poorly written, both stylistically and logically - there are places where reference is made to something that hasn't been described yet as if it has, and occasionally where it isn't at all. Neither chronologically nor thematically coherent. And, of course, the author feels a need to remind us every seven seconds that Stalin is super-evil, presumably to counteract the weirdly fawning attitude he ...more
Elizabeth Barnard
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was comprehensive and a really good breakdown of a complex figure. It was obviously organised chronologically, but also thematically which was helpful for me as that's how I'm shaping the essay I read it for. The chapters were also short (about 10 pages) which I enjoyed, because it meant that I could read it little and often.
If I had one complaint, it would be that it didn't go as in depth on specific topics as I was hoping it would; however, to be fair, it was only 600 pages long. Neverth
Mark Mirimsky
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was ok

Non fiction Biography
By: Robert service
I chose to read this book because I wanted to find out about soviet union.
Book is about Stalin.
Osip of Siberia.
He grows.
His childhood was a challenge.

I wanted the book to be about also USSR more but better I would take a book about USSR not a biography.
Where we're not quite a story.
100 years recommended from me.
I learned few facts about Stalin.
Rating out of ten (4).
I would recommend a book to a friend only if he's interested in it.
I didn
Iósef Stalin es una de las figuras más famosas de la historia. Ordenó asesinatos sistemáticos a gran escala. Durante sus años de poder y boato, desde finales de la década de los veinte hasta su muerte en 1953, personificó el orden comunista soviético. La Revolución de octubre de 1917 había dado origen en Rusia a una dictadura de partido único y de ideología única que sirvió de modelo de transformación social para un tercio de la superficie del globo después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Aunque L ...more
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An even-handed biography of one of history's great monsters. Despite its academic tone, the book makes for fairly easy, but not page-turning reading. Service challenges the notion of Stalin as the colorless, murderous bureaucrat who hijacked and derailed Lenin's utopian scheme by showing us the Stalin who was both a poet of some early repute but also a determined political in-fighter who inherited Lenin's notions of the state using terror against its own population to achieve its political goals ...more
Nov 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing

Une oeuvre magistrale qui pour la première fois sort des schémas simplistes d'historiens partisans ne pouvant rien voir au delà du despote sanguinaire. Staline est décrit dans toute sa complexité et ses contradictions. C'est un organisateur disposant d'une immense capacite de travail, un homme de convictions révolutionnaires qui connait et comprend toute la machine du parti, un tyran sans scrupules qui s'insère dans toutes les décisions - politiques, économiques, militaires, culturelles, scienti
Jan 06, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This is a great second biography to read about Stalin, though I'm not sure what should be the first. Either that, or you have to have a thorough understanding of Russian history before embarking on this book, because it takes too much for granted, including details about Stalin's own acts.

The point of this book is that it is one of the first biographies since the opening of Soviet archives in recent years, and thus it covers a lot that was previously only anecdotal, and Stalin for one made sure
Christopher Saunders
Rather dry assessment of the Soviet dictator. Service's research is formidable and he provides some interesting perspectives on Stalin. He shows that Stalin was less power-hungry pragmatist than ideologue with his own ideas on Marxism. Stalin's model of state socialism wasn't any less intellectually sound than Trotsky's airy proposition of "Permanent Revolution" - Stalin just lacked Trotsky's arrogance. Nonetheless, no reader will come away from this book thinking Stalin any less of a monster: h ...more
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is everything it says on the blurb. My only quibble is that it is wearying to read the life story of such an unattractive person - unattractive at every level: in his personal life; emotionally; psychologically; socially; and professionally. However, he was a consummate political operator. Service does a great job of producing a very readable account of someone we should collectively forget and he dos his best to highlight his strengths. Excellent analysis of the Bolsheviks along the way.

Duncan Cameron
Feb 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
No matter how hard Robert Service tries to humanize Stalin in order to
sympathetically portray his tyrannical psyche and thus carry the reader, it can still be quite a disturbing read. In saying that, it's also a very enlightening and strangely entertaining version of events.
If you're looking for an explanation or analysis of the mind that's responsible for 20 million deaths, then this book isn't for you. Service hints at the reasons but concentrates on the facts.
Stalin has to be one of the most
Mihai Popa
Apr 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A strange book about an even stranger and darker historical character, who shaped modern history of Eastern Europe like nobody else. The book looks like a surgery manual on tumoral entities, well documented and written, although not always precise (e.g. Ana Pauker, a prominent Romanian communist, was not executed, it was her husband, Marcel, who was shot). In a way, this book changed my perception on the crazy years after WWII in Romania and in the entire Soviet block as well as on the communist ...more
Michael Kocher
Jun 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Service as always does a serviceable job in detailing the main events of the life of his subjects but as a biographer he is incredibly flawed. All of his biographies of the big three revolutionary figures go heavily into Service's own opinions about their worth. 'Stalin' is an odd one as it appears that Service actually seems to admire a great deal about one of history's greatest butchers. Service appears to suggest that minute details about Stalin are applicable in dissecting the whole. Service ...more
Titus Hjelm
Jan 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like 'Lenin', this is a great biography, well worth the 5 stars. I thought about giving it four first, because the book is much less (or so it feels) about Stalin himself than the Lenin volume. But this isn't really the author's fault. Stalin was secretive and much less survives of his personal story. As with Lenin, Service tries to understand Stalin's actions, even those that have made him famous as the wickedest man that ever lived. If Lenin took quite a few steps away from Marx in implementin ...more
Apr 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
I had to give a presentation on why Stalin was a better leader than Lenin, and aside from the fact that there was never even one attempt on his life (unlike Lenin--although that's not to say only bad leaders are assassinated, it's just inexplicable to me that no one even tried to kill Stalin), he really was exceedingly effective, if not necessarily compassionate, per se. Fascinating (and terrifying) guy. At least we can credit him with stopping the Nazi onslaught...even if at the expense of mill ...more
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
excellent, pellucidly written biography, with a meticulous eye for detail...
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
A balanced, comprehensive and detailed biography of Stalin. Service does a great job describing Stalin’s life as well as his legacy, and his critique of the man is judicious. He also debunks the idea of Stalin as a man appearing out of nowhere to rise to ascendancy

The narrative, however, can be a bit bland and is not always intimate. There is also little on Stalin’s role in the Soviet atomic bomb project, or on why he was attracted to Marxism.

Still, a useful work, and should serve nicely as an i
Mark Oconnor
May 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Service is accused of trying to "humanize" a monster with this book. I think he navigates a tightrope pretty admirably by not outright denouncing Stalin but also holding him to his actions. The beginning is very murky,but this is not entirely Services fault as Stalin covered his tracks and was meticulous about erasing his origins, or at least his true origins. The only reason it gets 4 and not 5 stars is there is no truly compelling reason why Stalin did what he did and became the man that he wa ...more
The book has something of the appeal of a ‘true crime’ story, except the crimes are on a much more dramatic scale, and the character of the perpetrator much more complex and interesting than usually supposed. Stalin's world in which he was a young agitator in (what became Soviet) Georgia in the early 20th-century is one wholly foreign to ours, making Service's portrait all the more remarkable. Service is not, alas, a sophisticated practitioner of armchair psychology, but his portrait of Stalin, ...more
Service's biography of Stalin is an excellent treatment of one of history's most notorious figures. Well written and researched, Service charts Stalin's life from Georgia in his youth to his death as master of Eastern Europe, and does not try to hide Stalin's great crimes. Yet, he also shows Stalin as a human being, which make his crimes even worse. Alongside an excellent biography, there is an epilogue that deals with Stalin's legacy in Russia today, and how often he is looked upon fondly.

An e
Apr 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
An accurate, in depth look at Stalin. This book albeit a long work gives an intimate insight to Stalin the man, Stalin the revolutionary, and ends with Stalin the Red Czar. The possibility of Stalin being murdered by his most trusted aides is entertained in the book. Did the Doctor's Plot succeed in defeating the man who spearheaded the international revolution including bringing a nation from the dark ages to being a feared Socialist superpower.

Jun 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Robert Service's books appear to have a trend, which is that things may not be as they appear. This applies to his books about Lenin and Stalin. It basically boils down to: Lenin was not the courageous genius he was heralded as in the Soviet Union and Stalin was not as ignorant and as incompetent as history has made him out to be. Whether his books offer compeling arguments for those those cases is another story. "Fun" reads, nonetheless.
David A-S
Jan 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Service works hard to put Stalin in context. He doesn't try to humanize him. He also doesn't make him a monster completely removed from his surroundings. There was so much history that I didn't know. One learns about the Caucasus region, the buildup to the October Revolution, and Soviet Russia's strange blend of Marxism and Tsarism. It was a wild companion to reading about Putin's takeover of Crimea.
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Robert Service is a British academic and historian of modern Russia and the Soviet Union. He is a professor of Russian history at the University of Oxford and a Fellow at St. Antony's College, Oxford.

He is the author of the highly acclaimed Lenin: A Biography, A History of Twentieth - Century Russia, Russia: Experiment with a People and Stalin: A Biography, as well as many other books on Russia's
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