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Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928

(Stalin #1)

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  1,442 ratings  ·  169 reviews
A magnificent new biography that revolutionizes our understanding of Stalin and his world

It has the quality of myth: A poor cobbler’s son, a seminarian from an oppressed outer province of the Russian empire, reinvents himself as a revolutionary and finds a leadership role within a small group of marginal zealots. When the old world is unexpectedly brought down in a total
Hardcover, 976 pages
Published November 6th 2014 by Penguin Press (first published October 23rd 2014)
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Karen Hello, I think you want to know if it is published in Portuguese.? I am sorry, I don’t know.

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Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Closed and gregarious, vindictive and solicitous, Stalin shatters any attempt to contain him within binaries. He was by inclination a despot who, when he wanted to be, was utterly charming. He was an ideologue who was flexibly pragmatic. He fastened obsessively on slights yet he was a precocious geostrategic thinker…who was, however, prone to egregious strategic blunders. Stalin was as a ruler both astute and blinkered, diligent and self-defeating, cynical and true believing. The cold calculatio ...more
Paul Bryant
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: communism

YouTube strikes again! I found a talk by Stephen Kotkin about Stalin and it was pretty good. Then I found another, where he was launching this very book at a store in Washington. So there he is standing amongst the bookshelves and a small group hanging around, and this informal talk is BRILLIANT and if you're interested in Stalin it's a must watch. He extemporises for an hour. He explains so many of the Big Issues about Uncle Joe. I love the guy's style and his sense of humour when he's TA
Nov 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
I do not follow debates among academic/"professional" historians. Nonetheless I suspect that the first volume of Kotkin's biography of Stalin must be generating a torrent of comment among specialists who care about such topics.

It seems to me that in volume one Kotkin has already managed to demolish Robert Tucker's biography altogether - as well as the biographical narratives of scores of others, whom I designate "name-callers," liberals and right-wingers only too eager to abandon historical anal
Morgan Blackledge
May 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is long.

Endlessly long man.

It’s LONG!!!

Oh fuck is it long.

It’s like, WAY more than I needed to know about Stalin.

And it’s a two volume tome.

And volume II is LONGER than volume I.

And volume I leaves off right when he starts killing people.

So you definitely have to keep going.

And it’s FUCKING good.

Really fucking good.

But damn!

I’m going to have a virtual masters degree in Stalinology after I complete his read.

And I don’t want one.

I honestly have no Idea what to do with all this Stalin.
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Karen by: I have been searching for a Stalin biography for years.
Unfortunately I have not been able to really concentrate or delve too deeply into this book because I have a huge editing job that has occupied a lot of my time. But I am so delighted because I have been looking for a definitive biography of Joseph Stalin for several years. The author is obviously steeped in Russian history. He gives a detailed background on the peoples and politics of Russia which is really helpful in providing a real perspective of Stalin's thinking and motives for a lot of hi ...more
11811 (Eleven)
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is killing my reading groove this year so I'm throwing in the towel at 80%. I've been spoiled by historical writers like Erik Larson and Ron Chernow who turn facts into stories that come alive. This reads more like an undergraduate term paper. Solid facts; boring as hell.

I wish the writing was as fascinating as the material. Stalin was an interesting dude. Anyone who travels with nothing but clothes, books, and a typewriter - I can dig it. Of course, the murder and pedophilia were somewhat
Dec 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Leon Trotsky, after being expelled from the Communist Party in 1928, and finding himself in an increasingly desperate exile, shaped the perception of his old rival through his prolific writing. Trotsky established the image of Stalin as a sinister mediocrity, who nonetheless outmaneuvered Trotsky through his utter lack of scruples. In truth, as Kotkin shows, Stalin was an autodidact, “a people person” with “surpassing organizational abilities; a mammoth appetite for work, [and] a strategic mind, ...more
Justin Evans
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-etc
This is interesting as a book about Stalin, but much more interesting as a formal experiment in biography, because there's not that much about Stalin here. Kotkin's canvas is much broader, and a better title might have been "Russia in the Age of Stalin" or, since that's probably the next volume, maybe "Russia During the Lifetime of Stalin." This is pretty impressive stuff, and it's an interesting way to write biography: just don't focus on the man, focus on the events, and then see where the man ...more
I learned about this book from Anne Applebaum's excellent article in The Atlantic - it's the first volume of a planned trilogy, which has all the potential to become the definite work on Stalin. You can read Applebaum's article here:
An accomplished poet, a pious divinity student, a highly cultured autodidact with broad intellectual interests and an expert knowledge of classical music; a bank robber, an extortionist, a meteorologist, a union organiser, factory worker, an agitator, and an oil rig operator.

It was said that his voice, in the church choir, could bring hardened men to tears.

A political theorist; a prolific, if unoriginal, polemicist; an escaped convict (more times than I could count), a father of innumerable il
Eren Buğlalılar
Comrades in the United States produced a nice podcast episode about Kotkin's Stalin series that could be listened here:

Kotkin does not deviate from the general line of the American academia: Stalin was evil. But he thinks Stalin was a genuine communist who uncompromisingly fought for the cause. Ooo, be careful Mr. Kotkin, you are walking a thightrope.

As Grover Furr says, if you want to flourish and be recognized in the US academia as a Soviet scholar, ther
Brad Eastman
Nov 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
This is a ponderous tome (950 pages with notes and it is only volume 1). The first part with biographical information about Stalin's early life is quite good and thorough. Stalin's early life and education are explained in the historical setting of tunr-of-the century Russia. The context of Russia's geopolitical situation gives context to young Stalin's life. Once 1917 comes, however, the last two-thirds of the book turn into a sterile analysis of internal Communist party politics with no connec ...more
Michael Burnam-Fink
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Kotkin is a leading Russian historian and author of a well-received book about everyday life under Stalin, so his biography of the man himself can be expected to be deeply researched, comprehensive, and groundbreaking. And all of those expectations are well-met.

More than a biography of Stalin, this is a book about the fall of the Tsars and the rise of Communism, a sprawling journey across two continents and decades. A biography of a figure like Stalin is innately challenging; how do you balance
Matt Brady
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
a great and pretty balanced bio of stalin's early life and rise to power mitigated only a little bit by a weird afterword where the author makes some weird judgements on communist ideology as a whole that seem to badly miss the point (talking about collective farms never being as efficient as large privately run farms seems odd as "efficiency" isnt the sole, or even the main, motivation behind the collectivisation drive)
Sep 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographies, russia
Ambitious in scale, this is the first of a 3 volume long Stalin biography.
I came across the book because I watched lectures from professor Kotkin on Russia and instantly got hooked on the subject of this book.

Not being that familiar with Russian history, I appreciated Kotkin's approach which is to tell Stalin's life as it was through the developments of relevant world events of his time (in parts of the book, he is often completely omitted and the focus is usually about geopolitics or communism)
Jan 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Superb first volume of a projected three volume series.

Most people who have read anything at all about modern political and military history know about Stalin. It is also likely that what they know about him is not very good. Indeed, he well known as one of the most terrible tyrants of all time, the essential totalitarian dictator, and the man behind the deaths of millions. At the same time, he led his nation through WW2 and kept the Nazis from winning while the US prepared its entry and the UK
Bryan "They call me the Doge"
I want to keep this short—there are a lot of good, substantive review out there. I'd just like to mention a couple of takeaways I had from the book

One—Kotkin does a good job of illuminating Stalin the man. He may not be the most pleasant example of a human being, but he is recognizable as one. I know worse examples.

Two—the amount of leaves in this book makes it hard to see the trees, let alone the forest. I'm sure it wasn't Kotkin's intention, but all this focus on detail seems to sanitize the p
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites

'Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928' is the first volume in a three volume series of tomes on the life of the Soviet dictator Iosef 'Soso' Jugashvili a.k.a Joseph Stalin by the eminent Princeton Professor of history and international affairs, Stephen Kotkin. It is a prodigious work of epic proportions - in terms of its expansive narrative spanning nearly half a century, and its probing of the geopolitical upheavals disrupting the socioeconomic fabric of nations far beyond Eurasia.

Whilst peru
Omar Ali
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing book.. Not just a life of Stalin but even more so, a history of Russia in that era. He summarizes whatever was going on in Russia at that time in every chapter, and it's a great review of Russian (and related world) history.
Kotkin is intelligent, opinionated and VERY well informed; and willing to challenge assumptions with evidence and rational argument . I think he pretty much nails the fact that above all else, Stalin was a true Leninist. His excesses and paranoia were his own
Oct 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
I won an advance copy of this book from a goodreads drawing.

A thorough going look into the early part of Stalin's life, from his birth in Georgia, to 1928, along with perhaps more historical context than needed.

Highly recommended for students of Russia.
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Kotkin's biography on Joseph Stalin is masterful in its scope and execution, it's an absolute must-read for readers interested in the history of the twentieth century. From the very first chapters, Kotkin demonstrates his uncompromising commitment to the great historical contingencies surrounding the life of Stalin. From repressive Russian imperial policy in Georgia and elsewhere to the Russian autocracy's inability to reform and keep up with European powers, to the outbreak of the First World W ...more
John Hughes
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kotkin’s first volume of a projected 3 on Stalin is 700+ pages documenting the sculpting of an immense dictator. By attempting to do to Stalin what Deutscher did to Trotsky, Kotkin begins by familiarising the reader with the last decades of Tasrist Russia: the world into which the figure of Stalin will emerge to assert himself.

Kotkin lays out some take-home truths throughout the text:
1. The communists were communists. It was not an idle power grab but a strict ideological government that was con
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of my favourite biographical series, especially if you want to know more about turn of the century, Tzarist Russia, and the Russian Revolution, one of the most important events in history of our time.

Stalin himself, remains elusive, but you get to see the world that created him more thoroughly. The stark realities of capitalism for workers, and how a small group of nobodies could come to rule the largest nation in the world.

He remains a human character, even one that you can empathize with
Andrew Crouch
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As meticulous and stuffed with detail as you might expect of the first of three volumes, but a lot of what the author provides is valuable context for Stalin's development from divinity school malcontent to Communist dictator. Kotkin makes a refreshingly clear distinction between who Stalin was and who were the other key Communist figures, as misguided and flawed as they were as human beings. This isn't a quick read by any stretch of the imagination, but it's worthwhile if you have the time to i ...more
Michael Fineberg
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully researched, remarkably detailed, sometimes tedious tome giving me more about Stalin’s first 50 years of life than I ever imagined I wanted. The detail and context helped me understand how the revolution came to be and how it settled into a brutal dictatorship. If you want to know a whole lot about Stalin, Russia, the Soviet Union and how dictatorships emerge, this might be for you. Wow.
Luis Travieso
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Incredibly detailed account of Stalin’s early life and rise to power. A great read if you want to get an idea of what someone’s search for power is like.
Vincent DiGirolamo
An epic microhistory of tyranny in embryo.
Dec 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Breathtaking in scope, at times almost overwhelming in its attention to detail, this biography is undeniably impressive.

Stephen Kotkin is clearly a right-wing historian, so his biography naturally reflects his anti-communism. That said, Kotkin is honest enough with his subject, Stalin, that a more discerning reader can often separate Kotkin’s editorializing (for which he increasingly displays a certain penchant as his narrative develops) from his reporting of facts (especially when those facts s
Nick Ohrn
Sep 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I have other biographies that I've read and I think it came down to a style issue. First, let me say this work is incredibly comprehensive. I feel like I probably don't ever need to read another book about the period surrounding the Bolshevik Revolution as all the main players around Lenin and Stalin were covered in detail. The events of the revolution and the circumstances leading to them were explained without any gaps. I feel like I know Stalin and the ...more
Yanko Tsvetkov
Feb 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The author claims that any biography of Stalin should be intricately linked to the history of the world and cannot be detached from the enormous political and cultural shifts at the beginning of the 20th century. In other words, if the people want to understand Stalin's personality, they have to be prepared to digest a lot of dry matter that has little direct dramatic impact. It's hard to argue against this, especially in retrospective. Imagine writing about Hitler without mentioning nazism. The ...more
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Stephen Mark Kotkin is Professor of History and director of the Program in Russian Studies at Princeton University. He specializes in the history of the Soviet Union and has recently begun to research Eurasia more generally.

Other books in the series

Stalin (2 books)
  • Stalin: Waiting for Hitler 1929-1941

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