Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator” as Want to Read:
Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  878 ratings  ·  116 reviews
The most authoritative and engrossing biography of the notorious dictator ever written

Josef Stalin exercised supreme power in the Soviet Union from 1929 until his death in 1953. During that quarter-century, by Oleg Khlevniuk’s estimate, he caused the imprisonment and execution of no fewer than a million Soviet citizens per year. Millions more were victims of famine direct
Hardcover, 392 pages
Published May 19th 2015 by Yale University Press (first published May 1st 2015)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Stalin, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Stalin

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.19  · 
Rating details
 ·  878 ratings  ·  116 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
Oleg V. Khlevniuk presents a new biography on one of history’s most ruthless dictators, Joseph Stalin. Taking the reader well behind the (iron) curtain, Khlevniuk explores some of the many topics only briefly mentioned in passing before, if not entirely erased from outsider discussion. Joseph Stalin, born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, came from a frugal household. A Georgian by birth, Jughashvili did not let his family’s plight shape his academic successes, earning top honours throughout his ...more
Cold War Conversations Podcast
An excellent scholarly yet easy to read Stalin biography.

Oleg V. Khlevniuk has dug deep into the Russian archives to create this relatively concise by most biographical standards yet authoritative account of Stalin's life.

Whilst I was familiar with Stalin’s wartime role I was less familiar with his rise and the circumstances of his death. The author cleverly uses the dictators last days to bind a wide ranging account to a common point of reference and uses the circumstances of his death to effe
Feb 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4,5 close to 5. Definitely best book I've read this year yet... Well written, very readable and impressively informative. The latter is no surprising, taking into account that endnotes make up to almost 70 pages. Extremely impressive... ...more
May 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Good ol' Uncle Joe...

Josef Stalin's 24-year reign as the supreme power in the USSR resulted in the deaths of millions of its citizens, either directly, as a result of repression, or indirectly, as a result of the famines created in large part by the policies his government pursued. In this new biography, Oleg V Khlevniuk sets out to sift through the massive quantity of documentation available to historians, including material newly released from the archives, with a view to understanding the dic
Dec 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
Probably one of the best history books I've ever read. Eminently readable, despite the major focus of the book, whom committed some of the worst atrocities in history. Stalin's combined policies of mass repression of potential enemies (both real and imagined), horrific economic decisions, unhinged purges of close associates at the top of the Soviet leadership, as well as reckless wartime decisions, have been estimated to have killed millions of people. And he did not just commit one or a few hei ...more
Donna Davis
Although this book is published by Yale, Klehvniuk is a research fellow at the Russian national archives, and has devoted twenty years of his life to studying Stalin, the ruler that held much of Eastern Europe in an iron grasp from 1929-1953, when he died. That must be a really dark place, but he’s done a brilliant job. Many thanks go to Net Galley and Yale University Press for allowing me a free peek. This book is available for purchase right now.

The author tells us that revisionists have under
Oct 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Maybe I was spoiled by Jung Chang's 'Mao' biography, but I was hoping for more from this book.

I never really felt like I understood Stalin's motivations behind actions. This book just sort of a feels like a general overview of Stalin's life. The best parts of the book were when it intercut a narrative about the end of his life, and the book slowed down to dwell on things.
Jul 26, 2020 rated it liked it
No doubt this is a gripping read. But content wise its just adequate. I'd have loved to read more about the context (factors, society before and after Stalin, revolution, opponents especially Trotsky, nationalities question and so on). This is just what Stalin did when and some speculation on why.

however I will always be amazed at MLs choosing Stalin as the hill to die on. do better, lads.
Chuck  Sheldon
Jun 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Good introduction to Stalin if you were looking for a nice overall perspective on his leadership that's not to big. Excellent read with some nice quotables. ...more
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Needless to say, there is already a vast, existing canon of literature out there on the Soviet dictator, by established authors such as Robert Service and Simon Sebag Montefiore, so the immediate question is, can Oleg Khlevniuk contribute to the already highly acclaimed works out there. The simple answer, is yes.
Much like Service and Montefiore, Khlevniuk has had access to the archives, and therefore has been able to shed more light on Stalin's life and rule. As such, the book takes a very analy
Oct 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Written in a more accessible style than the excellent Cold Peace and Master of the House, this is a solid, deeply-researched one-volume biography. If you are not intending to work your way through Kotkin's multi-volume Caro-esque biography, you will find more than enough updates to classic works like Robert Conquest's Breaker of Nations, to justify reading a new Stalin bio. ...more
Luke White
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Stunningly objective and sourced. A truly exciting look into this man’s life. His capacity for evil and limitless ego seem to be the driving forces behind his dictatorship. I’ve come away having a newfound understanding of the tyrant. If you want to understand Stalin, and contrast his mode of governance with that advocated by socialism, then read this book.
Feb 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Definitely well worth the read.
Highly recommended.
Augusto Bernardi
Very comprehensive book about the extremely vast subject of Stalin from "the leading Russian historian on Stalin". Oleg explains in the opening chapter how difficult it is to properly sum up the life and impact of not just one of the most important figures in the 20th century but also someone so powerful that trying to distinguish fact from fiction is very difficult and you have to find a balance between endless, factual political legislation and personal traits that make up how he was as a pers ...more
Jun 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Comparatively brief biography of the vile person who murdered millions. This is basically a political biography, though there is some attention to the man's private life. The main chapters are chronological, but after each, there's a shorter section that deals with what happened at the time of Stalin's stroke that resulted in his death. The way his cronies reacted (or didn't) is used as a springboard to make more general comments about the man's overall character and how it influenced people aro ...more
Jan 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-of-2020
Book 1 of 2020

I started this book after I had finished Ali Wong’s book thinking I needed something more serious. Though I read 61 books in 2019, I spent all of December reading this book. I’m having hard time describing how I feel about this book. I read Mao’s book earlier in the year and I figured Stalin’s life would be equally interesting. I feel like it was but the book itself wasn’t well written.

This book felt like a history textbook more than anything else. Perhaps, I was in a rush to fini
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
With So much about Russia in the news today, I realized I needed more context about Russia I had because of how little I knew about Stalin, who brutally ruled the Soviet Union for 29 years. During that time, he murdered millions of his own citizens and created a state of fear that is not easily forgotten. Khlevniuk is a Russian historian with deep access to Soviet era archives and therefore writes with authority and authenticity. I came away with several takeaways. First is that the Bolsheviks w ...more
Phil Villarreal
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oleg V. Khlevniuk writes with passion and purpose in unearthing the festering corpse of one of his country's most notorious tyrants. From the outset, and especially with his watershed conclusion, he makes it obvious that he fears that Russia is drifting toward the blindly despotic cult of personality in the Putin era that it found itself sucked into in the mid-20th century.

With strong-armed rule, senseless violence and a self-serving, humanity-devoid obsession with stature and optics over practi
Feb 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A satisfying sketch of the man behind the 'vozhd' while also serving as a concise, effective introduction to Soviet history up to the end of the Stalinist system. The duel narrative format, alternating between the chronological history of Bolshevik/Stalinist USSR and the life of Stalin himself, was refreshing and imbued the book with a fast tempo.

However, I was unimpressed with Khlevniuk's weak dismissal of the claims made by newer generations of Soviet historians who assert that Stalin had deve
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was the first detailed overview I’ve read on Stalin or Stalinism, recommended by a Moscow professor teaching an online class. The book is ruthlessly researched, as indicated by the author dismissing many of the events described by other histories as false or lacking sufficient evidence. It’s also one of the scariest books I’ve ever read, scary in that everything presented in the book really did happen. The famines, the purges, the humiliations and assassinations and of course the torture an ...more
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
The book offers a cursory review of Stalin but mainly focused on defending arguments that are supported by newly opened archives. It reads as if it's a supplement for the moonlighting Stalin scholar. Almost no words are dedicated to the historical atmosphere at large.

I do applaud the book and the authors complete lack of apology for Stalin. I consider Stalin to be history's greatest monster of all time and certain powers in Russia today are trying to whitewash his image. This book acts as an im
Dolf Haven
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
In the end I am still not sure what this book was supposed to tell me. I did not get to know Stalin as a person. I did not learn about the history of the USSR during his reign in any detail (the battle of Stalingrad was mentioned in half a sentence). I did get to know about boring Soviet bureaucracy and the infighting in the Politburo.
The author focuses repeatedly on minor details that were uncovered "now that the archives have opened" to the delight of "historians" (like him, I suppose).
I've be
Jenni Schell
May 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kindle-books
This book was nothing short of amazing. There were so many things that I read that I had never read about Stalin before. GREAT JOB!!
Oct 09, 2016 added it
Shelves: history
Excellent book. Extremely readable, and makes use of the latest archival evidence on Stalin and his life.
Chris Chapman
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Man, that Stalin guy- what an asshole.
Tralala Tralala
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Spoiler alert: communism doesn't work. Interesting to see all the waste and misery created by centralization, when everything must come from the top. Every time (and by that I mean that Mao's system felt the same, having also read Mao's Great Famine), you have pseudo ideological feel-good-garbage sold to vulnerable masses, while at the top, inept managers (but expert power players, ie politicians) do a stellar job of running their country into the ground.
After using the populist appeal of mass
Jul 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
5 stars - This is a short one-volume biography of Stalin (374 pages on my iPad, 126 pages of illustrations and notes at the end). Written in a clear and accessible style. A very good starting point for new readers of Soviet history with emphasis on the role of Stalin from 1917 to 1953 and how he gradually changed from an ordinary member of the party to the great Generalissimo of the Soviet Union with absolute power over each and every one in this vast empire.

On second thought, perhaps this is b
Heath Hathorn
Different dictator. Same story. There are so many parallels between Mao and Stalin. The only differences in their regimes i noticed are Stalin finally saw how awful his treatment of farmers was and eventually allowed farmers to have private fields for themselves on top of the required government run/ socialist fields. After finding his people to be starving, he eventually changed his policies and didn’t blame it on the people instead of his policies. Of course, he was years late to the party and ...more
Frank Deschain
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Logan Borges
Khlevniuk's bio of Stalin is certainly dense but this doesn't get in the way of readability. Somehow, Khlevniuk has compacted a vast array of archival information into 33o pages of what is a fascinating read into the life of one Iosif Dzhugashvili who would be Joseph Stalin. His chapters on the political games Stalin played to defeat his rivals as well as his drive for forced collectivization are the best as they are the most informative while painting a picture of Soviet politics that no one ca ...more
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Lenin the Dictator
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Hitler
  • Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee
  • The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia
  • The Cold War: A World History
  • Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary's Life
  • A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924
  • The Story of China: The Epic History of a World Power from the Middle Kingdom to Mao and the China Dream
  • The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914
  • The Waringham Chronicles, Volume 1: The Runaway
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians
  • Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine
  • Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia
  • Garibaldi a Gettysburg
  • Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
  • Muistista piirretty kaupunki
  • Gulag: A History
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Oleg V. Khlevniuk is a leading research fellow at the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences and senior research fellow at the State Archive of the Russian Federation. His previous Yale books include The History of the Gulag, Master of the House: Stalin and His Inner Circle, and several c ...more

News & Interviews

Juneteenth, observed on June 19th each year, is an American holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in Galveston,...
37 likes · 5 comments
“At the end of his life, Stalin was at the pinnacle of his power. His authority was unassailable and not under threat from any source. But he did not feel that way. Like other dictators, he never stopped fighting for power and never quite trusted his subjects. The methods he used in his never-ending battle for power were universal and simple. They included the elimination of any potential threat from within his inner circle, unrelenting oversight of the secret police, the encouragement of competition and mutual control among the various components of government, and the mobilization of society against perceived enemies both internal and external.” 1 likes
“Here he became acquainted with an eighteen-year-old schoolgirl named Pelageia Onufrieva, the fiancée of one of his fellow exiles, Petr Chizhikov. The future dictator flirted openly with the girl and gave her a book with the inscription, “To clever, nasty Polya from the oddball Iosif.” When Pelageia left Vologda, Jughashvili sent her facetious cards, such as: “I claim a kiss from you conveyed via Petka [Chizhikov]. I kiss you back, and I don’t just kiss you, but passionately (simple kissing isn’t worth it). Iosif.”7 In his personal files, Stalin kept a photograph of Chizhikov and Onufrieva dating to his time in Vologda: a serious, pretty, round-faced girl in glasses and a serious young man with regular features and a moustache and beard. The jocular cards, presents, and photograph attest to the thirty-three-year-old Jughashvili’s interest in the young woman but do not prove that he was romantically involved with her. We” 1 likes
More quotes…