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Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  696 ratings  ·  100 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)
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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...
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Hartley Wise
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
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
Maximilian Gerboc
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An efficient but thoroughly researched biography of one of history’s most enigmatic characters. As a student of revolutionary politics, it was fascinating to read about the rise and success of Bolshevism in Russia. And as a student of American history and current events, this serves as a cautionary tale, warning us about looking at our history through rose tinted glasses and the warmth of nostalgia. In or there words - don’t give in to easy ideas like “make America (or in this case, Russia) grea ...more
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
A rather unusual order to this narrative, with long straight chronological sections occasionally interrupted with shorter sections detailing the events surrounding Stalin's last illness and death and what followed, but these are clearly related to the events one has just read about in the chronological sections. Includes a great deal of information that became available only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the opening of its archives to scholars, although these new insights, while ...more
Henry Correa
Nov 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
The author presents a complete and not biased story of the life of Stalin. The data, historical events and narrative is engaging, when reading this book I experienced a myriad of emotions and feelings due to the minutiae or detail by which the author presents all the situations in the book. If you’re looking for a book that presents Stalin as a hero and a villain at the same time, this biography will suit your needs. The only reason why I don’t give it 5 stars is because sometimes is hard to fol ...more
Dolf van der 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
Christopher Angst
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
If you're mainly interested in the era in which Stalin lived (and want to know about the Russian Revolution, the Great Patriotic War and so on), this book probably isn't the right choice for you, as it's main focus is clearly Joseph Stalin himself. It's about how HE affected the first half of the 20th century and how HE experienced events surrounding him.

If however you really want to dive deep into the world of one of modern history's most significant figures, you're in for a very informative a
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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

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“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
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