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Stalin: Waiting for Hitler 1929-1941

(Stalin #2)

4.48  ·  Rating details ·  562 ratings  ·  95 reviews
Pulitzer Prize-finalist Stephen Kotkin continues his definitive biography of Stalin, from collectivization and the Great Terror through to the coming of the conflict with Hitler's Germany that is the signal event of modern world history.

When we left Stalin at the end of Stalin: Paradoxes of Power: 1878-1928, it was 1928, and he had finally climbed the mountaintop and achie
Hardcover, 1184 pages
Published October 10th 2017 by Penguin
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Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a difficult book to review.

One can only admire Kotkin's very close attention to archival material, extensive reading of the second hand sources, his no-BS, nonsentimental approach to his study material. Waiting for Hitler, at times reads like day-to-day account/or logbook of what Stalin did between 1928 and 1941. And, for the most part, this is the main strength of the book.

Kotkin rejects two prevalent views on Stalin phenomenon. One is Stalin was a "psychopath, sadistic and paranoiac k
I doubt that anybody will write a better or more comprehensive biography of the "despot," as Kotkin calls the Soviet dictator, at least for many years to come. The book will interest specialists and history enthusiasts alike. It is the product of meticulous and exhaustive research and attempts to resolve several of the historical mysteries surrounding Stalin's reign. Of the two, Stalin is by far more important to world history than Lenin, and he also led a more interesting life. Say what you wil ...more
Mar 10, 2019 added it
Recommends it for: Everyone interested in history, government and politics.
This was even better than Volume I if that is even possible. Volume II gets into the meat of the dictatorship leading up to World War II. The primary focus is the infamous purge - when Stalin killed just about everybody. The only rational reason for his unbelievable cruelty and sheer disregard for human life: because he could. There was really no rhyme or reason for completely decimating the entire “cabinet” and the military. The best estimate is 750,000 people were sent to the Gulag to die or w ...more
Morgan Blackledge
I just finished that damn thing.

Wholly mother of god this book was L O N G.

It was LONGER than volume I, which was itself extremely extremely very very long.

This book covers Stains horrendous mass murder and incarceration binge otherwise known as ‘the terrors’.

And it was interesting.

Extremely well researched and written.

And VERRY VERY detailed.

But it stops just as Hitler is about to invade.

In other words.

There’s another volume after this one.

And despite how incredibly good this book is.

The t
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Hard going, but worth it. Kotkin's attention to detail provides many revelations.
Omar Ali
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Stephen Kotkin is a historian who has written several outstanding books on Russian history and is now in the process of distilling his lifetime work into a monumental three part biography of Stalin. Volume 1 dealt with Stalin’s early life and his progress from relatively peripheral disciple of Lenin in 1917 to Lenin’s handpicked general secretary of communist party in 1922, to undisputed (though not yet completely all-powerful) boss and ruler of the Soviet Union by 1928. By the end of that volum ...more
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Huge and time consuming, but makes you understand the big picture much better.
Antonio Nunez
May 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Kotkin’s biography of Stalin is finally doing justice to one of the most extraordinary despots in history. Although heavily biographed (I know the word doesn’t exist, but it should) since his own days, only today is it possible to write about him as he deserves. This second volume is even better than the first, perhaps because it covers the most interesting period in the Vozhd’s life, a period neatly bookended by Trotsky’s exile, collectivization and the first wrecker trials, on one side, and th ...more
Vuk Prlainović
Mar 31, 2018 rated it liked it
I liked this book a lot. Once Kotkin is done, it will most likely be the series for anyone who's interested in delving deeper into who Stalin was and what he did. Kotkin's meticulous style and attention to detail is very much appreciated, especially when dealing with controversial topics such as these.

However, I was not comfortable giving this second installment more than three stars. There are a couple of reasons for that.

The first reason is the most important one, and one I think greatly dimin
Oct 16, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the patient, the un-busy

Holy frick, you guys. Are y’all into details? Because whoa shoot is this the book for you. It is relentless in its detail. Meetings and dudes and other meetings that happen simultaneously with different dudes. Everybody’s name is Fuckanovich or Zukaplansky. So if you’re into tedium, seek your Mecca in these pages.

Overall though, it was a pretty interesting bog to wade through. A lot of crazy stuff went down on this guy’s watch. But its Talmudic breadth made it hard for me to encaps
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
... and you think you have a tough boss??

This is the second volume of Stephen Kotkin’s biography of Stalin (out of a projected three volumes). It is an outstanding biography and I cannot wait for the next volume.

Kotkin picks up the story with the consolidation of power by Stalin and the move into the 1930s. The story is one of continuing violence, terror, and depravity. Stalin was one of the most accomplished killers - literally with millions of victims - in history and the book covers the perio
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is really three books - and at almost 1200 pages it could well be.

I have spent most of the month reading about the despots Mao and Stalin - one in Wild Swans which is a partially fictionalized account of three generations of Chinese women (see review elsewhere) and then reading this book on Stalin. As noted this is the second volume of a three volume set - which focuses on what I think are the most interesting periods of Stalin's life - namely the period after Lenin and before WWII get
Alex Yauk
This is a tome. Recommend only if you have a deep interest in Russian history or World War II. If that is the case, strongly recommend. This book is exciting, detailed, and extremely well written and researched.

Praying that Kotkin gets Stalin's last twelve years in a third and final volume, but I'm already excited to pick it up.
Oct 04, 2017 marked it as to-read
Shelves: giveaways
I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways. It is an advance uncorrected proof.
May 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An ambitious and definitive book. I can't imagine what another author could bring that this book has not covered.

I did read this book without reading the first one on Stalin. The lack of context is not paralyzing but it definitely would have helped. What I did not know I was able to research in my own time.

The body of the book is about 900 pages with another >100 dedicated for the index. You would think that a book which only covers 12 years of a person's life and is 900 pages long would be bloa
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
My expectations were sky high for this book. Eventually, over the course of more than 1,100 pages, it met them. Volume one, Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928, was superb. Here is my review of volume two:

The second installment of the historian Stephen Kotkin's planned three-volume biography of the Soviet despot, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler 1929-1941, contains an enormous amount of information from Kotkin's prodigious research. The book is divided into three parts: 1) the forced colle
Robert Petrosino
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Superb biography and history. The brutal collectivization of agriculture, the deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians, the suicide of Stalin's second wife, Nadya. His determination to exact revenge on all who criticized the horrors his policies visited upon the kulaks, the peasants.

Chapters 7 and 8 are deeply frightening - the USSR as a madhouse, Stalin its mass-murdering, savagely cruel proprietor. Rank, friendship, loyalty, brilliance, past contributions, power base - nothing mattered
Dan Downing
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The comments I made concerning Volume One of Kotkin's enormous effort apply here: long book (900+ pages of text), Russian names (lots of them), micro print Notes (5300 or so), wide lens and sweeping scope.
We travel to Spain, to Japan, to China; We creep into the inner sanctums of Britain, Russia, Germany; we consider the Balkans and invade Norway. Above all, we witness the mindless slaughter of Russians and Russian subjects. Stalin not only killed off spies and enemies but staggering numbers of
Amy Fry
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Paul Brewer
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
This long book covers barely more than a decade in the life of one of the most important people of the twentieth century. As a biography, it is more in the 'life and times' school than a straightforward life of the subject, and that is one of the causes of its great length. Stalin is obviously going to be a controversial figure, and for the most part Kotkin sets aside moralising judgments, focusing instead on a detailed account of what Stalin did and how that affected events around him.

Stalin i
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Prof. Kotkin’s second Stalin book can be divided into three constituent parts. The first being the collectivization campaign, the second being the purge/terror, the final being the diplomatic, military, and intel actions in the prelude to war with Hitler.

In the first, Stalin realizes that to industrialize the Soviet Union, he must have machinery from the West, and with the poor economy, selling grain is the best way to do that. He also believed that industrialized agriculture, rather than the s
Stephen Selbst
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Stephen Kotkin's second volume of his planned three-part biography of Stalin is one of the best biographies I've ever read. It is comprehensive, covering the events in the years 1929-1941 in great detail. It is also deeply researched, and Kotkin's enormous bibliography demonstrates his command of both primary and secondary sources. But most importantly of all, it is vividly written and full of Kotkin's own insights into Stalin's character. Kotkin's anathema for Soviet Communism is made clear, bu ...more
Stephen Morrissey
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Stephen Kotkin's second volume on the life of Soviet dictator Stalin opens, fittingly, with the quote from Dante: "In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost." Indeed, much of the ensuing history of Stalin, from his consolidation of power and forced collectivization of the farms in the USSR in the late 1920s and early 1930s to the dizzying diplomatic days of the Second World War, echo Dante's lament. Stalin, in Kotkin's exhaustive ...more
John Vandike
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent successor to Kotkin's first expansive volume. While the first volume was, admittedly, a bit of a slog just because of the complexity of the Russian Revolution and the huge cast of characters, many entirely unknown to even an enthusiast of Soviet history. In contrast, the second book benefits heavily from the (likely) greater reader familiarity with Stalin through the 1930s. These are the years of collectivization, the Holomidor (the great famines caused by collectivization), the Great ...more
Alan Draycott
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mark Greenbaum
Oct 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The level of detail, the density of information are overwhelming. It's a lot. For most, its probably way too much, and this isn't for a casual reader. For that I'd recommend Simon Sebag Montefiore's Court of the Red Tsar, which is more conversational, more personal and gossipy (which isn't a slur). At times the tidal wave of facts about Stalin's routines submerges the sum of its parts and can leave you gasping a bit. But Kotkin does a good job of tying together the strands at the end of the sect ...more
Michael Samerdyke
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'd give this one 4 and a half.

Kotkin follows a strictly chronological approach, which can lead to whipsawing from the struggle against Bukharin, to a border crisis with Japan, to cultural matters, to etc., etc. It almost becomes one damn thing after another, which, admittedly, is what real life is. But I think this also makes the book hard to follow for someone not already deeply interested in Soviet history.

This is NOT the first biography of Stalin someone should read.

However, I can appreciate
Raughley Nuzzi
Aug 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russian-leaders
This book is a monumental work covering a crucial 12 years of Stalin's career. It's extensively and densely footnoted, with the footnotes containing fascinating anecdotes along with bibliographic information. Kotkin manages to weave a compelling narrative of the 1930s through the lens of Soviet Kremlin politics.

Somewhere around the middle of the book, I found myself getting distracted, wondering why the text jumped around so much and why it was spending so much time on Mongolian politics, for ex
Ishmael Soledad
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This second volume on Stalin by Kotkin covers some of the most horrific times in the USSR. The narrative of events, the depth and detail builds a story that is both compelling and, like most of the great train wrecks in history, keep you tightly bound even as the disaster unfolds. As in Volume 1, Kotkin takes pity on his readers by dividing the book into bite sized chunks, allowing time to digest and reflect on the contents.

It's an horrific tale; at times I had to walk away from it, not because
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When you start reading the first volume, one thing you need to come to grips with is the level of detail. In this second volume, the level of detail is astounding and brings Stalin's role in the interbellum to life. But this is so much more than a biography of Stalin in that period. I really appreciate the way Kotkin covers the geopolitics of the main powers in Europe, the dynamic between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, but also the important (and often overlooked) role the many higher functi ...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: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928

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