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SIMON SEBAG MONTEFIORE is a historian of Russia and the Middle East. Catherine the Great and Potemkin was short-listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar won the History Book of the Year Prize at the British Book Awards. Young Stalin won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography, the Costa Biography Award, and le Grande Prix de la biographie politique. Jerusalem: The Biography was a worldwide best seller. Montefiore's books are published in more than forty languages. He is the author of the novels Sashenka and One Night in Winter, which won the Paddy Power Political Fiction Book of the Year Award in 2014. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Montefiore graduated from Cambridge University, where he received his PhD. He lives in London.


The mission of this large work by Montefiore (Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin) is to "go beyond the traditional explanations of Stalin as `enigma,' `madman,' or `Satanic genius' and that of his comrades as `men without biographies,' dreary moustachioed sycophants in black-and-white photographs." In other words, he seeks to reorient our historical perspective by giving us a more intimate account of these men. To do so, he places Stalin and his "oligarchs" in idiosyncratic Bolshevik context as members of a military-religious "order of sword-bearers," getting up close and personal as he describes relationships among the most notable of Stalin's courtiers, including Molotov, Beria, Yezhov, Zhadanov, Kaganovich, and Khrushchev. Montefiore echoes such contemporary works as Roy Medvedev's The Unknown Stalin: His Life, Death, and Legacy and Jonathan Brent's Stalin's Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953, but he also goes beyond them. For instance, he describes the last days of Stalin in greater detail than have other authors. While Montefiore does not humanize his subjects, he does make them more understandable, if no less repellant. Recommended for academic libraries and public libraries with a strong Soviet/Russian collection. Harry Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Syst., Iola Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Montefiore (The Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin) is more interested in life at the top than at the bottom, so he includes hundreds of pages on Stalin's purges of top Communists, while devoting much less space to the forced collectivization of Soviet peasants that led to millions of deaths. In lively prose, he intersperses his mammoth account of Stalin's often-deadly political decisions with the personal lives of the Soviet dictator and those around him. As a result, the reader learns about sexual peccadilloes of the top Communists: Stalin's secret police chief Lavrenti Beria, for one, "craved athletic women, haunting the locker rooms of Soviet swimmers and basketball players." Stalin's own escapades after the death of his wife are also noted. There's also much detail about the food at parties and other meetings of Stalin's henchmen. The effect is paradoxical: Stalin and his cronies are humanized at the same time as their cruel misdeeds are recounted. Montefiore offers little help in answering some of the unsettled questions surrounding Stalin: how involved was he in the 1934 murder of rising official Sergei Kirov, for example. He also seems to leave open the question of Stalin's paranoia: he argues that the Georgian-born ruler was a charming man who used his people skills to get whatever he wanted. Montefiore mainly skirts the paranoia issue, noting that only after WWII, when Stalin launched his anti-Semitic campaigns, did he "become a vicious and obsessional anti-Semite." There are many Stalin biographies out there, but this fascinating work distinguishes itself by its extensive use of fresh archival material and its focus on Stalin's ever-changing coterie. Maps and 24 pages of photos not seen by PW. Agent, Georgina Capel. (Apr.) Forecast: With a 75,000 first printing, this is likely to draw in Slavophiles and history buffs. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"An extraordinary book. . . . For anyone fascinated by the nature of evil--and by the effects of absolute power on human relationships--this book will provide new insights on every page." --Anne Applebaum, Evening Standard (London)"The first intimate portrait of a man who had more lives on his conscience than Hitler. . . . Disturbing and perplexing." --Richard Pipes, The New York Times Book Review"Superb. . . . No Western writer has got as close. . . . A dark and excellent book." --The New York Review of Books
"Terrific. . . . A deeply researched and wonderfully readable accomplishment--scholarship as a kind of savage gossip." --Time"Unprecedented in its intimacy and horrifying in its implications, not merely because it shows that the engineers of one of history's greatest holocausts were depraved . . . but also because they emerge in these pages as surprisingly normal." --The Washington Post Book World"A marvelously well-researched book. . . . Montefiore has written a supremely important book about Joseph Stalin, a biography that other scholars will find hard to equal. This is sure to be one of the outstanding books of the year." --St. Louis Post-Dispatch "Ultra reader-friendly, lively, gossipy and packaged with revelations about the intimacies and intrigues of Stalin the man and his courtiers. Brilliant." --Evening Standard Book Page

"A book that had to be written. . . . Montefiore's biography is far different from anything in this genre. A superb piece of research and frighteningly lucid." --The Washington Times "Gripping and timely. . . . Montefiore has illuminated wider aspects of the history of the USSR. This is one of the few recent books on Stalinism that will be read in years to come." --Robert Service, The Guardian (London) "Montefiore combines his research among the primary sources and the fruits of his interviews into a focused, gripping story about a man, who, along with Mao, Hitler and Genghis Khan, has to be in the running for history's greatest mass murderer." --Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "[A] masterful and terrifying account of Stalin as seen within his close entourage. . . . Seldom has the picture been put in finer focus than by Montefiore." --Alistair Horne, The Times (London) "Horrific, revelatory and sobering. . . . A triumph of research." --John le Carre, The Observer "I loved the totalitarian high baroque sleaze of Simon Sebag Montefiore's Stalin. . . . One of the 2004 Guardian Books of the Year." --Simon Schama, The Guardian (London) "A grim masterpiece shot through with lashes of black humor. . . . The personal details are riveting." --Antonia Fraser, Mail on Sunday "A well-researched and insightful book. . . . The narrative adroitly catches the atmosphere of the time." --Los Angeles Times Book Review "I did not think I could learn anything new about Stalin, but I was wrong. A stunning performance." --Henry Kissinger "Montefiore's deft combination of biography and history brings Stalin alive, so that he becomes as complex and contradictory as any of the great characters in fiction." --The New York Sun

"If you plan (wisely) to read only one book about Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, let it be Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. Simon Sebag Montefiore, writing with the skill of a novelist . . . has based his highly readable biographical thriller solidly and factually not only on all of the preceding scholarly studies of the Soviet dictator but also upon newly available archival materials." --The Seattle Times "A large and ambitious overview--and under-view--of the Soviet leader's life and epoch, drawn from an impressively wide array of Russian sources." --The Atlantic Monthly "Spectacular. . . . An impressive and compelling work, using important new documents." --The Spectator "Sebag Montefiore has done a valuable service in drawing our attention to a hitherto little-studied aspect of Stalinism. As his Stalin demonstrates, the personal relationships of those who ran the Kremlin provided an essential dynamic for the development of the Stalinist system. Isolated from the masses, these members of the privileged elite depended on one another for emotional sustenance to an extraordinary degree." --The Times Literary Supplement (London)

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