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Stalin and His Hangmen
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Donald Rayfield is professor of Russian and Georgian at the University of London and the author of a number of books on Russian writers and intellectuals, including an acclaimed biography of Anton Chekhov.

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No matter how many books we read about Stalin (and there's been a spate lately, e.g., Simon Sebag Montefiore's Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar), we'll always need another that tries to explain how he inspired others to do his murderous bidding. From a London University professor of Russian and Georgian. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

This investigation of Stalin and his coterie is at its best when it focuses on the latter-henchmen such as Feliks Dzierzynski, Viacheslav Molotov and Lavrenti Beria-showing that it was their "spellbound submission" that made it possible for tens of millions of Soviet citizens to be killed, while the account adds nuance to our understanding of how the brutality of the U.S.S.R. was possible. As Rayfield (Anton Chekhov), a professor of Russian and Georgian at the University of London, shows, the leaders Stalin appointed also needed no direct instructions to turn their hands to violence; Beria, for instance, who took over the secret police in 1938, was a "vindictive sadist" who combined "unscrupulousness" with "finesse." Rayfield focuses less than Moses Montefiore in his recent biography of Stalin on the personal lives of top Soviet officials, and more on their policies. When Rayfield concentrates on Stalin, however, while some of the details are new, the picture overall is familiar. By focusing on Stalin's tactics and network of violent underbosses, though, Rayfield makes an important argument: discussions of Stalin's ideology should be secondary to the brutal means he used to remain in power for 30 years. 32 pages of photos, maps, not seen by PW. Agent, Irene Skolnick Agency. (Dec. 14) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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