Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

This is easily one of the most compelling and riveting works of non-fiction that I've ever read.

After reading Simon Sebag Montefiore's brilliant biography, it is impossible to see Stalin as less than human, which makes him even more terrifying. He was a monster, yes, but he was also one of us.

This book was made possible by the release of tens of thousands of pages of information from Soviet archives which allow a stunningly personal recounting of Stalin's reign of terror. Even his henchmen become human, and the level of political intrigue overwhelming everything in Stalin's era makes for fascinating reading.

Much of what makes the narrative so gripping is that actions which are undeniably evil were so mundanely approved by the organs of the state (in this case, Stalin and his inner circle). Hannah Arendt's description of the "the banality of evil" has never been more appropriate.

This is also an absolutely terrific piece of writing, because at 650+ pages it somehow manages to never be boring. I can't recommend this book highly enough, and if you're interested in history, it's an absolutely first-rate piece of work.

Here's an Amazon link: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.

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