October 21st, 2016


Good tsar, Bad tsar

Book Review: Stalin - New Biography of a Dictator, by Oleg V Khlevniuk
I picked this up in a work book sale over a year ago: theoretically interesting but hardly likely to be positive reading material. I think that's how it turned out. Khlevniuk occasionally highlights the partial rehabilitation of Stalin in today's Russia, but certainly doesn't participate in it. I did find some interesting details: for example, Stalin's relatively thorough education and literary skills, and some hints that there may have been elements of mental illness as a factor in some of his paranoid actions. Khlevniuk makes it clear he isn't striving for a comprehensive biography, and in one area with which I am more familiar, there is only a single mention of Shostakovich, and none of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. More broadly, the book also clarifies aspects of some other personalities and events: for example, Lenin was every bit as ruthless in dealing with opposition. Stalin may have created the persona of a great war leader, but only by reluctantly giving his generals freedom to take control of the military situation.