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Search tags: Simon-Sebag-Montefiore
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text 2017-01-30 15:04
Love and Death In Stalinist Russia
One Night in Winter - Simon Sebag Montefiore

Set in Russia at the end of the Second World War, One Night In Winter begins with the violent death of two schoolchildren on a bridge in Moscow during the victory celebrations. But these are not two ordinary young people, they are children of the top Bolshevik rulers and their unexplained deaths set off an inquiry that will see their friends and teachers incarcerated in the Lubianka and their families destroyed.


Atmospheric, cleverly-plotted, and grippingly narrated, this is a horribly convincing depiction of the senseless and brutal tyranny that Stalin generated. But it's also a tribute to the human spirit for even in the such a dark story there is room for generosity and love


There were times when I had to put this book aside because the tension became unbearable. But I never put it out of my thoughts. Wonderful storytelling.

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review 2016-10-12 22:05
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar - Simon Sebag Montefiore

Montefiore's history of Jerusalem happened to be the first book I reviewed on Booklikes and I was happy to revisit the author with another one of his works. It seems that every time I pick up a history book in a book shop it is endorsed by Montefiore, he's clearly very passionate in his pursuit of historical knowledge. 


This book centres around Stalin and his changing inner circle. It's an odd blend of details of dinner functions, Stalin's character in calm times and the chronicles of the terror and his political brutality. It's a fascinating glimpse into the sycophantic fervour he fostered amongst his magnates and the cunning, horrific nature of his paranoid mind. I've given it five stars, because probably fittingly, after Kershaw's Hitler this is simply the best biography of a historical leader that I have read. 


Anyone who harbours any romanticism or flirts with the hard left I advise to read this and recognise the dangers of unswerving idealism, the dangers of being an illiberal bent on realising a utopia for humanity in the future at any cost to the people of this life. I had always thought that Stalin wasn't overly ideologically motivated, yet this book seeks to dispel that notion comparing the avidity of Stalin's belief in Marxism to that displayed in radical Islamists. 


Something touched upon in the book and spoken about in debates by Christopher Hitchens is the idea that the Tsar in Romanov times was the voice of God himself, understand that and you may be able to understand the cult of personality that Stalin was able to engineer and take advantage of. The idea of a strong, powerful leader was ingrained into Russian society and it is an interesting feature of the revolution, that despite its attempts to turn society on its head with the ultimate goal of Communism, the aura of leadership remained steadfast. 


It fascinated me that the sons and daughters of some of those murdered and tortured beyond repair on Stalin's orders still regarded him as a great leader. It is unfathomable to me that it is possible to inspire such unswerving loyalty amongst people. This is ultimately what draws me to these immensely flawed and yet ridiculously charismatic characters. There seems to be men and women who pop up from time to time under varying banners of ideology, be it religious/political who manage to cultivate vast followings and impact the course of human history through their actions.


And so I came to the end of the book having lived within the court of the red tsar through the eyes of his vicious inner circle and I was struck again by the surreal nature of it all. How terrifying is it? If you place enough power into the hands of the wrong person you can end up with a society in which an innocuous comment could result in years of torture and imprisonment or a painful death. How is it that a man so well read and intelligent as Stalin, uses that intelligence to create a cut throat, savage society in which even those closest to him are not safe from assassination? 


I guess my curiosity will never be sated.

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text 2016-10-04 19:35
Reading progress update: I've read 465 out of 672 pages.
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar - Simon Sebag Montefiore

Despite studying modern history for years, in particular, the Soviet Union, it still amazes me that the Red Army took such heavy losses to the Wehrmacht and they still couldn't finish the job.


Millions of dead soldiers, thousands of tanks and aircraft destroyed, underpinned by amateur generals in Stalin's inner circle, some who as late as 1940 were still expounding the strengths of the horse over the tank, seen as a flash in the pan. 


It makes me wonder if the Wehrmacht would have gotten as far as they did if Stalin hadn't ignored the overwhelming intelligence that Hitler was planning to invade and mobilised his army sooner. If he hadn't purged his upper echelon of the more forward thinking, sensible generals and replaced them with amateurs. 


When i read this stuff I always struggle to come to terms with the savagery of the Nazis & Soviets. It seems surreal to think that this was only 80 or so years ago. The scale of the destruction of WW2 and the disregard for human life. It's a struggle to put into words, but at times I feel like the world of the 1930s/40s is like a society on a distant planet rather than our own. 


The age of extremes as Hobsbawm put it.

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text 2016-09-24 18:05
Reading progress update: I've read 234 out of 672 pages.
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar - Simon Sebag Montefiore

Believe it or not 234 pages in a week for me is good going for a history book.


Enough in it so far to keep me interested, not at all what I expected. 


Also my podcast equipment has arrived so I may just be able to get my podcast up and running today. Not that I've mentioned it before on here, that's a bit of a curveball. :D

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review 2016-08-06 22:01
Murder, love, and war
The Romanovs: 1613-1918 - Simon Sebag Montefiore

I picked up the audio of this for two reasons. The first is that after reading Romanovs: Ruling Russia 1613-1917 I wanted to know more. For some reason, I didn't know that Catherine the Great was a Romanov, so I figured I should know more. Second, Beale does the audio, and he is great.

So dense, and to be honest, the section about the fall (i.e. Nicholas) was the weakest to me for some reason. I think because he didn't seem to find the last members as interesting as the founding members (or maybe because of the reading I have done about Faberge I found it repetitive), but a good solid history.

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