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text 2018-03-18 15:25
Reading progress update: I've read 49 out of 912 pages.
Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928 - Stephen Kotkin

While I'm enjoying this book, I'm moving it back to my "to-read" list. I have a veritable avalanche of books coming up to review and podcast, and my new viewing obsession (which I'll post about once I finish my trip) has primed me to do a deep dive into Spanish history. Uncle Joe will have to wait until a later date.

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text 2018-03-02 19:21
Reading progress update: I've read 11 out of 912 pages.
Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928 - Stephen Kotkin

I've had this one on my shelf since it first came out, but it took my ex-student's decision to make it the next selection of our two-person book club for me to crack it open. Kotkin's introduction comes across as a little grandiose, but I do like his myth-busting approach to his subject. Hopefully the former will subside as I wade in further.

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review 2017-10-14 00:00
Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine, 1921-1933
Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine, 192... Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine, 1921-1933 - Anne Applebaum Parking this one for the moment....... may come back to it but for now now really keeping my attention.
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review 2017-04-18 00:00
The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's... The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia - Orlando Figes I loved this book as it is a sharp and shocking insight into Russia history that is extremely well written and informative
Every now and again I need to be shocked by history and while I have read a lot of books on this period in history and the terror of Stalin, The Whisperers has something entirely different to offer as it tells the accounts of the the loved ones left behind after their husbands wife's mothers or fathers have been informed on and either shot or sent to the Gulag.

The Whisperers draws on hundreds of family archives (letters, diaries, personal papers and memoirs and photographs) concealed by the survivors of the Stalin Terror in secret drawers and under mattresses across Russia. In each family extensive interviews were carried out with the oldest members to bring about the many many important and heart breaking accounts of ordinary family's who survived through Stalin's reign of terror.

I had a hard copy edition from my local library and at just under 750 pages is quite a slow but compelling read and while most memoirs or biographies of the survivors of Stalin's Great Terror concentrate on those who were imprisoned or killed, the Whisperers gives us an intimate look at the devastation experienced by the family members left behind. While numerous family accounts are catalogued in the book, each account is only a few pages long and therefore the reader only learns what is necessary for that particular account and family and yet some of the family stories are so memorable and heartbreaking that I will have a difficulty time leaving them behind. The book has a vast amount of photographs and it was nice to be able to put faces to some of the people concerned. There is also a terrific introduction at the beginning of the book which I found so informative and helpful.

I am aware that there was controversary surrounding this book when it was published but it did not affect my reading of this book.

I would recommend this book for readers who enjoy Russian history but be warned this is a long and detailed book and quite a slow read.

This was my first Library book as I only joined my local Library last month for research I was doing and while there I saw this book in the history section and knew it was right up my street. Having said that half ways through the book I ordered a copy as really want this one for my book shelf.

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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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