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review 2016-10-12 22:05
Vozhd
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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text 2016-05-22 19:25
Ten Bookish Questions (meme)
The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics - C.S. Lewis
Gone, Baby, Gone - Dennis Lehane
The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works - William Shakespeare,Gary Taylor,Stanley Wells
The Complete Vampire Chronicles (Vampire Chronicles, #1-#4) - Anne Rice
The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory
A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin
The Complete Novels of Jane Austen - Jane Austen
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives - Alan Bullock
Joseph Anton: A Memoir - Salman Rushdie

Once more, thanks to Bookloving Writer for finding and starting this.

 

1. What book is on your nightstand now?

C.S. Lewis: Signature Classics (Mere Christianity / The Screwtape Letters / The Great Divorce / The Problem of Pain / Miracles / A Grief Observed / The Abolition of Man) -- the book that I currently dip in in between my other reads.

 

2. What was the last truly great book that you read?

Dennis Lehane: Gone, Baby, Gone.  No. 4 of the Kenzie & Gennaro series, and boy had he reached his full stride by that point.  No book in the series is bad (in fact, even the very first one, A Drink Before the War, is amazingly good for a first novel and deserved every award that it won), but Gone, Baby, Gone absolutely knocked me off my socks. 

 

3. If you could meet any writer – dead or alive – who would it be? And what would you want to know?

Dead: William Shakespeare (obviously, if you know anything about me at all) – the greatest literary genius that ever walked the earth. I think I'd just want to hang out with him and shoot the breeze, though.  I have a feeling he'd be part annoyed, part supremely amused with all the cult surrounding him and his works these days, and the last thing I'd want to do would be to feed into that.  Once we'd hung out together for a while, I suspect the conversation would shift towards literature and the theatre quite naturally anyway, and I'd be happy to then take it wherever would seem most natural.


Living: Salman Rushdie – one of, if not the most important contemporary literary voices, particularly (though for reasons I wouldn't wish on my very worst own enemy) on the great scouges of the post-Cold War world: fundamentalism (religious and otherwise), racism, and the encroachment of freedom of thought and freedom of expression.

 

                https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1d/Salman_Rushdie_2012_Shankbone-2.jpg

 

4. What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

Cry to Heaven - Anne RiceHmm.  Again, depending how well you know me, possibly the first volumes of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles.  I'm absolutely disgusted with the way she's been behaving towards anyone who doesn't bow down before her in abject admiration in recent years, but I did actually like her early Lestat novels and also, in particular, Cry to Heaven.  I just think she's a clear case of success having completely screwed up a writer's mind.  In terms of her books, the Vampire Chronicles jumped the shark for me once and for all with Memnoch, the Devil.  I haven't touched any of her books since then, and I sure as hell won't anymore now that she's turned full-fledged bully.

 

5. How do you organize your personal library?

By genre and country of origin / language, and within those categories, essentially alphabetically; also including, however, a few subcategory shelves for authors or series that I particularly treasure.

 

    

 

6. What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet? Anything you feel embarrased never to have read?

With a TBR consisting of almost 3,000 books, are you kidding me?  There are plenty of books I'd still love to read -- and plenty, too, that I've always wanted to get around to but just haven't yet.  And no, I'm not embarrassed about a single one of them, either ...

 

 

7. Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel you were supposed to like but didnt? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

Disappointing and overrated: Philippa Gregory: The Other Boleyn Girl.  It was the first book by Gregory that I read, and given my interest in everything Tudor, and in Anne Boleyn in particular, it should have been a dead-on match.  Instead, I've found it badly researched, clichéd, sensationalist, and just plain sickening.  I've steered clear of Gregory's writing ever since.

 

DNF: My last major DNFs were (not as individual books, but as series), A Song of Ice and Fire (annoingly wordy, derivative world-building, clichéd, loads of characters too stupid to live, and just generally seriously underwhelming), Fifty Shades of Grey (awful writing and sick beyond belief) and Twilight (equally awfully written and, again, there's something truly sick to telling teenage / YA readers that it's not merely OK but even desirable to have to fear the guy you love).

 

 

 

8. What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?

I'm drawn to the literary classics (novels, plays, poetry, you name it), historical fiction and nonfiction (including biographies and memoirs), any- and everything international, mysteries and crime fiction, adventure stories (again, both fiction and nonfiction), art, archeology, nature, cooking, music, and politics.

 

I read very little horror, absolutely no slasher stories and, at the other end of the spectrum, also virtually no chick-lit and romance novels (or indeed anything arguably qualifying as cute and fluffy).

 

9. If you could require the president to read one particular book, what would it be?

The book that'll probably be found lying next to me when I die will be William Shakespeare's Hamlet, though as a matter of principle, I'm an advocate of people's reading as widely and variedly as possible -- hominem unius libri timeo and all that.

 

 

However, what with the turn world politics have been taking in the recent couple of months, I have a growing feeling that our precious world is in danger of going to hell in a handbasket really fast, so right about now, the books that I'd like to shove in just about all our dear leaders' respective faces are George Orwell's 1984, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, a hefty dose of books about Stalin, Hitler, and the "Third Reich" (both fiction and nonfiction) -- as well as a copy of the Qu'ran.

 

10. What do you plan to read next?

Hmmm.  I just whipped through the first couple of books in Dennis Lehane's Kenzie & Gennaro series in (for me) practically no time at all, but I think I'll leave the last one for later, take a small break from Lehane's writing (great though it is), go for a  change of pace and start Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton.  Kind of also feels also like the right book to start on the day when Germany's Austrian neighbors look all poised to elect yet another right-wing, nationalist and populist head of state ... however hard I personally may be praying that this isn't actually going to happen.

 

 

 

Merken

Merken

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review 2015-11-12 00:00
Stalin's Daughter
Stalin's Daughter - Rosemary Sullivan My FAVOURITE book of the year .

From the first sentence Of this book I was hooked....................

What would it mean to be born Stalin's daughter, to carry the weight of that name for a lifetime and never be free of it?

From her days in the Kremlin, to her defection to the US Svetlana Alliluyeva's life is a fascinating and an emotional read both historically and psychologically.

The title of this book is not an exaggeration, Svetlana Alliluyeva's life was extraordinary and tumultuous and Rosemary Sullivan's research and writing is outstanding. I found this a compelling biography, packed full of history, fast paced with plenty of emotion .

I had the whisper sync version on kindle which enabled me to read and listen to this book. I perfer to read historical books but loved listening to the pronouncations of the Russian names of places and people and the narrator was very easy to listen to. The kindle version has plenty of photos and a family tree which is such a bonus.
I think readers who enjoy Russian history will find Svetlana's story facinating reading. I just loved this book and although it took me close to two weeks to finish it, this is because I savoured every sentence and spent so much time googling people and places. I didn't want the book to end and the hardback copy is on my Christmas Wishlist as this is a book I want in my Library.
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