A magnificent new biography that revolutionizes our understanding of Stalin and his world. It has the quality of myth: A poor cobbler's son, a seminarian from an oppressed outer province of the Russian Empire, reinvents himself as a revolutionary and finds a leadership role within a small group of marginal zealots. When the old world is unexpectedly brought down in a total war, the band seizes control of the country, and the new regime it founds as the vanguard of a new world order is ruthlessly dominated from within by the former seminarian until he stands as the absolute ruler of a vast and terrible state apparatus, with dominion over Eurasia. We think we know the story well. Remarkably, Stephen Kotkin's epic new biography shows us how much we still have to learn.
Volume One of Stalin begins and ends in January 1928 as Stalin boards a train bound for Siberia, about to embark upon the greatest gamble of his political life. He is now the ruler of the largest country in the world, but a poor and backward one, far behind the great capitalist countries in industrial and military power, encircled on all sides. In Siberia, Stalin conceives of the largest program of social reengineering ever attempted: the root-and-branch uprooting and collectivization of agriculture and industry across the entire Soviet Union. To stand up to the capitalists he will force into being an industrialized, militarized, collectivized great power is an act of will. Millions will die, and many more will suffer, but Stalin will push through to the end against all resistance and doubts. Where did such power come from? The product of a decade of scrupulous and intrepid research, Stalin contains a host of astonishing revelations. Kotkin gives an intimate first-ever view of the Bolshevik regime’s inner geography, bringing to the fore materials from Soviet military intelligence and the secret police.
©2014 Stephen Kotkin (P)2014 Recorded Books
I am an avid student of history, especially relating to the First World War and the period of time preceding the war and subsequent to it. I also an avid student of the Russian Revolution, Russian Civil War and period following it. This book was extremely well written and it probably one of the finest biographies I have read about Stalin. That being said, there are two issues that one should consider before purchasing this book.
First- as has been pointed out by other reviewers, the narration is not as good as it could and should be. While I did not mind the narrator's pace and tone, it bothered me greatly and detracted from my enjoyment of the book that he could not correctly pronounce the Russian names of the historical figures in the book. It seems logical to me that if you are going to narrate a book with non-English character names, you need to do a good job with the pronunciations. That was not the case with this narration.
Secondly- the book does a phenomenal job of sketching the time frame in Russian history which Stalin was a part of and the book went into great details about Lenin, Trotsky, Stolypin, Tsar Nicholas II, Kerensky as well as the other Russian historical figures of the period. While this was great for me in that it added greatly to my understanding of Stalin, for the first time reader of a Stalin biography, this can detract from his/her enjoyment of the book because not enough time is spent on Stalin's life. Therefore, if you have never read or listened to a biography of Stalin, I would not listen to this book as the first book on the subject. Instead consider first listening to the Stalin biographies written by Simon Sebag Montfiore (only covers Young Stalin), Robert Conqeust and/or Edward Radzinsky (all three books are available from Audible) and then consider listening to this one. I believe that by following this course of action, the listener will enjoy this book more and learn more about Stalin from it.
This is probably a very great book. However, it is hard to tell from the audiobook, because the narration is just terrible. The speaker reads very, very slowly. I have been a monthly subscriber to Audible for 10 years, and for the first time, I increased the speed to 1.25. Then I increased it again to 1.5. At this speed, it is about normal. In addition, there are many, many sentences where the speaker has failed to place the emphasis correctly in the sentence, making it very difficult to follow the structure. This tends to happen quite often when the speaker encounters a new and complicated Russian last name, which of course happens frequently.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
Stephen Kotkin offers a remarkable and comprehensive view of the 1917 Russian Revolution in “Stalin, Volume I”. In historical context, Kotkin profiles the three most important characters of the revolution; e.g. Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky. “Stalin, Volume I” documents the personalities and circumstances of the pre-U.S.S.R.’ economy; i.e. an economy based on the disparity between wealth and poverty, federalization and centralization, political idealism and pragmatism.
Though Stalin wields great enforcement powers, Kotkin infers Trotsky is the intellectual successor to Lenin. Stalin and Trotsky are shown to be at odds on the fundamental direction of the Bolshevik party, the successor party of Russian communism. However, the exigency of getting things done, as opposed to understanding Leninist/Marxist communism, were paramount for consolidating power. Kotkin explains how Stalin became a defender of Leninist doctrine while Trotsky became an antagonist and eventual apostate. Trotsky’s arrogance and Stalin’s manipulation of events doomed Trotsky’s rise to power.
There is much more in Kotkin’s powerful first volume exploration of Stalin and the Russian revolution. Germany’s role in the revolution is a case in point. The writing is crisp and informative. The narration is excellent. After listening to “…Volume I”, one looks forward to Kotkin’s next.
Incredibly detailed account
I cannot recommend Stalin, Vol 1 highly enough. This book often feels more like a history of revolutionary Russia than an account of Stalins life, which is great if you are more interested in public policy vs. an individuals biographic info. The book really heats up when discussing the in-fighting between Stalin and a few of his comrades, such as Trotsky and Kamenev. Ultimately, Vol. 1 is about the fascinating way in which Stalin slowly accrued power over the course of the 20's. My only regret is that Vol. 2 isn't available yet.
I learned so much about Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky, the lead up to and the revolution, but it was presented more dryly than I would have liked. I was riveted by the details but not the presentation. The performance was excellent.
I have been a student of Soviet Studies for 25 years. This is a revolutionary approach to any biography. While the size may be daunting it places Stalin in the context of the history. It is a progressive and advanced presentation of Stalin and the era. A page turner. I can't wait for the treatment of the second volume.
The books was incredibly details and well research. It gives Stalin a new but still ruthless face.
I'd recommend this book to any major history buff. Took a long time to get through but well worth the listen.
Massive accomplishment of historical scholarship. Mildly amused by the need to prove that Stalin was a Marxist/Leninist without father issues.
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