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Publisher's Summary

Of all the despots of our time, Joseph Stalin lasted the longest and wielded the greatest power, and his secrets have been the most jealously guarded - even after his death.

In this book, the first to draw from recently released archives, Robert Conquest gives us Stalin as a child and student; as a revolutionary and communist theoretician; as a political animal skilled in amassing power and absolutely ruthless in maintaining it. He presents the landmarks of Stalin's rule: the clash with Lenin; collectivization; the Great Terror; the Nazi-Soviet pact and the Nazi-Soviet war; the anti-Semitic campaign that preceded his death; and the legacy he left behind.

Distilling a lifetime's study, weaving detail, analysis, and research, Conquest has given us an extraordinarily powerful narrative of this incredible figure.

©1991 Robert Conquest (P)1992 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • John
  • Troy, MI, USA
  • 12-03-08

Great 1991 Study on Stalin fka Dzhugashvili

Robert Conquest is one of the greatest historians writing about an evil dictator whose is responsible for more deaths, famine and destruction than perhaps any other dictator. The bio is comprehensive but not too long esp when listening to a fine narrator.

I hope Conquest's many other books, including The Great Terror and The Harvest of Sorrow, will become available on Audible.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent Overview

I have long been fascinated by Joseph Stalin. However, of the leaders of WWII, he is probably the most mysterious, and for this reason, maybe the most interesting. The book does an excellent job of setting out the facts of Stalin's life. The author does not do a lot of "psychologizing" but manages to paint a picture of an evil person with a very evil personality, quite possibly a true psychopath. He does an excellent job of showing what such a person can do when he has total control of a large country.

The narrator has some odd speech mannerisms, that at first I found irritating, but fairly early into the book, I grew to like. He did an excellent job of differentiating speakers when reading dialogs and I particularly liked the way he imitated Winston Churchill when reading his quotes.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Superb

Of the three great dictators of the 20th century (Hitler, Stalin and Mao zedong) only Hitler has generated a great many biographies available here in the US. A search for Hitler on Audible generates 14 pages of book listings while one for Stalin generates 3 and Mao zedong and Mao tae-tung each generate less than 1. This was one of the reasons that I grabbed Robert Conquest’s Stalin: Breaker of Nations when I saw it, another being because I knew Robert Conquest to be an expert on the Russian Revolution, its history and the period leading up to the fall of the Soviet Union. While Mr Conquest was originally considered an ideologue by some historians, the KGB records available during the time of Boris Yeltsin ended up verifying all of his claims and cemented his name as an accurate portrayer of these events. His book The Great Terror is the definitive work on the subject of Stalin’s great terror.

While Mr Conquest describes this book as more of a portrait than a biography, I found it to be both fascinating and very informative. This was not the first biography of Stalin that I had read, but it was the most informative and the most complete as it covers his political life from his time as a bank robber and petty criminal through his death in 1953. While the entire book is interesting, it was particularly so for me in explaining the process of Stalin’s destruction of his rivals (Trotsky, Bukharin, Kamenev, Kirov, Zinoviev and many others) during the late 1920s and the 1930s as well as how he ended up dominating the entire Communist power structure in such a way that he had no real rivals left by the start of World War 2. Any description of Stalin’s policies has to be replete with the horrors of his rule, but some events serve as a perfect example of the capriciousness of his governing. One of these is the story of the Soviet census taken during the 1930s. Millions had died during the great Soviet famine, brought on my the forced collectivization of the farms, and the census results showed this. Stalin denied that there had been a famine and so any census results showing a drop in population had to be another example of spies plotting against the state and therefore cause for the execution of those involved. Life was indeed precarious during Stalin’s time. A second census taken after the execution of those involved in the first did not show the drop in population since those taking it knew the punishment given to those who took the first one, and this is one example of how much care must be exercised in viewing Soviet statistics from that time period.

While the book covers The Great Terror lightly those wanting more information on it probably should consider buying Mr Conquest’s book on that subject. For those interested in a less in-depth view of how the Communist State became established, this is a wonderful source and highlights how much of a change took place right after Stalin’s death, only for a form of Stalinism to be reinstated a decade later.

Mr Conquest was born a British citizen so readers should expect that he would write using a British form of English. The narration by Frederick Davidson (David Chase) is first class, but he, as well, was English and hence his pronunciation is also English. One reviewer complained that he mispronounced the word “cadre” as “CAD-er”, but that is a proper regional British pronunciation of the word and hence should be expected. I found the narration clear and compelling and I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the life of Joseph Stalin and an overview of both the development of the Russian Revolution into Stalinism as well as the terrible events of the 1930s.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A bid you adieu

The voice actor on this book is so horrible,they have the strangest accent that sounds like a 1800s high society gentlemen, but very nasal.

It is very hard to understand anything they say,especially names.

Listen before you buy

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • c
  • 09-08-09

Poor recording quality

I am only a few hours into this book and am enjoying the the words but this is technically the worst Audible recording I have listened to.
After an hour, you are instructed to "Go to Disc 2...".
I am constantly changing the volume of my car radio or my iPhone as I listen. In some ways, it is like watching a commercial on TNT where you get blown out by the advertisers, and then have to increase the volume to hear what Brenda is saying to Provenza.
I will finish this interesting book, but it is distracting.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • John
  • Houston, TX, United States
  • 02-16-12

Couldn't get through it

What would have made Stalin better?

This book was too dry for my taste (I only got about a quarter of the way through). I was looking for more color and context. It is very factual, as if someone is reading from historical documents. I would have enjoyed this more had the author given more background info on Russian history, the culture of the era, personalities, etc.

Would you ever listen to anything by Robert Conquest again?

Maybe

Would you listen to another book narrated by Frederick Davidson?

Maybe

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

N/A

Any additional comments?

N/A

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

A rather bland biography

This is more a retelling of history rather than an insightful biography. Think "textbook". Bland.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Insight into his role in history, not his mind.

NOTE: Although the given release date is 2008, this book was written in 1991, before the fall of the Soviet Union, and is based only on information known at that time.

I enjoyed this book and came away with a better understanding of some important historical events- Russian Revolution, rise of Lenin, WWII, and the realities of life in the USSR under Stalin's dictatortship. It was defintely worth listening to just for the insights into the early days of the USSR and the fascinating story of the Soviets during WWII.

However, I did not get what I expected, which was a deep exploration of Stalin's life, thoughts, motivations, etc. that could me give me insight into how he came to power and why he reigned with such cruelty and terror. The most surprising thing about this about this biography of Stalin is that I finished it without being abe to grasp how this man was able to come into power in the first place. This might be partially due to significant gaps in Stalin's life history- at least at the time this book was written- and his later practice of rewriting his past to better fit with his curent narrative. However, Mr. Conquest presents Stalin as a man who had few talents, was not particularly intelligent or informed, and who made a continuous stream of blunders and ill informed decisions that led to famine, poverty, the deaths of millions, and, ultimately, the death of the principles underlying the bolshevik revolution.

Mr. Conquest was clearly working with very limited information about Stalin's childhood and early adulthood. It was slightly annoying that almost every time he gave some fact about Stalin's actual feelings or opinions about someone or something, he immediately followed it up with a statement that the opposite was also just as likely to be true. Like, he may have loved and cherished his mother, but he is just as likely to have reviled her. Who knows?

As the book progresses (and I assume there is a larger body of historical record to pull from) Conquest is able to paint a more complete picture of Stalin's actions and the events surrounding them. We do end up with a picture of how he approached relationships with people- particularly other world leaders. The most fascinating, and for me illuminating, parts of the book deal with WWII- his early alliance with Germany, Hitler's betrayal, and then his complicated dealings with Churchill, Roosevelt, and Truman. And his details about Stalin's waning days are also extremely compelling.

Overall, I recommend this book as long as you are not expecting to come away with a deep understanding of the man himself.





  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Pick another Stalin bio!

What would have made Stalin better?

If the book was written with a better flow.

What could Robert Conquest have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Rewrote the book or had someone else proofread it to make sure it flowed.

What didn’t you like about Frederick Davidson’s performance?

He did not seem to speak clearly in some parts.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

It did start to flow and pick up towards the end.

Any additional comments?

I am going to have to spend more money and get another bio on Stalin to make sure that I actually learn something.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Andrew
  • Pittsburgh, PA, United States
  • 07-06-13

Historically interesting, but ideologically driven

Lots of good history in this, but the author connects everything Stalin has done to his ideology as a Marxist. At the end, he says that there is discussion as to whether Stalin was a sociopath, but he basically argues that every bad thing that happened was due to Socialism and Communism and that otherwise, Stalin would have been, say, a particularly stern economics professor or something.

This is inadequate to say the least. Compare this to a cult leader who follows a narrative to the T and then implodes as the falsity of the narrative emerges in varied ways. He ends up killing his own people or himself or both and it all collapses. Ideology alone does not create the sort of lasting power monger and military force that Stalin was. There's much more to it than that - a reason why ideology speaks to a person. Compare this to "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," which has a thorough understanding of Hitler, his childhood, his personal relationships and his early megalomaniacal ambitions, as opposed to just saying "well, he's an anti-Semite and that explains it all."

The author also tries to marry all dictators in WWII to the Communist worldview, while later acknowledging that Hitler and Mussolini persecuted Socialists and Communists. The ideological bias and agenda is clear throughout the book, interrupting the flow of the narrative to reiterate that Marxism caused everything bad that happened.

So compared to other historical biographies, the author seems to accept "he's a communist so he was evil" as the primary understanding of Stalin in a way that does not address the psychological ego and will it takes to starve millions of your own people. I would think that a different biography would provide a more specific view of the man, rather than a critique of all Marxism disguised as a biography of one person. (The straw man "Marxism" at that).

5 of 10 people found this review helpful