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Publisher's Summary

A prize-winning historian reveals how Stalin - not Hitler - was the animating force of World War II in this major new history.

World War II endures in the popular imagination as a heroic struggle between good and evil, with villainous Hitler driving its events. But Hitler was not in power when the conflict erupted in Asia - and he was certainly dead before it ended. His armies did not fight in multiple theaters, his empire did not span the Eurasian continent, and he did not inherit any of the spoils of war. That central role belonged to Joseph Stalin. The Second World War was not Hitler’s war; it was Stalin’s war.

Drawing on ambitious new research in Soviet, European, and US archives, Stalin’s War revolutionizes our understanding of this global conflict by moving its epicenter to the east. Hitler’s genocidal ambition may have helped unleash Armageddon, but as McMeekin shows, the war which emerged in Europe in September 1939 was the one Stalin wanted, not Hitler. So, too, did the Pacific war of 1941-1945 fulfill Stalin’s goal of unleashing a devastating war of attrition between Japan and the “Anglo-Saxon” capitalist powers he viewed as his ultimate adversary.

McMeekin also reveals the extent to which Soviet Communism was rescued by the US and Britain’s self-defeating strategic moves, beginning with Lend-Lease aid, as American and British supply boards agreed almost blindly to every Soviet demand. Stalin’s war machine, McMeekin shows, was substantially reliant on American material, from warplanes, tanks, trucks, jeeps, motorcycles, fuel, ammunition, and explosives, to industrial inputs and technology transfer, to the foodstuffs which fed the Red Army.

This unreciprocated American generosity gave Stalin’s armies the mobile striking power to conquer most of Eurasia, from Berlin to Beijing, for Communism.

A groundbreaking reassessment of the Second World War, Stalin’s War is an essential book for anyone looking to understand the current world order.

©2021 Sean McMeekin (P)2021 Basic Books

Critic Reviews

Stalin’s War is above all about strategy: the failure of Roosevelt and Churchill to make shrewd choices as World War II played out. McMeekin brilliantly argues that instead of weighting the European and Pacific theaters to favor their own interests - and to weaken the inevitably antagonistic Soviet Union - FDR and Churchill left the most critical parts of Asia unguarded while they ground down the German army, a decision that favored Stalin's interests far more than their own. Roosevelt’s ‘Germany first’ strategy and the trillion dollars of Lend Lease aid he poured into Stalin's treasury would underwrite Soviet control of China and East Central Europe after 1945 and hatch a Cold War whose dire effects are with us still.” (Geoffrey Wawro, author of Sons of Freedom and director of the University of North Texas Military History Center)

“Historian McMeekin (The Russian Revolution) draws from recently opened Soviet archives to shed light on Stalin’s dark reasoning and shady tactics.... Packed with incisive character sketches and illuminating analyses of military and diplomatic maneuvers, this is a skillful and persuasive reframing of the causes, developments, and repercussions of WWII.” (Publishers Weekly)

“A sweeping reassessment of World War II seeking to ‘illuminate critical matters long obscured by the obsessively German-centric literature’ on the subject.... Yet another winner for McMeekin, this also serves as a worthy companion to Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War, which argued that Britain should not have entered World War I. Brilliantly contrarian history.” (Kirkus)

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Sean McMeekin Does It Again!

This is one of the most important nonfiction books I’ve found about the Second World War. Often you hear of the European war as Hitler’s war or Germany’s war and I’ve heard of the Second World War referred to as two wars (or more) with one name. But really these are all misleading characterizations since when looked at the right way, the entire conflagration becomes a conflict between flavors of Capitalism versus Soviet-led Communism. I actually would have thought that argument would be a silly construction made by an author trying to sell a book about Stalin. But having read this book carefully and thoroughly scrutinized it, I feel the author has presented a valid thesis. It is only by Stalin’s shrewd diplomatic engineering that he is able to turn the Capitalist ‘Allies’ against each other until well into the war. It is almost as though the Cold War had a hot phase before the traditional conflict we all know.

This book offers one of the most uniquely refreshing ways of looking at the war that I’ve read in quite a long time. To me the narrator is very important as well and here this title excels.

Excellent writing, Sean.
Excellent narration, Kevin.

Audience, please consider Dr. McMeekin’s other three Audible titles:
(1) The Russian Revolution
(2) Ottoman End Game
(3) July 1914

Audible, please get busy recording his other three titles, especially
(1) Russian Origins of the First World War
(2) Berlin - Baghdad Express
(3) History’s Greatest Heist
These are loved by fans of the historical era and would make great selling audio titles. Please do them up right, and in the listed order.

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A fresh and disturbing reassessment of WWII

This is a superb book, well worth the time to absorb its nearly 700 pages. This could spark a new assessment of World War II. Josef Stalin is as cruel and ruthless as might be expected. The world leader
who shines less brightly in this book is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR and his inner circle, in particular Harry Hopkins, seem more tarnished, swimming in a toxic cocktail of hubris and naïveté.

This is the third book I have read by Professor McMeekin. He takes full advantage of his access to archives in Russia and other countries that suffered behind the Iron Curtin for so many years.

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a must listen

From the research to the conclusions and everything in between, this is a fantastic book. I can't recommend it enough. I'll probably buy a hard copy, so I can feel its substance in my hands.

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Completely new view of WWII

How often does a book radically shift your understanding of a topic as familiar as World War 2? Sean McMeekin's new book, Stalin's War, accomplishes this seeming impossibility. I cannot recommend it highly enough if you are interested in the topic. By examining recently released Soviet archives, the book explains the thinking of the Russian leadership in general and Stalin in particular. Suddenly the structure and outcome of the war and even more importantly what happened in the post-war era, become much more understandable. There are some hard truths here for FDR admirers. Lend-lease was sold as a way to fight Nazism without shedding American lives, by providing countries such as England with war material. In reality massive amounts of aid, and not just war material, was sent to the Soviet Union, even after Barbarossa was defeated. No request by Stalin was denied, even the most outlandish such as getting Japanese territory and Italian ships even though the USSR did not materially participate in either theater, and even if it took resources needed by English or American troops. If one believes, as FDR did, that more government can solve nearly any problem, it is not surprising that one would be drawn to the Marxism and would want to see it succeed. But I had no idea the extend of the American support of Russia and how that impacted both the war and the subsequent loss of eastern Europe and China to communism.

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The best WW2 book ever

Well, after an interesting introduction, the book unraveled into a great deal of interesting diplomatic and intriguing affairs. I’m very pleased and I highly recommend reading this book!

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Not a fan

This book is mistitled, and should be called Stalin bad. Lack of actual information is not covered by a painstaking recital of the complete lender lease catalogue, although he didn't quite count any pencils provided.