Reader reviews and comments on Young Stalin, plus links to write your own review.

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Young Stalin

by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Young Stalin
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2007, 496 pages
    Oct 2008, 528 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Vy Armour

Buy This Book

About this Book


Page 1 of 1
There is 1 reader review for Young Stalin
Order Reviews by:

Write your own review!

Greg Cameron (10/25/08)

An excellent, if tendentious, book
I experienced something of a split-screen reaction to Simon Sebag Montefiore's book "Young Stalin." First off, I would say that it is a provocative book that will change your view of one of history's great psychopaths forever. I am not in a scholarly position to judge the objective merits of his historical scholarship, but he appears to have done an excellent job of researching his topic. Stalin, to me, always seemed a curiously colourless psychopath who somehow aced his way into the lead position in a highly centralized political system.

In this book, we learn to our astonishment that Stalin was a poet (and not a bad one either, as Pasternak himself ironically believed), a womanizer (and even the occasional chicken hawk), a tireless worker,a wrestler, a bookworm (he satirically annotated his own editions of Tolstoy!) and a man with more political shrewdness than he is given credit for.

Stalin almost comes across here as a semi-romantic pirate figure in the Russian revolutionary movement (Khruschev supposedly said Stalin was fond of an old Hollywood film about a paranoid pirate who was systematically eliminating his fellow pirates and would often show it at the Kremlin to the ambivalent reaction of his sweating underlings - it sounds ridiculous enough to be true!).

Montefiore thinks Stalin's psychotic underpinnings were laid by a physically abused childhood and a childhood and adolescence spent in the violent world of Georgian youth gangs (and the generally violent culture of Georgia itself). (And also by a life spent in backstabbing conspiracy.) Social workery, perhaps, but it's a credible argument. Montefiore meticulously charts the rise of this psychopath to the top of the Communist party, noting his interactions with the likes of Lenin and Trostky. Montefiore asserts, as Vladimir Nabokov never ceased to tell Edmund Wilson, that Stalin was an expansion of the thuggery of Lenin's own regime and not a radical break with Leninist practice. Lenin's reliance on Stalin at many points in the history of the Soviet Communist Party is incontestable - Montefiore's documentation of this is beyond reproach.

On the whole, I find his argument here compelling. Montefiore's prose is lively and very readable - almost like an historical novel at times. With Stalin as the ultimate anti-hero, no less! Montefiore tries to explain Stalin's behaviour, but he does not absolve it. This book is perfectly splendid and I heartily recommend it. However, I have a strong reservation. Montefiore consistently uses the word 'terrorist' in connection with the Marxist-Leninist party in an almost bludgeon-like fashion. Montefiore would apparently have no use for the cliche about one man's terrorist being another man's freedom fighter. On the one hand, Montefiore, with this tactic, seems to want to connect the past with current affairs, perhaps in the hopes of stirring his readership's interest in increasingly remote historical material. On the other hand, he is perhaps suggesting some parallels between the Soviet Marxist-Leninist party and current affairs. In effect, instead of considering Islamofascists, he would have us consider Islamocommies. Oh, my. Granting that both sets of ideas have considerable totalitarian impulses, I don't find this argument (if indeed it constitutes an argument at all) convincing - in effect, he is, to my eye, mixing apples and oranges. Montefiore makes the connection explicit in at least one passage and he even drags out the tired saw of Marxism being a secular religion(George Steiner would have loved it!).

I think this whole line of thought fails to illuminate. Montefiore would be better off letting the facts speak for themselves, as out-of-fashion as this idea seems to be for some posturing intellectuals. Don't let these reservations keep you from buying or reading the book. This book will force you to revise your view of Stalin forever. It certainly did mine. I congratulate Montefiore on a job (by and large) well done. A lively and stimulating read.
  • Page
  • 1

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Crossing the Horizon
    Crossing the Horizon
    by Laurie Notaro
    In Crossing the Horizon, Laurie Notaro takes us back to a time when flying was a rare and risky ...
  • Book Jacket
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Next
    by Stephanie Gangi

    Fast-paced, wickedly observant, and haunting in the best sense of the word.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.