It’s unusual for two masterpieces to appear within less than a year of each other on a subject that has already been pored over by countless writers from nearly every angle. That has now happened with two books about Joseph Stalin. The first was Stephen Kotkin’s Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, the initial volume in a projected trilogy. And now appears Khlevniuk’s superb book, a deeply informed and utterly compelling biography, written by a careful Russia historian who knows the relevant archival material better than any other scholar. Khlevniuk’s fine filter lets through only the essentials; what he highlights is so frequently new and revealing that the portrait in the end seems more accurate and complete than anything before. Stalin and the country that produced him—and that he then harshly refashioned—emerge with stunning clarity. The integrity of Khlevniuk’s account comes from his refusal to speculate beyond where hard evidence carries him. Favorov’s masterful translation from the Russian preserves the book’s spare, penetrating prose.
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