Two features distinguish this political biography. First is its author, the son of a Stalin purge victim but himself once a seemingly orthodox colonel general among the military's political commissars and, more lately, a radical critic of the Soviet military and a Yeltsin confidant. Second, the author has worked with party, army and state archives previously unseen by Stalin's Western biographers. Volkogonov began writing the book in 1978 and completed much of it by 1985, polishing it over the next four years before its Soviet publication in 1989. The polishing did not remove all hagiolatry of Lenin and party, but no matter; the result makes an interesting and at times rich companion to the major biographies of Stalin by Robert C. Tucker and Adam Ulam. Unless read as a companion volume, however, the history it recounts is incomplete and uneven.