We knew Stalin had his head in the sand as the Nazi invasion approached in June 1941, but not how criminally deluded he was, despite intelligence reports and the urgings of his two top military leaders. We knew of the almost incomprehensible losses suffered by the Soviet Union in the first weeks of the war, but not the scale of the chaos, incompetence, and lack of preparation. We knew that Stalin regarded the 1939 nonaggression pact as a frail reed, but could only argue over whether he meant to be the one to break it by attacking first. Pleshakov settles all of this in a spellbinding account of Stalin's deliberations with his terrorized entourage; his enraged, baffled, then paralyzed reaction to events; and, eventually, his restored cruel poise. By then, three weeks into the war, the Soviet Union had lost 28 infantry divisions and 600,000 soldiers out of 3 million.
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