On one level, Gellately's book is a well-told but familiar narrative of the horrors committed in Germany and Russia between the start of World War I and the end of World War II. On another level is Gellately's more provocative thesis: that Lenin should be ranked alongside Hitler and Stalin as "one of the three truly vile despots of the first half of the twentieth century" -- a revision of the tendency of most recent historians to see Hitler and Stalin in a class of their own. Whereas Hitler was for years viewed as uniquely evil, revelations about Soviet crimes -- from the collectivization of farms in the 1920s and 1930s to the gulag -- led to Stalin's "elevation" to a similar rank. (See, for example, Alan Bullock's masterful Hitler and Stalin.) Gellately persuasively shows Lenin to be as willing as the other two dictators to employ any means necessary to achieve his political goals. But his revisionism is not entirely convincing -- if only because Lenin died before he had the chance to kill on Hitler's and Stalin's scale.
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