In This Review

Young Stalin
Young Stalin
By Simon Sebag Montefiore
Knopf, 2007, 496 pp

How much more is there to learn about Joseph Stalin, given the wave of recent biographies on top of a vast existing literature? Lots, it turns out. With notable exceptions, such as in Robert Tucker's Stalin as Revolutionary, Stalin's youth has tended to receive short shrift. Montefiore, by searching in every corner for what made the young Stalin, creates a far clearer picture of the leader he became. The outlines have long been familiar, but Montefiore turns stills into a throbbing, full-bodied film. Stalin's drunken father and devoted mother come alive. So do the violence-laden streets of his early youth, the turmoil of his time in the seminary, his youthful flight to revolution, the robberies, his exile, and, throughout, the philandering. Stalin rises from all of this whole and more recognizable in all his amazingly mixed qualities: strong, cruel, vain, intellectual -- "the peerless politician, paranoid megalomaniac and aberrant master of human misery."