In This Review

The Last Days of Stalin
The Last Days of Stalin
By Joshua Rubenstein
Yale University Press, 2016, 288 pp

Most students of the Soviet Union think they know the story of Stalin’s death in 1953 and the confusion that followed it, but in most cases, they likely do not—or at least they don’t know many of the details that Rubenstein here unearths. Unlike most accounts of Stalin’s demise, Rubinstein’s book makes clear how the episode was excruciatingly drawn out over weeks and how it produced a great deal of drama in foreign capitals. Rubenstein also reveals the likely lethal (although ultimately unrealized) plots that Stalin had developed against some of the longest-surviving members of his entourage and his designs for a vast crusade against Russian Jews that, had Stalin lived to see it through, would have gone beyond the anti-Semitic horrors he had already unleashed. Rubenstein skillfully narrates the tale of the political maneuvering among shaken successors in the months after Stalin’s death and carefully recounts the newly installed Eisenhower administration’s confused response to the tyrant’s passing. Washington, Rubenstein argues, squandered an opportunity to engage productively with the new leadership in Moscow in the narrow window that opened between Stalin’s death in March and the Berlin uprising three months later.