This is the second volume of Kotkin’s massive biographical trilogy. In exquisite detail, it covers the critical years of Stalinism, from the decision to storm the country, by collectivizing agriculture and imposing forced-draft industrialization, through the purges of the Great Terror, to the outbreak of World War II. Kotkin manages to provide authoritative answers to an extraordinary number of long-debated questions about this period, including: What was the impulse behind the terror? What calculus drove Soviet intervention in the Spanish Civil War? How intentional was the 1931–33 famine? And was Stalin caught by surprise when the Germans attacked in June 1941? Kotkin plumbs every critical juncture in the internal and external politics of Stalin’s Soviet Union at a level of detail that is mind-bending. In most books on Stalin and the system that he twisted to his desires, the reader glides from one event to the next, forming a general sense of the terrain. In Kotkin’s fascinating book, by contrast, a strong undertow of detail draws the reader deep into history’s flow, allowing him or her to perceive the connections between events and affording glimpses into the interactions among Stalin, his inner circle, and the many bit players who shaped this story.
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