In This Review

 Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II
Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II
By Sean McMeekin
Basic Books, 2021, 864 pp.

Instead of writing yet another history of World War II centered on Adolf Hitler, McMeekin takes a more original approach, focusing on Joseph Stalin. McMeekin pulls no punches in reminding readers that throughout the war, Stalin played a cruel, manipulative, and uncompromising game. His cynical deal with Hitler in August 1939 allowed the Soviet Union to take Poland and the Baltic states and pushed European democracies into a draining war with Germany. When it was the Soviet Union that was struggling to push the Germans back, Stalin demanded that the United Kingdom and the United States contort their own war plans to provide him with material assistance and establish a second front. McMeekin argues, less persuasively, that Stalin was acting as an orthodox Leninist with a long-term goal from the start. McMeekin also develops an unconvincing and at times preposterous counterfactual war. He argues, for example, that to thwart Stalin’s plans, the United Kingdom could have sided with Finland in the “Winter War” of 1939–40 and made its own peace with Germany after the fall of France. McMeekin’s research is prodigious, and his writing is vigorous, but in the end, he pushes his argument past the breaking point.