In This Review

Stalin’s Library: A Dictator and His Books
Stalin’s Library: A Dictator and His Books
By Geoffrey Roberts
Yale University Press, 2022, 272 pp

Roberts portrays Joseph Stalin, the mastermind and implementer of mass terror in the Soviet Union, as a voracious reader and meticulous editor. Based mostly on secondary sources, this book examines Stalin’s intellectual pursuits in the context of major episodes in Soviet history. The dictator’s personal collection of about 25,000 volumes was dispersed among various libraries after his death. Roberts traces the fate of those books and puts special focus on some 400 of them that bear Stalin’s personal markings. For instance, Stalin’s marginalia show how his view of Leon Trotsky evolved from admiration to vicious criticism. His annotations in the works of the Marxist philosopher Karl Kautsky include words such as “swine,” “liar,” and “fool.” Stalin’s main interests included history, Marxist revolutionary thought, and diplomacy. In fiction, his tastes were “conservative and conventional.” Stalin advised publishers, met with authors to discuss their work, and edited their drafts; he closely engaged in compiling a history textbook for schools and actively interfered in the ideological supervision of Soviet literature and film. Roberts characterizes Stalin as a dogmatic Marxist, yet Roberts’s own book contains examples of Stalin’s deviations from Marxist teachings. For instance, Stalin believed that the class struggle intensified under socialism, a view that clashed with Marxist theory but provided a rationale for new waves of repression.