Sunday, February 10, 2008

Young Stalin, by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Young Stalin, by Simon Sebag Montefiore

We all know about Stalin the WWII leader and Soviet dictator; this book tells the story of Josef Djugashvili, the boy who grew up to be Stalin. Another engaging history book—I’m on a roll lately! To discover that the man that is mentioned in the same breath as Hitler was a pirate, gangster, and murderer wasn’t a huge surprise. The fact that he was a published poet and studied for the priesthood, however, doesn’t fit the image I’ve always had. Just one of the many surprises about this complicated man. Probably my favorite morsel was that Stalin started a book club!

While an intriguing and captivating book, I found it difficult to understand in parts. Stalin had many, many aliases—enough to fill up an entire page at the end of the book. Montefiore uses many of these interchangeably throughout the text making it hard to follow at times. I believe the pseudonyms used match the times and stories in which Stalin used them himself so their appearance is consistent, but understanding the why didn’t make it easier to read. Another annoyance was that the author seems overly proud of himself; a huge number of footnotes contain references to his other book, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. These small distractions aside, I quite enjoyed this book. Full of surprises, this is a fascinating story that often feels more like fiction than history.

First Sentence:
At 10:30 a.m. on the sultry morning of Wednesday, 26 June 1907, in the seething central square of Tiflis, a dashing moustachioed calvary captain in boots and jodhpurs, wielding a big Circassian sabre, performed tricks on horseback, joking with two pretty, well-dressed Georgian girls who twirled gaudy parasols—while fingering Mauser pistols hidden in their dresses.

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