Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia

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"A book of great importance; it surpasses all others in breadth and depth."—Commentary
If the past century will be remembered for its tragic pairing of civilized achievement and organized destruction, at the heart of darkness may be found Hitler, Stalin, and the systems of domination they forged. Their lethal regimes murdered millions and fought a massive, deadly war. Yet their dictatorships took shape within formal constitutional structures and drew the support of the German and Russian people. In the first major historical work to analyze the two dictatorships together in depth, Richard Overy gives us an absorbing study of Hitler and Stalin, ranging from their private and public selves, their ascents to power and consolidation of absolute rule, to their waging of massive war and creation of far-flung empires of camps and prisons. The Nazi extermination camps and the vast Soviet Gulag represent the two dictatorships in their most inhuman form. Overy shows us the human and historical roots of these evils.

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Editorial Reviews

Steven Merritt Miner
Beginning in 1992 with the publication of Alan Bullock's vast dual biography, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, the comparative approach has returned in force. Now Richard Overy, best known for his fine histories of World War II and Nazi Germany, has weighed in with The Dictators, the most comprehensive, up-to-date and cogently argued comparison yet published. His approach is systemic rather than biographical: based on a prodigious reading of the scholarly literature, he compares and contrasts key features of the two regimes. The result is a richly insightful study (though one that, to be sure, demands a fairly high level of prior knowledge on the part of the reader).
— The New York Times Sunday Book Review
William Grimes
Mr. Overy wastes very little time trying to fathom the psychology of the two leaders since neither regime was, as he puts it, "a one-man show." Instead, he examines the machinery of dictatorship, tracing the historical evolution and the workings of, for example, the party state, the cult of personality, the command economy and cultural and racial policy in each country.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Comparisons between Hitler and Stalin and their regimes are nothing new, but this dense, comprehensive, scholarly investigation is more nuanced than most. Overy sidesteps the simplistic debate over which dictator was more evil and focuses on how they, and the systems they created, were similar and different. He delves into their regimes thematically, in topics ranging from police states and economic systems to wartime behavior. The results yield intriguing historical insights, although the book demands a careful reading. For instance, Overy notes that both Hitler and Stalin created cults of personality, but for Hitler "personality was the defining criterion of leadership"; Stalin, on the other hand, emphasized Communist ideology first and embraced a personality cult only when he realized it could cement his stranglehold on power. Interestingly, while the Nazi Party increasingly relied on workers' support and ideology, Stalin's Communist Party-the "vanguard of the proletariat"-relied more and more on middle-class technocrats. At times Overy restates points long known to historians, e.g., both leaders pursued negative utopias, but from different bases: class warfare was Stalin's justification, while Hitler chose biological purity. But when he points out the differences in their policies toward minorities and nationalities-Hitler adhered to a racial ladder, while Stalin, a Georgian, flip-flopped to suit his political goals-Overy's analytical strength and depth of knowledge emerges. 32 pages illus.; maps. Agent, Gill Coleridge. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In his comparison of Hitler and Stalin, Overy (history, King's Coll., London; Why the Allies Won) attempts to take the traditional view of the political spectrum (far right-authoritarian dictatorship; far left-communism) and bend both ends until they meet, with Hitler and Stalin behaving nearly identically. He does point out differences in how they ascended to power and whom they focused on as enemies of the state, for instance, but ultimately he highlights their uncanny similarities. For one thing, the rise of neither was inevitable: "Hitler was no more the necessary outcome of German history than Stalin was the inevitable child of Lenin's revolution in 1917." The transition from one comparison to the next is smooth, so that one does not feel jerked between Hitler and Stalin. This book is a smaller version of Alan Bullock's Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives but relies less on statistics and anecdote; both authors are clearly beholden to Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism for the philosophical underpinnings. Recommended for public libraries and academic libraries that lack Hitler-Stalin comparisons.-Harry Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Syst., Iola Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sprawling study of the 20th century's foremost totalitarian systems and their infamous leaders, who are revealed to be, well, alike and different. Against the French authors of The Black Book of Communism (1997), who asserted that Josef Stalin's regime was even more monstrous than Adolf Hitler's, British scholar Overy (The Battle of Britain, 2001, etc.) argues that "the historian's responsibility is not to prove which of the two men was the more evil or deranged, but to try to understand the differing historical processes and states of mind that led both these dictatorships to murder on such a colossal scale." Some 900 pages later, the reader will have learned a very great deal about the systematic growth of the totalitarian state; about the evolution of command economies that sought, in Russia's case, to bring the state into the modern era and, in Germany's, to overcome the state's "vulnerable dependence on the wider world economy"; about the proliferation of concentration and labor camps in the 1930s. Overy does not add much to what is known about these systems, though he does remark, usefully, that some of Hitler's early success came about because Germans were too embarrassed to confront him and that Stalin was no bumpkin, even if he didn't know how to handle an oyster fork. (Stalin's personal library, the author points out, numbered 40,000 well-read volumes.) Overy's conclusions about these rulers' differing conceptions of the state are unexceptionable: Hitler believed in an ethnic state, Stalin in a historically constructed one, and neither had any use for capitalism. His remarks about the complicity of the dictatorships' subjects in the crimes of their rulers will not cause a stirthese days, as they might have in times past. His notion, however, that Soviet communism was meant to advance human progress at large whereas Nazism was meant to serve one people alone will probably not satisfy those French scholars-and certainly does not constitute a satisfactory defense of the former. Still, a highly readable account of the two regimes, drawing on an impressive wealth of primary documents.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393327977
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/9/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 928
  • Sales rank: 614,331
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Overy is professor of history at King's College, London. His many acclaimed books on World War II include Why the Allies Won and The Battle of Britain.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : comparing dictatorships
1 Stalin and Hitler : paths to dictatorship 1
2 The art of ruling 54
3 Cults of personality 98
4 The party state 132
5 States of terror 176
6 Constructing utopia 218
7 The moral universe of dictatorship 265
8 Friend and foe : popular responses to dictatorship 304
9 Cultural revolutions 349
10 Commanding the economy 392
11 Military superpowers 441
12 Total war 483
13 Nations and races 540
14 Empire of the camps 593
Conclusion : two dictatorships 635
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