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Posted November 18, 2001
I found the book at the same time gripping and disappointing. Very well-written and readable, it contains a number of gems, such as discussions of the complicated relationship between Stalin and Lenin and its shocking conclusion between Lenin's second stroke and his death, and the effect of Alexander Blok's poem 'The Scythians' on the pre-revolution Russian intelligentia. But revelations -- or even details -- concerning other critical events such as the purges of the mid-Thirties seem entirely lacking. Here, Deutscher simply lists the names of a few of the old guard who were annihilated and sparsely sums the whole episode thus: 'It is not necessary to assume that he acted from sheer cruelty or lust for power. He may be given the dubious credit of the sincere conviction that what he did saved the interests of the revolution and that he alone interpreted those interests aright.' (page 378) Absolutely no description of any thought process by Stalin as to who would die is given; no hint of the stories of Stalin personally going over lists of names to mark the condemned is offered. Likewise, the deaths and ruined families of these thousands are passed over and we are given this in their stead: 'The real mass purges were carried out without the thunder and lightning of publicity, without confession of the victims, and often without any trial whatsoever. He sent thousands to their deaths and tens of hundreds of thousands into prisons and concentration camps.' (page 380) What the book does offer is a detailed and easily-followed history of the Russian revolutions of 1907 and 1917, the subversion and takeover of the latter by the Bolsheviks, and the major (and sometimes minor) events that followed until Stalin's death. But even here important events are left out; the murder of the Romanovs is not even mentioned in passing and the Western miltary interventions aimed at toppling the Reds are only hinted at. Trotsky's complex role and his relationship with Stalin is handled well throughout, but his murder warrants a single paragraph, as if it happens off stage, with no hint of Stalin's inner compunction or outer reactions to the death of his lifelong nemesis. Overall, the book is a good read. But the reader who expects to pry into the personal, inner workings of Stalin is likely, as I was, to be sorely disappointed.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.