Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Oleg V. Khlevniuk writes with passion and purpose in unearthing the festering corpse of one of his country's most notorious tyrants. From the outset, and especially with his watershed conclusion, he makes it obvious that he fears that Russia is drifting toward the blindly despotic cult of personality in the Putin era that it found itself sucked into in the mid-20th century.
With strong-armed rule, senseless violence and a self-serving, humanity-devoid obsession with stature and optics over practical benefits, Stalin engineered and steered the Soviet apparatus toward his twisted vision of glory.
A burning obsession with dominance and ruthless authoritarianism flew at the top of Stalin's figurative freight train. An obsessive student of history and analyst of processes, personnel and procedures, Stalin was the consummate overthinker, envisioning threats where there were none. In a paranoid effort to snuff out all challenges before they could arise, he stoked a culture of surveillance, nudging informers to expose their neighbors.
Stalin ferreted out his trumped-up threats through sadistic purges that cost the lives of millions and destroyed the livelihoods of countless others. Those who weren't snuffed out were often relocated or ruined. Only a life of strict adherence to the party line held a chance of success, and even then only by the grace of happenstance. A venom-soaked jealous whisper from a rival could trump up preventative punishment in a society that presumed guilt.
Narrator Peter Ganim recites the prose of the Audible version with a steady, professorial authority blended with a storyteller's enthusiasm. With excellent pacing and poignant pauses, he marches through the smoldering anecdotes with gripping urgency.
Exhaustively researched and graced with effective context, this Stalin biography is a fascinating display of applicable history. A chilling reminder of the past is a sobering portent of the present, as well as its near-future implications.
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