Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Anglais) Relié – 10 juillet 2003
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The International Bestseller
This thrilling biography of Stalin and his entourage during the terrifying decades of his supreme power transforms our understanding of Stalin as Soviet dictator, Marxist leader and Russian tsar.
Based on groundbreaking research, Simon Sebag Montefiore reveals in captivating detail the fear and betrayal, privilege and debauchery, family life and murderous cruelty of this secret world. Written with extraordinary narrative verve, this magnificent feat of scholarly research has become a classic of modern history writing. Showing how Stalin's triumphs and crimes were the product of his fanatical Marxism and his gifted but flawed character, this is an intimate portrait of a man as complicated and human as he was brutal and chilling.
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Il reprend l'historie de l'URSS depuis la mort de Lenin, le pouvoir au début partagé au niveau du politburo, et petit à petit la dominance de Stalin sur son parti et son peuple.
La correspondance personnelle ouvre une perspective tout à fait nouvelle sur des faits historiques tels que les conférences entre les leaders des pays alliés dans la guerre contre le nazisme et le fachisme.
Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com
This book does a marvelous account at portraying those around him including his family.
I have read this book twice, and thoroughly enjoyed it both times.
No book has given such a lucid, descriptive, and fascinating account of the man, his closest so circle and the country at the time. I also like the fact that unlike many other biographies it does not preach or lecture on the negatives of socialism ad nauseum. It merely tells the facts
This book has been derided as gossipy but the author goes to lengths to contemplate how personal relationships affected more important things like the course of Soviet history. It is true that the focus is clearly on personalities rather than grand historical events (about which much more ink has been spilled in any case) and there are certainly trivial details like what people wore. However, I think the trivia add color without detracting from the scholarly value of the work. A lot of research went into this book and it shows (not least in the length of the footnotes). You learn a great deal about the constraints Stalin operated under--he was surely a dictator, but his actual level of dictatorial power varied (reaching its height during the purges, I think). And there were certainly times that he altered his behavior or decisions because of contradictory subordinates (especially generals) and/or the likely reaction of the Politburo.
Other reviewers have commented on how Arendt's "banality of evil" applies to Stalin and his cronies, but I was also reminded of a line in the film Amelie wherein the protagonist's friend questions her love interest. She asks him to complete a series of proverbs and states that "a man who knows all his proverbs can't be all bad" the essence of this meaning, as I interpreted it, that someone who engages with their heritage comes away with a positive effect on him or herself. There is also Anne Frank's statement that there's good in all people. Court of the Red Tsar more or less takes this to its furthest extent: We see Stalin ordering the murder of Poskrebyshev's wife and his trusted bodyguard Pauker (both things I was curious about "why"--and Montefiore more or less answers them as best as they can be answered), the arrest or murder of many others (though he sort of leaves Lakoba's and Pavel Alliluyev's deaths unexplained--the former was surely murder, but the extent of Stalin's responsibility is unknown; the latter is ambiguous), and generally turning on his friends and family in a most lethal way. All this on top of his already well documented leadership of purges, etc--the author frequently identifies attempts to blame Beria, Yezhov etc (monsters in their own right) for things that ultimately roll up to Stalin.
All the while, he is writing letters to help the most random people such as the tsarist cop who guarded him in exile (vouched for because he wasn't very hard on the younger Stalin), enjoying cultivating roses in his garden, humoring someone who writes to him asking to be his brother, reading a huge variety of literature from around the world, fretting that he wasted Lenin's "legacy" by not preparing for the German invasion (which is rich on multiple levels, but it is hard to fathom in context why he would say it in an insincere way), and perhaps most incongruously, caring for a houseguest who had passed out by putting a blanket over him. (In a similar vein, cronies like Voroshilov, Kaganovich, Zhdanov, and even Beria are shown going out of their way to intercede on behalf of people and correct injustices of the Soviet system from time to time, despite their overall role in perpetuating the Stalinist regime).
Indeed, it would be difficult for some Western readers to get through all the positive anecdotes (I kid you not, there are many in this book) and still be willing to call Stalin a monster. But Montefiore does it, and rightly so. If anything, the takeaway is that when it comes to morality, there comes a point when the good cannot cancel out all the bad: you can enjoy learning and culture and genuinely care about/for others and still be an evil person overall. When the blood of millions is on your hands, there's not much you can do to make up for it even if you try--and the impression is that Stalin didn't exactly try as much as he simply had occasional outbursts of common decency. Montefiore seems aware of this, and charts a very sensible course that is non-polemical without striving pointlessly for artificial objectivity.
This book requires a reasonable level of familiarity with the subject matter to get the most out of it. For instance, the Cheka/OGPU/MGB/KGB are basically all the same organization, but the narrative uses each one according to what the agency was known as in the timeframe being discussed. There is one footnote explaining the term "Chekist" but otherwise you just have to know this from elsewhere. Still, if you're willing to stop reading to look things up it's entirely accessible to a general audience.