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Publisher's Summary

Of all the despots of our time, Joseph Stalin lasted the longest and wielded the greatest power, and his secrets have been the most jealously guarded - even after his death.

In this book, the first to draw from recently released archives, Robert Conquest gives us Stalin as a child and student; as a revolutionary and communist theoretician; as a political animal skilled in amassing power and absolutely ruthless in maintaining it. He presents the landmarks of Stalin's rule: the clash with Lenin; collectivization; the Great Terror; the Nazi-Soviet pact and the Nazi-Soviet war; the anti-Semitic campaign that preceded his death; and the legacy he left behind.

Distilling a lifetime's study, weaving detail, analysis, and research, Conquest has given us an extraordinarily powerful narrative of this incredible figure.

©1991 Robert Conquest (P)1992 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Great 1991 Study on Stalin fka Dzhugashvili

Robert Conquest is one of the greatest historians writing about an evil dictator whose is responsible for more deaths, famine and destruction than perhaps any other dictator. The bio is comprehensive but not too long esp when listening to a fine narrator.

I hope Conquest's many other books, including The Great Terror and The Harvest of Sorrow, will become available on Audible.

12 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Superb

Of the three great dictators of the 20th century (Hitler, Stalin and Mao zedong) only Hitler has generated a great many biographies available here in the US. A search for Hitler on Audible generates 14 pages of book listings while one for Stalin generates 3 and Mao zedong and Mao tae-tung each generate less than 1. This was one of the reasons that I grabbed Robert Conquest’s Stalin: Breaker of Nations when I saw it, another being because I knew Robert Conquest to be an expert on the Russian Revolution, its history and the period leading up to the fall of the Soviet Union. While Mr Conquest was originally considered an ideologue by some historians, the KGB records available during the time of Boris Yeltsin ended up verifying all of his claims and cemented his name as an accurate portrayer of these events. His book The Great Terror is the definitive work on the subject of Stalin’s great terror.

While Mr Conquest describes this book as more of a portrait than a biography, I found it to be both fascinating and very informative. This was not the first biography of Stalin that I had read, but it was the most informative and the most complete as it covers his political life from his time as a bank robber and petty criminal through his death in 1953. While the entire book is interesting, it was particularly so for me in explaining the process of Stalin’s destruction of his rivals (Trotsky, Bukharin, Kamenev, Kirov, Zinoviev and many others) during the late 1920s and the 1930s as well as how he ended up dominating the entire Communist power structure in such a way that he had no real rivals left by the start of World War 2. Any description of Stalin’s policies has to be replete with the horrors of his rule, but some events serve as a perfect example of the capriciousness of his governing. One of these is the story of the Soviet census taken during the 1930s. Millions had died during the great Soviet famine, brought on my the forced collectivization of the farms, and the census results showed this. Stalin denied that there had been a famine and so any census results showing a drop in population had to be another example of spies plotting against the state and therefore cause for the execution of those involved. Life was indeed precarious during Stalin’s time. A second census taken after the execution of those involved in the first did not show the drop in population since those taking it knew the punishment given to those who took the first one, and this is one example of how much care must be exercised in viewing Soviet statistics from that time period.

While the book covers The Great Terror lightly those wanting more information on it probably should consider buying Mr Conquest’s book on that subject. For those interested in a less in-depth view of how the Communist State became established, this is a wonderful source and highlights how much of a change took place right after Stalin’s death, only for a form of Stalinism to be reinstated a decade later.

Mr Conquest was born a British citizen so readers should expect that he would write using a British form of English. The narration by Frederick Davidson (David Chase) is first class, but he, as well, was English and hence his pronunciation is also English. One reviewer complained that he mispronounced the word “cadre” as “CAD-er”, but that is a proper regional British pronunciation of the word and hence should be expected. I found the narration clear and compelling and I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the life of Joseph Stalin and an overview of both the development of the Russian Revolution into Stalinism as well as the terrible events of the 1930s.

9 people found this helpful

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Excellent Overview

I have long been fascinated by Joseph Stalin. However, of the leaders of WWII, he is probably the most mysterious, and for this reason, maybe the most interesting. The book does an excellent job of setting out the facts of Stalin's life. The author does not do a lot of "psychologizing" but manages to paint a picture of an evil person with a very evil personality, quite possibly a true psychopath. He does an excellent job of showing what such a person can do when he has total control of a large country.

The narrator has some odd speech mannerisms, that at first I found irritating, but fairly early into the book, I grew to like. He did an excellent job of differentiating speakers when reading dialogs and I particularly liked the way he imitated Winston Churchill when reading his quotes.

5 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Insight into his role in history, not his mind.

NOTE: Although the given release date is 2008, this book was written in 1991, before the fall of the Soviet Union, and is based only on information known at that time.

I enjoyed this book and came away with a better understanding of some important historical events- Russian Revolution, rise of Lenin, WWII, and the realities of life in the USSR under Stalin's dictatortship. It was defintely worth listening to just for the insights into the early days of the USSR and the fascinating story of the Soviets during WWII.

However, I did not get what I expected, which was a deep exploration of Stalin's life, thoughts, motivations, etc. that could me give me insight into how he came to power and why he reigned with such cruelty and terror. The most surprising thing about this about this biography of Stalin is that I finished it without being abe to grasp how this man was able to come into power in the first place. This might be partially due to significant gaps in Stalin's life history- at least at the time this book was written- and his later practice of rewriting his past to better fit with his curent narrative. However, Mr. Conquest presents Stalin as a man who had few talents, was not particularly intelligent or informed, and who made a continuous stream of blunders and ill informed decisions that led to famine, poverty, the deaths of millions, and, ultimately, the death of the principles underlying the bolshevik revolution.

Mr. Conquest was clearly working with very limited information about Stalin's childhood and early adulthood. It was slightly annoying that almost every time he gave some fact about Stalin's actual feelings or opinions about someone or something, he immediately followed it up with a statement that the opposite was also just as likely to be true. Like, he may have loved and cherished his mother, but he is just as likely to have reviled her. Who knows?

As the book progresses (and I assume there is a larger body of historical record to pull from) Conquest is able to paint a more complete picture of Stalin's actions and the events surrounding them. We do end up with a picture of how he approached relationships with people- particularly other world leaders. The most fascinating, and for me illuminating, parts of the book deal with WWII- his early alliance with Germany, Hitler's betrayal, and then his complicated dealings with Churchill, Roosevelt, and Truman. And his details about Stalin's waning days are also extremely compelling.

Overall, I recommend this book as long as you are not expecting to come away with a deep understanding of the man himself.





3 people found this helpful

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A bid you adieu

The voice actor on this book is so horrible,they have the strangest accent that sounds like a 1800s high society gentlemen, but very nasal.

It is very hard to understand anything they say,especially names.

Listen before you buy

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
  • c
  • 09-08-09

Poor recording quality

I am only a few hours into this book and am enjoying the the words but this is technically the worst Audible recording I have listened to.
After an hour, you are instructed to "Go to Disc 2...".
I am constantly changing the volume of my car radio or my iPhone as I listen. In some ways, it is like watching a commercial on TNT where you get blown out by the advertisers, and then have to increase the volume to hear what Brenda is saying to Provenza.
I will finish this interesting book, but it is distracting.

5 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Couldn't get through it

What would have made Stalin better?

This book was too dry for my taste (I only got about a quarter of the way through). I was looking for more color and context. It is very factual, as if someone is reading from historical documents. I would have enjoyed this more had the author given more background info on Russian history, the culture of the era, personalities, etc.

Would you ever listen to anything by Robert Conquest again?

Maybe

Would you listen to another book narrated by Frederick Davidson?

Maybe

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

N/A

Any additional comments?

N/A

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Not a photo, but more a painted portrait

Nothing here is meant to minimize Stalin's horrors, or suggest our system (British or USA) is remotely comparable to his.
But I find some things wanting here.

As for Stalin, this murky, obscure yet shallow, outwardly puzzling, calculating fellow sort of bulled his way through an impossible set of trials, to dominate a backward country that became a world superpower, in his time. All this comes across well here. I still can't comprehend this. The scenes that are well-detailed here, are horrifying and weird.

But, the author's tone seems faintly sneering, perhaps intensified by the narrator's voice, some perceive as haughty. The telling here, though with many facts, is less data-driven, more subjective. It falls back repeatedly on someone's cartoon or caricature portrayal, as drawn by the personal descriptions and reactions of observers and opinion-makers of all sorts. This gets repetitive. he was a pig and a monster, OK? Got it, with ample backing. Why repeat it so many times? It captures quite a lot of the actual Stalin, doubtless, but is more painting than photo. It shows, unintentionally, something of the observer's British conceits and blind spots (lately the subject of a large wave of revisionist books, casting shade on the UK), and the triumphalism of the high tide of neoliberalism (being written just after the USSR's fall), alongside Stalin and his glaring defects and banal evil. The sound quality as observed elsewhere is not great, but in my view, not awful either. The narrator is satisfactory, with a very particular British accent, but plenty competent.

This book advanced my knowledge, but is very literary, sometimes pretentiously so. Just a bit more actual scenery and background color, carved from actual facts rather than mere snooty educated opinionating, would pull me in better.

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Fascinating, critically important and timeless

One of the greatest books exposing the evils of Stalin and the ideology that he embodied. Must reading by everyone who cares. The consequences of Marxism are clearly shown. Bravo

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    4 out of 5 stars

A Portrait of a Lovecraftian Human Monster

Mr. Conquest's book fills out the few blank places in the "Dorian Gray" like portrait of this monstrous creature J.V. Stalin, painted in Simon Sebag Montefiore's two-volume works; "Young Stalin" and "STALIN, THE COURT OF THE RED STAR" that I had listened too last month. These three books, along with Victor Sebestyen's "LENIN" and A. Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" are my sources of understanding the first half of the twentieth century concerning the Soviet Union. I recommend Mr. Conquest's book as a "Quicker" but still comprehensive study of this "Breaker of Nations": Joseph V. Stalin.