• Stalin's War

  • A New History of World War II
  • By: Sean McMeekin
  • Narrated by: Kevin Stillwell
  • Length: 24 hrs and 56 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (483 ratings)

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Stalin's War

By: Sean McMeekin
Narrated by: Kevin Stillwell
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Publisher's Summary

A prize-winning historian reveals how Stalin - not Hitler - was the animating force of World War II in this major new history.

World War II endures in the popular imagination as a heroic struggle between good and evil, with villainous Hitler driving its events. But Hitler was not in power when the conflict erupted in Asia - and he was certainly dead before it ended. His armies did not fight in multiple theaters, his empire did not span the Eurasian continent, and he did not inherit any of the spoils of war. That central role belonged to Joseph Stalin. The Second World War was not Hitler’s war; it was Stalin’s war.

Drawing on ambitious new research in Soviet, European, and US archives, Stalin’s War revolutionizes our understanding of this global conflict by moving its epicenter to the east. Hitler’s genocidal ambition may have helped unleash Armageddon, but as McMeekin shows, the war which emerged in Europe in September 1939 was the one Stalin wanted, not Hitler. So, too, did the Pacific war of 1941-1945 fulfill Stalin’s goal of unleashing a devastating war of attrition between Japan and the “Anglo-Saxon” capitalist powers he viewed as his ultimate adversary.

McMeekin also reveals the extent to which Soviet Communism was rescued by the US and Britain’s self-defeating strategic moves, beginning with Lend-Lease aid, as American and British supply boards agreed almost blindly to every Soviet demand. Stalin’s war machine, McMeekin shows, was substantially reliant on American material, from warplanes, tanks, trucks, jeeps, motorcycles, fuel, ammunition, and explosives, to industrial inputs and technology transfer, to the foodstuffs which fed the Red Army.

This unreciprocated American generosity gave Stalin’s armies the mobile striking power to conquer most of Eurasia, from Berlin to Beijing, for Communism.

A groundbreaking reassessment of the Second World War, Stalin’s War is an essential book for anyone looking to understand the current world order.

©2021 Sean McMeekin (P)2021 Basic Books
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“A provocative revisionist take on the Second World War...an accomplished, fearless, and enthusiastic ‘myth buster’...McMeekin is a formidable researcher, working in several languages, and he is prepared to pose the big questions and make judgments.... The story of the war itself is well told and impressive in its scope, ranging as it does from the domestic politics of small states such as Yugoslavia and Finland to the global context. It reminds us, too, of what Soviet ‘liberation’ actually meant for eastern Europe.... McMeekin is right that we have for too long cast the second world war as the good one. His book will, as he must hope, make us re-evaluate the war and its consequences.” (Financial Times)

"Indispensable.... There are new books every year that promise ‘a new history’ of such a well-studied subject as World War II, but McMeekin actually delivers on that promise.” (Christian Science Monitor

"Sean McMeekin’s revisionist Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II isn’t just one of the most compelling histories written about the war this year, it’s one of the best ever. I doubt anyone who reads it will think about the Second World War in the same way." (David Harsanyi, The Federalist's Notable Books of 2021)

What listeners say about Stalin's War

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Sean McMeekin Does It Again!

This is one of the most important nonfiction books I’ve found about the Second World War. Often you hear of the European war as Hitler’s war or Germany’s war and I’ve heard of the Second World War referred to as two wars (or more) with one name. But really these are all misleading characterizations since when looked at the right way, the entire conflagration becomes a conflict between flavors of Capitalism versus Soviet-led Communism. I actually would have thought that argument would be a silly construction made by an author trying to sell a book about Stalin. But having read this book carefully and thoroughly scrutinized it, I feel the author has presented a valid thesis. It is only by Stalin’s shrewd diplomatic engineering that he is able to turn the Capitalist ‘Allies’ against each other until well into the war. It is almost as though the Cold War had a hot phase before the traditional conflict we all know.

This book offers one of the most uniquely refreshing ways of looking at the war that I’ve read in quite a long time. To me the narrator is very important as well and here this title excels.

Excellent writing, Sean.
Excellent narration, Kevin.

Audience, please consider Dr. McMeekin’s other three Audible titles:
(1) The Russian Revolution
(2) Ottoman End Game
(3) July 1914

Audible, please get busy recording his other three titles, especially
(1) Russian Origins of the First World War
(2) Berlin - Baghdad Express
(3) History’s Greatest Heist
These are loved by fans of the historical era and would make great selling audio titles. Please do them up right, and in the listed order.

29 people found this helpful

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Completely new view of WWII

How often does a book radically shift your understanding of a topic as familiar as World War 2? Sean McMeekin's new book, Stalin's War, accomplishes this seeming impossibility. I cannot recommend it highly enough if you are interested in the topic. By examining recently released Soviet archives, the book explains the thinking of the Russian leadership in general and Stalin in particular. Suddenly the structure and outcome of the war and even more importantly what happened in the post-war era, become much more understandable. There are some hard truths here for FDR admirers. Lend-lease was sold as a way to fight Nazism without shedding American lives, by providing countries such as England with war material. In reality massive amounts of aid, and not just war material, was sent to the Soviet Union, even after Barbarossa was defeated. No request by Stalin was denied, even the most outlandish such as getting Japanese territory and Italian ships even though the USSR did not materially participate in either theater, and even if it took resources needed by English or American troops. If one believes, as FDR did, that more government can solve nearly any problem, it is not surprising that one would be drawn to the Marxism and would want to see it succeed. But I had no idea the extend of the American support of Russia and how that impacted both the war and the subsequent loss of eastern Europe and China to communism.

11 people found this helpful

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Revisionist

I was gravely disappointed with this savage rewriting of World War II history. I do not understand how McMeekin could hold Roosevelt and Churchill complicit in the crimes of Stalin. It is my belief that Roosevelt provided the resources while Russian did the fighting and dying. I agree that Stalin and his Communist Party were monsters and they had their own agenda even as they sought avoid the war. It backfired. But to have the Roosevelt Administration in collaboration with Stalin is nonsense. Russia experienced horrific losses and only survived due to American aid. Even then, Russia's social and economic conditions were slowly recovering from a devastating war with little assistance from America. Stalin may have won "His War" but he lost a lasting peace. There is too much anger in this book. I was both disgusted and tired of the tone of of this overly stated and I came to doubt the author's sincereity.

10 people found this helpful

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A fresh and disturbing reassessment of WWII

This is a superb book, well worth the time to absorb its nearly 700 pages. This could spark a new assessment of World War II. Josef Stalin is as cruel and ruthless as might be expected. The world leader
who shines less brightly in this book is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR and his inner circle, in particular Harry Hopkins, seem more tarnished, swimming in a toxic cocktail of hubris and naïveté.

This is the third book I have read by Professor McMeekin. He takes full advantage of his access to archives in Russia and other countries that suffered behind the Iron Curtin for so many years.

10 people found this helpful

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The best WW2 book ever

Well, after an interesting introduction, the book unraveled into a great deal of interesting diplomatic and intriguing affairs. I’m very pleased and I highly recommend reading this book!

6 people found this helpful

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Great Revisionsit History!

Lay readers often misunderstand the primary purpose of revisionist history. Usually, the author's main goal is not to destroy the existing narrative, but to make readers reconsider their assumptions. Stalin's War certainly does that!

It moves Stalin to the center of the war's narrative. There are some problems with that. It was Imperial Japan who started the Sino-Japanese War that later became a part of the global war with their invasion of Norther China in 1931. It was Hitler who invaded Poland in 1939 starting the war in Europe, later invaded the USSR, and declared war on the US after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. So, in that sense it was not Stalin's war, but McMeekin makes a strong case that Stalin played the realpolitik game of great war leader more ruthlessly and successfully than either FDR or Churchill.

Even there perhaps McMeekin goes too far. The USSR suffered 27 million dead and had its agricultural and industrial heartland ravaged. The United States suffered less than 400k dead and ended the war with a larger share of the world economy than any nation in the history of the world. The British Empire fought from the very beginning and it was certainly weakened, but, against all odds it won, and it only suffered slightly more causalities than the United State.

So, who exactly was the real winner? Certainly not the Soviet people.

But that criticism misses the main point - to make readers reconsider the possibility that the traditional narrative of the war is hiding certain important truths. On that point McMeekin succeeds. His Stalin is more brilliant, more ruthless, and far more important than in the traditional Anglo-American narratives.

This is not a good first book on World War II, but if you are a real buff it is certainly worth a read. It is interesting and even if you disagree with his main point discussion of Lend-Lease and Soviet espionage is thought provoking.

Simply, great revisionist history!





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a must listen

From the research to the conclusions and everything in between, this is a fantastic book. I can't recommend it enough. I'll probably buy a hard copy, so I can feel its substance in my hands.

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Not a fan

This book is mistitled, and should be called Stalin bad. Lack of actual information is not covered by a painstaking recital of the complete lender lease catalogue, although he didn't quite count any pencils provided.

5 people found this helpful

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A historical epiphany of the significance of World War II and its Leaders

This is the most persuasive interpretation of WW II that I had the pleasure to read. The book shows in a clear and convincing manner that Stalin, arguably the biggest totalitarian political mass criminal, from a century that has given us so many, Mao, Hitler, the Khamer Rouge’s Pol Pot, Fidel and Raul Castro, was, unfortunately, smarter, more cunning, and ran circles around our cherished leaders Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Spencer Churchill.

The result was the condemnation of half of mankind to Communism, the continuing threat of its expansion to the rest of mankind, and the eventual rise of the new challenge to World Peace presented by Communist China. You may or may not agree with the author’s analysis, as I do, but I promise that if you read this book, with an open mind, at the end you will realize that everything you thought you knew about WWII and these leaders was oversimplified, and distorted by historians motivated by political considerations, propaganda, and the product of pseudo scholars, too lazy or too coward to write the truth.

This author is a brave man. He deserves to be read or heard in Audible. Every conscientious woman or man would profit from reading, thus, becoming a more informed citizen of the World.
Rogelio Villageliu.

4 people found this helpful

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Documents, Opinions and some Absurd Conclusions

Stalin’s War is a pretty thorough look at the European Theater of World War II and does a good job of covering all of the major, and many of the minor, events of that war. In many ways it is as thorough and complete as almost any book I have read on the subject and often more interesting, but it is probably not a good place to start for those unfamiliar with the history of the war. The author lists a great many documents from the archives of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and while the documents undoubtably exist the conclusions that the author reaches often seem absurd given other facts which he often fails to mention, and his comparisons are often completely misleading. I will list some of those so those who don’t wish an overview should probably skip this review.

First, the obvious. Stalin, along with Hitler and Mao Zedong was one of the great villains of the 20th century. Anyone who does not know this has not been paying attention, but the author spends a great deal of time belaboring the obvious. What made Hitler more dangerous was that he was forcibly exporting his brand of hate while Stalin, no less a villain, was keeping his at home, and this is central to why World War II in Europe was fought as it was.

Author’s claim - Winston Churchill was a Stalin sympathizer. This claim is so absurd to anyone who has read about the Russian Revolution and Britain’s actions during that time as to not warrant comment.

Author’s opinion - Britain should have declared war on the Soviet Union when it attacked Finland since it declared war on Germany when it attacked Poland. Great Britain at this time was standing alone, with its Commonwealth, in an existential conflict with Germany. France had already been defeated and the US had not yet entered the war. Britain had almost no war material since most of what it had had been abandoned in France when the BEF and French soldiers were evacuated by the Royal Navy and barely had enough air power to deter an invasion, but the author thinks that it should have added the Soviet Union to its list of enemies. This idea is patently ridiculous.

Author’s comparison of the US destroyers for bases deal with Great Britain with the Lend Lease shipments to the Soviet Union is completely unreasonable since the destroyers for bases deal proceeded Lend Lease and therefore there was no legal framework for the US to just give the property to Great Britain, and Great Britain knew at the time that it was not the destroyers themselves that were important as much as the involvement of the US. Once Lend Lease was established Great Britain received everything under the same terms as the Soviet Union when it, too, needed to take part. If, at times, the Soviet Union got priority for war material over Great Britain it was because the USSR was actively fighting Germans and Great Britain was not and was temporarily safe from German invasion.

Author’s suggestion that Harry Hopkins might as well have been a soviet agent because he acted to make sure the Soviet Union got first choice of Lend Lease equipment ignores the fact that Hopkins was only doing what he had been told to do by Franklin Roosevelt - get everything to the Soviet Union that they needed to prevent their defeat by Germany. If the author wants to accuse someone of nativity and ignorance about the USSR he should pick the President, not his assistant who was doing what he was instructed to do. And perhaps the author does not really understand the purpose of Lend Lease.

Author’s opinion - the US should have attacked Germany through northern Italy instead of landing an invasion in northern and southern France. One only has to read about the US attempt to move up the Italian peninsula after the landings in Italy to understand how ridiculous that idea was. In fact the “soft underbelly of Europe” was a series of mountains that were easily defended by the Germans, who kept the US and British soldiers bottled up in southern Italy.

Author's repeated statements that General Alan Brooke was Churchills Air Chief are wrong. Brooke was the Chairman of the Imperial General Staff and at no time served in the air arm of the British military.

Author’s conclusion that the Allies lost World War II in both the European and Pacific theaters because the Soviet Union took over much of east Europe and Soviet China became a power in the Pacific ignores the purpose of the war, which was to defeat Nazi Germany in Europe and avenge the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Both of those goals were successful, as witness the peaceful and economically powerful states of Germany and Japan today.

In summary, the book is very interesting, if at times bordering on the ridiculous, and I enjoyed the first half of the book. It is when the book tackles the German invasion of the Soviet Union that the book tends to get a bit off and some of the author’s revisionist claims leave the realm of rational conclusions. If the reader is familiar with World War II this book has something to add, but if the reader is not familiar with the events leading up to the war the reader may well be swept away by the author’s partial information and misleading conclusions. On the positive side the narration is very well done with the exception of the narrator’s hesitancy in pronouncing many of the names of those involved.

Three stars for those familiar with the war, two stars for those not.

4 people found this helpful