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  • E.G. Maladroit

Khlevniuk's 'Stalin' - Perfectly Adequate?

In May 2015 Oleg Khlevniuk released ‘Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator’. It is a relatively concise book, only 18 hours in audiobook form, and provides a well researched and relatively unbiased chronicle of Stalin’s life and rule. It does what it says on the tin.

Despite its short length it does not feel undernourished or lacking; Khlevniuk’s years of close archival research and dedication to true source materials is clear. A particularly appealing aspect of the book is the lack of focus on Stalin’s childhood – whilst describing all that is significant from it, Khlevniuk does not overanalyse it. He acknowledges the often omitted fact that paternal abuse was common to the majority of Stalin’s peers, and was not as extraordinary as it can be made to seem in other biographies – many of which are prone to fixating on how the abuse bred different aspects of Stalin’s character (feeling rather presumptuous and unnecessary when done poorly). The book instead focusses on Stalin’s rule, which is undeniably far more interesting and relevant to understanding the dictator.

It is structured comprehensively; for the most part it is straight-forwardly chronological, though it mixes this with brief narratives about Stalin on his deathbed and the chaos of his death. This does not noticeably hinder understanding or the flow of the narrative and is an interesting technique. For this general clarity it is very accessible, and its shortness adds to this – I would heavily advise it for anyone reading about the subject for the first time. For people more well versed in the era it may be slightly less pertinent, but I found it absorbing enough as an audiobook, playing it in the background whilst completing other tasks.

For all this, it is a good book. ‘Adequate’ does not feel positive enough, because it does its job well – it just isn’t extraordinary, but this is no bad thing when many (in order to create something fresh) resort to baseless rumour or unsubstantiated opinion. It is perfect as a gateway drug of sorts for anyone wanting a way into the Stalinist era, for which I would really recommend it.


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