ONE OF STALIN'S closest colleagues in the turbulent years of the dictatorship, Lazar Kaganovich, once remarked that he had known many Stalins. This does not mean that Stalin had doubles everywhere like Saddam Hussein. He was simply a man of many parts oneand many faces. The men and women at Stahn's court had to learn them all to survive.
There are many Stalins in this magnificent portrait of the dictator and the court that surrounded him. Simon Sebag Montefiore has mined the rich veins of recent Russian writing on the Stalin age and of newly opened archives to give us an intimate history of a man who was always secretive with hls colleagues and who has remained elusive to posterity. What was he like? Harsh, cruel, unyielding, amoral certainly. But Stalin emerges from these pages as a real human being who loved, swore, joked, sang and - judging from the picture on the cover - went on picnics.
Montefiore starts by making the assertion that Stalin was 'exceptional'. This is a bold claim for a man damned in history by Trotsky's dismissive epithet, 'grey blur'. But he is surely right. Sdn survived in the Stalin: too close maelstrom of Soviet politics for