DEFINING THE ESSENCE of this impressive tome by Donald Rayfield is relatively simple: it's a biography of Josif Stalin and a history of the reign of terror in Russia after the Communist takeover of power in 1917. It certainly outdoes all the numerous other works on the subject that have appeared, especially those published during the last three to four years, in the quality of the raw material and in the range of sources (including recently released Moscow archives, private letters, memoirs, etc), as well as in its new 'take' on a number of questions of Soviet history.
Readers should not be put off by the academic depth of this monograph, which is written in clear, jargon-free English and divided into easily manageable chapters. It contains a multitude of sensational details. For instance, the reader will discover that Stalin used a large number of women and had quite