Donald Rayfield

The Worst Dictator Since Tamerlane

Stalin: A Biography


Macmillan 718pp £25 order from our bookshop

THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY of Stalin’s death last year should have brought about not just worldwide rejoicing, but a torrent of new biographies. The world was, however, distracted by the fall of a lesser dictator, Saddam Hussein, and did surprisingly little to mark the occasion. Moscow’s bookshops were packed with ghastly revisionist pap rehabilitating Stalin and dismissing his mass murders as necessary, if regrettable, excesses. In France Le Monde devoted a special issue to Stalin, but the French merely reprinted the 2001 biography by Jean-Jacques Marie. In Britain, three studies – Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s, Richard Overy’s, and my own – were devoted to different aspects of Stalin (the last twenty years of his private life, Stalin as mirror-image of Hitler, his relations with his secret police chiefs), but only now has Robert Service’s full biography appeared and brought all the threads together.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • One woman 'travelled round the south of India with a retinue of 750 people, fourteen elephants, two racing camels f… ,
    • Stuck for a gift idea for Father's Day? Subscribe to Literary Review and get a FREE copy of 'An Impeccable Spy' –… ,
    • 'Gone. All gone. The ease, the pleasure, the effortless eloquence' From May 1995, Margaret Forster's withering rev… ,
    • RT : SO excited to tell you about this event! 😆 The amazing digital colourist, will be joining w… ,
    • 'Peters was unashamed and evidently unshamable, an impostor who wholly inhabited his fabrications and who indignant… ,
    • ‘At every waking moment Barbara Hepworth was aware of herself as a woman paving the way in a man’s world’ From the… ,
    • The entertaining Howard Jacobson is in conversation with Prof John Mullan at the Queen’s Park Book Festival on Sund… ,