â€śMasterlyâ€¦. Kotkin offers the sweeping context so often missing from all but the best biographies.Â In his introductory chapter he makes the lofty assertion that a history if Stalin is akin to â€śa history of the worldâ€ťâ€¦ and he delivers not only a history of the late imperial Russia and of the revolution and early Soviet state, but also frequent commentary on the global geopolitics at play. [Stalin] presents a riveting tale, written with pace and aplomb.Â Kotkin has given us a textured, gripping examination of the foundational years of the man most responsible for the construction of the Soviet state in all its brutal glory.Â The first volume leaves the reader longing for the story still to come.â€ťâ€”TheÂ New York Times Book Review
â€śSuperbâ€¦ Mr. Kotkinâ€™s volume joins an impressive shelf of books on Stalin.Â Only Mr. Kotkinâ€™s book approaches the highest standard of scholarly rigor and general-interest readability.â€ťâ€”Â TheÂ Wall Street Journal
â€śThis is a very serious biography thatâ€¦ is likely to well stand the test of time.â€ť â€”TheÂ New York Review of Books
â€śAn exceptionally ambitious biographyâ€¦ Kotkin builds the case for quite a different interpretation of Stalinâ€”and for quite a few other things, too. The bookâ€™s signature achievementâ€¦ is its vast scope: Kotkin has set out to write not only the definitive life of Stalin but also the definitive history of the collapse of the Russian empire and the creation of the new Soviet empire in its place.â€ť â€”Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic
â€śMagnificent and magisterial, Kotkinâ€™s study sheds unexpected light on all sorts of thorny problemsâ€¦. [T]he narrative is not only profound but thrilling.â€ť â€”Â The American Scholar
â€ś[Kotkinâ€™s] viewpoint is godlike: all the world falls within his purview. He makes comparisons across decades and continents…. An exhilarating ride.â€ťâ€”Â The New Statesman (UK)
â€śA brilliant portrait of a man of contradictions… In the vast literature on the Soviet Union, there is no study to rival Stephen Kotkinâ€™s massive first instalment of a planned three-volume biography of Joseph Stalin. When it is complete, it will surely become the standard work, and I heartily recommend it.â€ťâ€”Robert Gellately, Times Higher Education (London)
â€śMonumental… It is a measure of Kotkinâ€™s powers of research and explanation that Stalinâ€™s decisions can almost always be understood within the framework of his ideology and the context of his times…. With a ferocious determination worthy of his subject, the author debunks many of the myths to have encrusted themselves around Stalin…. [A] magnificent biography. This reviewer, at least, is already impatient to read the next two volumes for their authorâ€™s mastery of detail and the swagger of his judgments.â€ťâ€”John Thornhill, Financial Times
â€śRequired reading for serious Russia-watchers… As the product of years of work and careful thought, it is for me a reminder of what it takes to get close to the truth about important and controversial subjects. And the distance and time required to do so.â€ťâ€”David Johnson, Johnsonâ€™s Russia List
â€śMonumental… For Kotkin it was not Stalinâ€™s personality that drove his politics but his politics that shaped his personality. His research, narrative and arguments are as convincing as they are exhaustive. The book is long but very readable and highly accessible to the general reader…. Magisterial.â€ťâ€”Geoffrey Roberts, Irish Examiner
â€śAn ambitious, massive, highly detailed work that offers fresh perspectives on the collapse of the czarist regime, the rise of the Bolsheviks, and the seemingly unlikely rise of Stalin to total power over much of the Eurasian land mass….This is an outstanding beginning to what promises to be a definitive work on the Stalin era.â€ť â€”Booklist (starred)
â€śAuthoritative and rigorousâ€¦. Staggeringly wide in scope, this work meticulously examines the structural forces that brought down one autocratic regime and put in place another.â€ťÂ â€”Kirkus Reviews (starred)
â€śThis is an epic, thoroughly researched account that presents a broad vision of Stalin, from his birth to his rise to absolute power.â€ť â€”Publishers Weekly
â€śKotkin has been researching his magisterial biography of Stalin for a decade. Inescapably important reading.â€ťÂ â€”Library Journal
â€śStaggeringly researched, exhaustively thorough… KotkinÂ has no patience for the idea thatÂ Stalin… was a madman or a monster. His personality and crimes,Â KotkinÂ thinks, are only explicable in the wider contexts of Russian imperial history and Marxist theory. So this is less a conventional biography than a colossal life and times…. Hugely impressive.â€ťâ€”The Sunday Times (London)
â€śUnlike aÂ number of Stalin studies, this is not an etiology of evil. The author does notÂ appear to be watching his subject narrowly for early signs of the monstrous deformations that will laterÂ emerge. He tries to look at him atÂ various stages of his career without the benefit of too much hindsight…. [Kotkin] is an engaging interlocutor with a sharp, irreverent wit… making the book a good read as well as an original and largely convincing interpretation of Stalin that should provoke lively arguments in the field.â€ťâ€”Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Guardian
â€śIn its size, sweep, sensitivity, and surprises, Stephen Kotkinâ€™s first volume on Stalin is aÂ monumental achievement: the early life of a man we thought we knew, set against the worldâ€”no lessâ€”that he inhabited. Itâ€™s biography on an epic scale.Â Only Tolstoy might have matched it.â€ť â€”John Lewis Gaddis, Yale University; author of George F. Kennan: A Life, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Biography
â€śStalin has had more than his fair share of biographies. But Stephen Kotkinâ€™s wonderfully broad-gauged work surpasses them all in both breadth and depth, showing brilliantly how the man, the time, the place, its history, and especially Russian/Soviet political culture, combined to produce one of historyâ€™s greatest evil geniuses.â€ť â€”William Taubman, Professor of Political Science Emeritus, Amherst College; author of Khrushchev: The Man and his Era, winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Biography
â€śStephen Kotkinâ€™s first volume on Stalin is ambitious in conception and masterly in execution. It provides a brilliant account of Stalinâ€™s formation as a political actor up to his fateful decision to collectivize agriculture by force. Kotkin combines biography with historical analysis in a way that brings out clearly Stalin’s great political talents as well as the ruthlessness with which he applied them and the impact his policies had on Russia and the world. This is a magisterial work on the grandest scale.â€ť â€”David Halloway, Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History, Stanford University; author of Stalin and the Bomb
â€śMore than any of Stalinâ€™s previous biographers, Stephen Kotkin humanizes one of the great monsters of history, thereby making the monstrosity more comprehensible than it has been before. He does so by sticking to the factsâ€”many of them fresh, all of them marshalled into a gripping, fine-grained story.â€ťÂ â€”Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution
Stalin boarded a heavily guarded train bound forÂ Siberia. It was January 15, 1928. He rarely traveled,Â even domestically, other than to the Black Sea,Â where he sought relief in the sulfur baths from theÂ terrible pain in his joints. Siberia, however, he knewÂ well from before the 1917 revolution, having beenÂ deported there countless times by the czarist regime,Â most recently during the GreatÂ War. His 1928 trip would take himÂ to Novosibirsk and the breadbasketÂ of western Siberia, as well as toÂ Krasnoyarsk in the east, where inÂ early 1917 a czarist draft board hadÂ rejected him, owing to the webbedÂ toes on his left foot and his suppuratedÂ left elbow that did not bendÂ properly (either because he was hitÂ by a phaeton as a boyâ€”the versionÂ Stalin toldâ€”or because of a congenitalÂ condition). Just weeks afterÂ his rejection, a telegram arrivedÂ in Krasnoyarsk with word of theÂ downfall of the czar and FebruaryÂ Revolution, inducing Stalin to head for Russiaâ€™s imperialÂ capital by rail, carrying everything he owned:Â one small suitcase and a typewriter.
Now, eleven years later, he was returning asÂ the countryâ€™s ruler, the general secretary of theÂ Communist party. In Novosibirsk, at gatherings withÂ the local higher-ups, Stalin demanded coercive measuresÂ to overcome a state grain procurement crisis.Â He spoke, unexpectedly, about the inescapability ofÂ collectivizing agriculture. A few days later, he wentÂ to Barnaul, an administrative center of the richestÂ Siberian grain-growing region, to meet with officialsÂ lower down. There were no cars in Barnaul; from theÂ terminal Stalin was ferried to the meeting in a primitiveÂ wooden basket sled (koshĂ«vka). His modest meansÂ of conveyance starkly indicated theÂ enormity of what would be involvedÂ in remaking the villages across twoÂ continents, one of the great turningÂ points in a thousand years ofÂ Russian history.
Modern Russian power, inÂ its Soviet guise, too, rested uponÂ wheat and rye. For all the dreamsÂ of modernity, by 1928 industry hadÂ barely regained 1913 czarist levels,Â even with the recuperation providedÂ by the New Economic PolicyÂ (NEP). Russian agriculture was notÂ advancing while, among the greatÂ powers, mechanization of agricultureÂ was well under way. The NEP presupposedÂ peasantsâ€™ willingness to sell their â€śsurplusesâ€ťâ€”theÂ grain beyond what they consumedâ€”to state agentsÂ at state-set prices, and yet the stateâ€™s harvest thatÂ year had fallen millions of tons short of the target,Â threatening Moscow and Leningrad, as well as theÂ Red Army, with starvation in spring. Officials beganÂ seizing grain, all of it, from anyone who grew it.