NPJ Book Review: Stalin, The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Stalin, The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore (2004)

 My thoughts: this book was gathering dust on my shelf. I decided to reopen it as if I was reading a case study.

 I suppose the word provocative might be an understatement upon reading this voluminous work. It’s an exhaustive study of a hallow man and horrific dictator who struck out at anyone who he thought was his enemy. And you were an enemy if you disagreed with most anything he said.

This works covers the period after Stalin came into power. Stalin was a man at odds within himself even when he was within his own circle. His relationships with his colleagues, family and others are intimately covered.

Stalin was an emotionally violent man. His cruelty and lack of empathy led to the death of upwards of 20 million people in his purges and of course there are those who vanished in the Gulag (system of forced labor camps).

Stalin was a tragic figure, unworthy of a modern-day Shakespeare poem for he was want of compassion who “in his many battles between vainglory and humility, he simultaneously encouraged eulogy and despised it.” He had no compunction in making love to a mistress one night and the following day having her silenced. His spiritual core was empty. He distrusted anyone who disagreed with him yet people sought his attention, it seems mostly out of fear,

Stalin’s charisma and seeing himself as a chosen one led him to become a cult figure.  Yet, “he was aware of the absurdities of the cult, intelligent enough to know that the worship of slaves was surely worthless. A student at a technical college was threatened with jail for throwing a paper dart that struck Stalin’s portrait. The student appealed to Stalin who backed him.”  Stalin wrote,  “They’ve wronged you”…. “do not punish him.” Then he joked:  “The good marksman who hits the target should be praised!” Yet he knew…his words and public actions demanded a cult like following and to that end he fostered it. The desire to be a cult figure caused him to create an inner circle or court  that wouldn’t question him, but rather support and speak well if not adore him.

This well researched study may require patience, taking in a little bit at each sitting. The excellent footnotes and bibliography are extensive. The essence of the man and dictator and his horrific deeds and his chilling familial behavior is captured to some degree. His was a life without compassion unless that compassion was directed towards himself. “He was a clever as he was cruel.”

It’s a  depressing but informative read and may help the reader to appreciate where the world is at today when trying to understand a person who craves power for the sake of power itself.

One may want to sip a glass of wine after reading.

For myself, this is a work to consult periodically and sits next to my books on Lenin, Hitler and Mussolini. Marx sits on another shelf with other political and economic philosophers and below the Age of Reason by Thomas Paine and Rousseau’s Confessions