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11 February 2013

Mark Black: Stalin: A Very Brief History

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It is a brave author who attempts to encapsulate the life of one of the world's most tyrannical leaders in 35 pages. Mark Black does his best to document most of the key elements of Stalin's life but the book really needed to be twice as long to cover Stalin's life and rule adequately.

The old saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely" accurately describes Stalin's reign of terror where he wielded power for over 30 years to create the Soviet Union as a world superpower. This was at an incredible cost in terms of humanity and millions were killed or died because of Stalin's regime, through executions, deaths in concentration camps, forced deportations to areas without sufficient food, avoidable famines and in WWII POW camps. The exact numbers will never be known but they far exceed the number of deaths by Germany during the racially inspired Holocaust.

As communist Soviet Union was a closed society where news was carefully censored, Stalin's record does not seem to be fully understood even now by the Russian people. A poll of Russians in 2006 revealed that more than 35% would vote for Stalin if he was still alive and less than 35% of them saw him as a "murderous tyrant". Similarly we in the West forget that Stalin's Russia was critical to the defeat of Germany and more Russians were killed in WWII than any other combatant country, including Germany.

I would have liked to read more about Stalin's role in and setting up the Iron Curtain and the related Cold War, their effects on the world and the inhabitants of Russia and its communist allies (but I realise that most of this is the subject of another short history). I definitely would have liked to see something about the development and explosion of the first A-bomb by Russia during the latter years of Stalin's reign (and the espionage involved) that became the centrepiece of the nuclear stand-off and arms race between the US and Russia and their respective allies for decades.

Despite this I found this brief history useful in helping me to expand my knowledge and memories of the history of this key player in the 20th Century.

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