STALIN: And The Shaping of the Soviet Union by Alex de Jonge

STALIN: And The Shaping of the Soviet Union

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A new biography of Iosseff Vissarionovich Djugashvili, who ruled over the Soviet Union with an iron hand for some 26 years before his death in 1953. Oxford historian de Jonge has previously written biographies of Rasputin, Peter the Great, Dostoevsky, and Baudelaire. In tackling Stalin, he takes on a man of whom there has already been written mountains of words. But he hasn't succeeded in producing the definitive work--that may have already been written by Adam Ulam, whose Stalin: The Man and His Era would be hard to outdo. De Jonge has difficulty curbing a bent toward the snickering or snide remark. For example, when, during collectivization, things got so bad that people might have been satisfied to receive as a gift a log for the fire, de Jonge's remark is: ""For all you do, this log's for you."" He also depends too often on local period jokes to make his points, such as when Stalin lost a pipe and ordered the NKVD to find it. After finding it himself he calls off the search, only to find that 10 men have already been arrested. Calling for their release, Stalin is informed that seven have already confessed. This makes for a bright and snappy read but it detracts from the seriousness of the work as a whole. Stalin wasn't (and isn't) funny. In addition, de Jonge has a disturbing tendency never to suggest a serious theory when a nasty rumor will do, a flaw for which he has been criticized in previous books, but which he nevertheless partakes of here again. But this style does have its strengths, for it lets de Jonge portray Stalin as more the psychopath than Ulam was willing to do (a close inspection of the facts cries out for such a verdict). Here is a man who hated his father, routinely called his mother ""that old whore,"" probably personally murdered his second wife, and would have had his son shot for becoming a Nazi prisoner of war, had the son not died first. Stalin caused more deaths than Hitler and Poi Pot combined. After all, as he himself said, ""One death is a tragedy, a million, just statistics."" De Jonge also demonstrates Stalin's personal responsibility for the murderous purges, while Ulam stressed the responsibility of many others of the time. But de Jonge's nearly 600-page portrait comes across as one-dimensional and overly colored by the author's obvious anti-Soviet bias. Entertainment, not scholarship, but a grim reminder of a true human horror.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1986
Publisher: Morrow