BERIA by Amy Knight

BERIA

Stalin's First Lieutenant
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Scrupulous academic account that ultimately fails to do full justice to the chilling fascination of its subject. The bland subtitle that Knight (Senior Research Analyst/Library of Congress) chooses signals both the strengths and weaknesses of this first full-scale biography of Stalin's infamous police chief Laventrii Beria--``My Himmler,'' as Uncle Joe nicknamed him. Exploiting the mass of documentation newly available from former Soviet archives, Knight traces with forensic precision the sometime architectural student's rise, through the bloody ranks of Lenin's Cheka and its Stalinist successors in Georgia during the USSR's formative years, to oversee Stalin's massive edifice of organized state terror from 1938 until the dictator's death in 1953. Implicit in Knight's matter-of-fact account is the claim that Beria was singular less for his ruthless violence than for his adroit negotiation of Soviet internal politics and his canny currying of favor with Stalin. Yet the broader context of the culture of terror in which Beria's ghastly talents flourished remains hazy: Knight supplies no ethical or moral account of Stalinism, and few contemporary figures beyond Beria himself, his grim master, and familiar names such as Khrushchev, Malenkov, and Molotov emerge distinctly. Moreover, those new to the murderous intricacies of Stalinist infighting may find clarity retreating under a mass of initials, patronymics, and organizational acronyms. Knight readily acknowledges Beria's ``evil'' but does too little to help her readers understand it; hence her subsequent heavy stress on his unexpected emergence, in the frenzied power struggle that followed Stalin's death, as a pragmatic reformer--hardly absolution, most readers will feel, for a lifetime otherwise unblemished by loyalty, compassion, or common decency. In avoiding sensationalism or unbridled psychological speculation, Knight forgoes a full apprehension of the pathology of Beria and the system that bred him--without which many may choose not to endure the man's odious company. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-691-03257-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1993




MORE BY AMY KNIGHT

NonfictionORDERS TO KILL by Amy Knight
by Amy Knight
NonfictionWHO KILLED KIROV? by Amy Knight
by Amy Knight
NonfictionSPIES WITHOUT CLOAKS by Amy Knight
by Amy Knight

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionSTALIN AND THE SCIENTISTS by Simon Ings
by Simon Ings