In a tour de force of scholarship, Mr. Smith sets out to prove that for twelve years Stalin worked as an agent of the Okhrana (the tsarist police). He makes a strong case, examining the student days of ""Soso,"" the years of his presumed double life, beginning in 1899 with his expulsion from the seminary and ending with his Siberian imprisonment in 1913. The book brings Stalin up to the brink of the October Revolution--it is the first study to deal exclusively with his early life--and leaves the reader there, somewhat wearied by the high glee with which the author pursues his minor points, but impressed by his diligence in fitting diverse accounts and significant lacunae into the scheme of his puzzle. Smith's background as a CIA man gives him a singular skill at interpreting the tactics of the astonishingly broad, canny Okhrana operations. His understanding of political history is less acute (he muddles the key issues of ""economism"" and agrarian policy). But others will find this contribution indispensable in testing their own views of Stalin's ideological development and his conspiratorial, unscrupulous character--both seemingly shaped by greater opportunism than his worst enemies have heretofore suggested.