Bortoli has been Moscow correspondent for French radio and TV for only fifteen years, so he wasn't there the day of Stalin's death in 1953. His account of the dictator's last year is reconstructed from interviews with citizens, the memoirs of daughter Svetlana and others (Khrushchev, Ehrenburg, Yevtushenko. . .), between-the-lines readings of old issues of Pravda and other official documents. Bortoli sketches the framework of events, intrigues and power plays (leading up to the purge of military boss Beria, and ultimately to Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of the old regime's crimes) surrounding Stalin's last days and chillingly recreates the ""cult of personality"" that approached mass delirium. Vignettes detail the tyrant's paranoid style (as a precaution against assassins, he always decided on one of four identically spartan fortified bedrooms at the last minute) as well as the terrible fates of his victims, whether old Bolsheviks or his own strong men, the ""spies"" he saw everywhere, the party members purged in the Leningrad affair, the kulaks liquidated in the '30's, the so-called doctor assassins, Zionist ""cosmopolites,"" and so on, it seems ad infinitum. All these cruel horror stories of political terrorism have a considerable shock value as Bortoli unfolds the mystery of that remote ""man of steel"" and the ""other planet"" (as he calls Russia) in the flashback and you-are-there style of the very best of TV documentaries. Stalinist history is horrifying and gallows-obscene -- even after Solzhenitsyn and the rest -- and Bortoli is a hold-your-breath writer -- you won't look away.