STALIN: The History of a Dictator by H. Montgomery Hyde

STALIN: The History of a Dictator

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A big, smooth digest of Stalin's life, drawing on everyone from Svetlana to Trotsky and Djilas to recent scholars such as Moshe Levin. It presents no startling new information or interpretations, but with heavy, well-integrated primary-source excerpts covers the major biographical issues, while skimming over social and political questions. True, Hyde thinks Stalin was a Tsarist police agent for a while; but he thinks it unlikely that Stalin actually poisoned Lenin but he does give a graphic account of his scheming during Lenin's illness and right after his death, and a full account of the late-'20's purges. There is a special emphasis on Stalin's diplomacy, with telling excerpts from Eden, Bullitt, and others as well as the familiar Churchill encounters. Hyde underlines Stalin's foolish trust in Hitler which, together with his fear of war, prevented adequate Russian preparation. The accounts of Stalin's arguments with the Allies over the delay of the Second Front show him patient and almost timid, but Hyde doesn't pitch into the debate about Stalin's postwar intentions and actions; instead the narrative focuses on his personal habits (much is made of Stalin's wives, the first who died young, the second who killed herself, and Rosa Kaganovitch, thought to be the third) and declining strength after 1945, ending with his death, and there is no real explanation of the ""destalinization"" decision. A vast range of problems remains unexplored -- from the character of the Trotsky and Bukharin oppositions to Stalin's policies for the International to an assessment of collectivization; the humor, brutality, passion for revenge, and something of the paranoia of Stalin's character come through, but not enough of how he handled the party and the bureaucracy. The book does have the negative virtue of sparing the reader anti-Communist homilies and squibs about Oriental despotism. Among recent books dealing with Stalin and Stalinism, Berger's Nothing But the Truth (p. 839) and Medvedev's Let History Be the Judge (p; 1298) are on an incomparably higher level of political analysis; and there is no great need for another account of Stalin's life as such, but it must be conceded that this makes a full and readable one. Hyde is the author of many books including Oscar Wilde (1963) and Lord Reading (1968).

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 1971
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux