Beria was of course one of the most loathsome characters in history, as this long, detailed biography shows once again. An opportunist and cutthroat careerist from way back, Beria was a police informer in his youth and later spied on the Mensheviks for the Bolsheviks. From an underling of the other Caucasian party chiefs, he then became head of the Georgian GPU, eventually rising to Stalin's right-hand minister for internal repression and international espionage. Wittlin claims that Beria actually murdered Stalin, who was, as is generally accepted, on the point of a new purge which would have included Beria. As for Beria's own death, Wittlin notes the various conflicting versions, but foregoes choosing among them. The book is flawed in several ways. Wittlin makes flat statements about all sorts of facts, circumstantialities, and attitudes -- e.g., usually citing anonymous exiles or unreliable sources like David Dallin. Small inaccuracies and overstatements of uncertainties abound (Zhdanov's possible heart condition, details about Trotsky's assassin, etc.). There is also a heavy sprinkling of anti-Communist canards about Lenin, the November Revolution, etc. Too much time is spent reconstructing the particulars of Beria's abductions, rapes and murders of young girls. And most regrettably the book tends to settle for a string of superficially recounted crimes and purges without sufficiently enlarging our understanding of Stalin's relations with the bureaucracy and its changing faces.