Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar
By Simon Sebag Montefiore
Review by Alisa (History)
Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The Court of the Red Tsar was one of the first historical books I read from cover to cover and I truly enjoyed reading, as it was finally something that I, with the assistance of my amazing teacher, had chosen to read on my own and not for an exam or as part of my homework! Despite its length, the compelling way in which the book is written meant that I was determined to get to the end and see the book’s twists and turns along the way.
Montefiore’s account of Stalin’s life as the leader of the Soviet Union is not your typical narration of him as a paranoid, murderous dictator. Although this side of him is apparent in the work, what I found particularly striking when reading the book in Year 12, was the human side of Stalin that Montefiore depicts – something that was often forgotten in the classroom in our immediate labelling of dictators as psychopaths. I found that the book forced me to see Stalin in a light that I had not considered him in before in my historical analyses: as a father, as a family man, as someone who regularly attended dinner parties with his close circle of friends. And it is this presentation of him that I believe is truly thought-provoking, as it really made me consider how someone, with such a seemingly normal life in the background – although troubled by problems like his wife committing suicide – could order the terror and deaths of so many of his fellow countrymen. It was this more human approach taken by Montefiore in exploring Stalin’s private life which gripped me, and which I believe should be considered more in the teaching of dictatorships and their leaders, as it is important to realise that these people were human beings with somewhat “normal” upbringings- however it is the role of the historian to try and determine why they performed their subsequent actions.
I also appreciated that the book read slightly like a novel and thus differed considerably from the comparatively dry and more rigid writing-style of other academic and non-fiction books, and for this reason I highly recommend this book to anyone particularly interested in Stalin and his life, but also to those interested in dictatorships in general and what went on “behind-the-scenes”. This book has also really helped me understand the importance of considering human emotion when analysing history, something which has been very useful in my current studies of the Holocaust and other genocides.
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore