Stalin: A Reading List

Joseph Stalin led the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953 in a reign marked by ruthless tyranny and the deaths of millions of people. Sunday 5th March 2023 marks 70 years since his death. In this post, we are sharing a series of free extracts from Yale books to shed light on the dictator, his oppressive regime, his demise and the aftermath.

New Biography of a Dictator

Oleg Khlevniuk

The most authoritative and engrossing biography of the notorious dictator ever written, winner of the 2016 PROSE Award for Biography & Autobiography.

‘Enthralling, brilliant, and groundbreaking, this book confirms Khlevniuk as probably the greatest living expert on Stalin. Essential reading.’
Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Stalin: the Court of the Red Tsar

Read Chapter 4. Terror and Impending War which covers ‘the Great Terror’, the wave of repressions against tens of thousands of party officials and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Soviet citizens during 1937–1938.

Stalin as Warlord
Alfred J. Rieber

An authoritative account of Stalin as a wartime leader—showing how his paradoxical policies of mass mobilization and repression affected all aspects of Soviet society.

A thought-provoking and informed account set squarely in the many debates that surround Stalin’s role, but at the same time refreshingly perceptive, intelligently critical and lucidly written.’
Richard Overy, author of Blood and Ruins: The Great Imperial War, 1931-1945

Read Chapter 1: Mobilization and Repression at the Centre, discussing the system of repression in aid of mobilizing support for Stalin’s government:

Stalin’s Library
A Dictator and his Books
Geoffrey Roberts

In this engaging life of the twentieth century’s most self-consciously learned dictator, Geoffrey Roberts explores the books Stalin read, how he read them, and what they taught him.

‘[A] fascinating new study.
Michael O’Donnell, Wall Street Journal

Read Chapter 1. Bloody Tyrant and Bookworm, which introduces Stalin’s vast library, and engages with it’s impact in forming Stalin’s worldview and deeply held beliefs that enabled him to sustain decades of brutal rule:

And, author Geoffrey Roberts recounts the story of Shushanika Manucharyants, Stalin’s personal librarian, exclusively for our blog:

The Kremlin Letters
Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt
David Reynolds and Vladimir Pechatnov

A penetrating account of the dynamics of World War II’s Grand Alliance through the messages exchanged by the ‘Big Three’.

‘Illuminating and insightful. . . . An indispensable resource.’
Jonathan W. Jordan, Wall Street Journal

Read Chapter 13. From East and West, which delves into the close relationship between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt over the summer of 1944, from when a western front was re-established in June, until the liberation of Paris in August and Brussels in September. It also covers The Warsaw Uprising which Stalin denounced as the act of ‘a group of criminals’, and was seen by him as an attempt to pre-empt Soviet hegemony in Poland:

And, in a special post on our blog, David Reynolds reflects on the process of piecing together the story of The Kremlin Letters:

The Last Days of Stalin
Joshua Rubenstein

A gripping account of the months before and after Stalin’s death and how his demise reshaped the course of twentieth-century history.

‘Joshua Rubenstein, in his vivid, brisk account, describes the months on each side of Stalin’s death to give the reader a sense of the significance of this turning point.’
Robbie Millen, The Times

Read Chapter 4. The Kremlin Moves On, where Rubenstein outlines some of the press reactions immediately following the dictator’s death, highlighting how coverage at the time glossed over the terrifying nature of his regime, tending towards a romanticised version of his career:

Watch Joshua Rubenstein discuss his book at The American Library in Paris, recorded on 21st February 2023:

Also of Interest

The Maisky Diaries
The Wartime Revelations of Stalin’s Ambassador in London

Edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky

Highlights of the extraordinary wartime diaries of Ivan Maisky, Soviet ambassador to London.

‘[Maisky’s] vast diary is a fascinating and invaluable source on wartime relations between Moscow and London. . . . A triumph of meticulous scholarship and enlightened publishing.’
David Reynolds, Times Literary Supplement

The Complete Maisky Diaries
Volumes 1-3

Edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky
Annals of Communism Series

The complete diaries that Ivan Maisky, Soviet ambassador to London, kept between 1932 and 1943.

‘Gabriel Gorodetsky’s edition [of the diaries] — abridged and unabridged — is a work for the ages.’
Niall Ferguson, New York Times

The Stalin Digital Archive

The Stalin Digital Archive provides unprecedented access to historically significant content and robust online capabilities for research and teaching.

The result of years of collaboration between the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (RGASPI) and Yale University Press, the Stalin Digital Archive (SDA) provides access to primary source materials from Stalin’s personal papers and insightful monographs on communism. In addition, it seeks to advance research and teaching through new ways for scholars and students to interact with this content and collaborate.

Prestige, Manipulation, and Coercion
Elite Power Struggles in the Soviet Union and China after Stalin and Mao

Joseph Torigian

How succession in authoritarian regimes was less a competition of visions for the future and more a settling of scores

‘In Prestige, Manipulation, and Coercion, Joseph Torigian of American University is less interested in coalitions than the mechanics of transfers. Challenging conventional analyses of how authoritarian leaders are chosen, he argues that factors such as ideology and patronage matter less than brass-knuckle tactics.’
Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books

Late Stalinism
The Aesthetics of Politics

Evgeny Dobrenko

How the last years of Stalin’s rule led to the formation of an imperial Soviet consciousness.

‘The self-contradictions of Stalinist ideology, as Dobrenko shows further, had a deeper logic.’
Stephen Lovell, Times Literary Supplement

Featured image: ‘Iosif Stalin‘ by Unidentified Photographer is licensed under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

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