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I’ve studied a lot of European history, from Greek and Roman history, the Middle Ages, to the World Wars. I’ve thrown in Asian histories for China and Japan, and Mayan and Incan histories as well. For the most part, my education in Russian history is rather lacking.

When I saw the book, Young Stalin, on the shelf at the bookstore, I was intrigued by it. I didn’t know much about Stalin at all, let alone what he was like as a youth. So I picked it up, and I am glad that I did.

Montefiore took advantage of newly released memoirs that had been hidden or suppressed since the time they were written. The new information contradicts much of what has been known of Stalin until now. Stalin went to great lengths to ensure everything that had ever been written about him support only the story that he was carefully crafting for the public to consume. That millions of people died at Stalin’s whim to protect him and his public image illustrates the lengths he was capable of going to.

The book follows Stalin from his birth to his role in the Revolution that toppled the Romanov dynasty. It was fascinating to learn that in Georgia, where Stalin was born, he is still considered a great poet. Many of his poems were published, and they are sprinkled throughout the book.

He also happened to be the best singer in his age group, and was often requested at parties in his town. Later, his mother was able to get into the seminary, where Stalin studied to become a priest. It was interesting to read that many of the prominent, atheist, Soviets involved in the revolution also attended the same seminary. I’d say the priests there did a pretty poor job.

Mostly, it was a difficult childhood for Stalin. His family lived in squalor. His father was a cobbler, and also a drunk that beat Stalin and his mother. His mother was strong and independent, and wanted nothing but the best for Stalin. She was willing to use any means necessary to raise her child well, to the point that many were unsure who exactly was Stalin’s father.

Even Stalin wasn’t always Stalin. His given name was Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili. Throughout his life, he took many different names and aliases, but mostly he was known as Koba or Soso. It wasn’t until the Revolution was realized that he took the name Stalin, which means Man of Steel.

The book illustrates a number of interesting and morbid tales of Stalin’s life growing up as a revolutionary. He was involved in bank robbing, extortion, illegal journalism, murder, and adultery to name a few. He was put in prison and exiled numerous times to Siberia, from which he escaped often. He worked hard to further himself in the Bolshevick party, and along the way made note of all of the people who ever did him wrong. Most of those people, and many more, paid with their lives.

If you are unaware of who Stalin was, I think this is a good place to start. You will probably get lost in all of the names, like I did, but it gives a good foundation from which to continue learning. The author has another book about Stalin’s life as the leader of Soviet Russia, entitled Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. I may have to pick that up myself to learn more about this fascinating, yet ruthless, paranoid and demented historical figure.

Rating: 3 out of 5  (What’s this?)