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Best books about Joseph Stalin

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The tyranny of the Russian communist party has few global parallels. Stalin’s rule was brutal, reverberating to this day. Here are the best books about Joseph Stalin.

Born in Gori, Georgia, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin is one of the most violent and pivotal historical figures of modern history. He transformed tsarist Russia into a world superpower leaving behind death and destruction.

During the Russian Civil War, he acted as the People's Commissar for Nationalities' Affairs. Stalin was an influential leader of the Bolshevik party, which formed part of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. He later ousted leading party members to establish a dictatorship.

You could read a hundred books to learn everything there is to know about Iosif Stalin. This article features the best books about Joseph Stalin to get you started.

Best books about Joseph Stalin

You can explore many facts and facets of Stalin’s life and influence. From his views on Marxist policies to the sad story about his daughter Svetlana and his time at Tiflis seminary, every detail of his life is available in various history books.

In the list below, you will find a selection of the best books about Joseph Stalin, taking in varying aspects of his life and role on the world stage.

Gulag: A History (2003) by Anne Applebaum

Anne Applebaum's book is one of the best depictions of contemporary Russia, outlining how the nation became a victim of a brutal dictator. After trawling through the archives, the author delivers unfiltered accounts of life in prison camps, harrowing transportation, infamous purges, random arrests, and starvation.

Anne Applebaum is an American communism expert, historian, and journalist for The Spectator and The Economist. She was on The Washington Post editorial team and has written several books.

Young Stalin (2021) by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Young Stalin is a must-read if you want to discover the makings of a tyrant. The author examines his childhood and upbringing to help understand how Stalin became perhaps the most violent leader in human history. The book is as gripping as a thriller while providing insights and answers you will not find in history books.

British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore has written several history books and novels. He is also a TV presenter.

Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine (2018) by Anne Applebaum

Anne Applebaum's book outlines Stalin's killing of over 4 million Ukrainians. The dictator deepened the ill effects of collectivization to create a famine. In its aftermath, Stalin attacked Ukraine's political and cultural leaders. The author wrote the book using first-hand accounts of famine survivors.

In the First Circle (1968 & 2009) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

First published in the censored version with chapters missing, this fictional account of Stalin's story is Solzhenitsyn's best work. It depicts the Cold War era and features a gripping story of prisoners who must choose between supporting Stalin's brutal regime or refusing and facing near-certain death at a gulag internment camp. The book was published in full in 2009.

Eastern Approaches (1949) by Fitzroy Mclean

In this autobiography, the author tells the gripping story of a life as a junior diplomat in 1930s Moscow and a British Army and SAS member. Unlike many journalists of his time, Mclean delivers an undiluted account of Stalin's purge trials and the ill-fated history of the Soviet Union. Mclean partially inspired the creation of the James Bond character.

Fitzroy Mclean is a Scottish soldier, politician, diplomat, and author.

Listen to historical audiobooks with Speechify

On Speechify Audiobooks, you can find an extensive library of history books, including works on American Marxism and Napoleon. Sean McMeekin’s Russian Revolution is worth a listen. Speechify Audiobooks are accessible on all devices in 14 languages.

And when you are done reading up on Stalin, Molotov, Karl Marx, and the Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, listen to the brilliant satirical comedy by Groucho Marx. He will help you escape the claws of Marxism and Stalinism with a bit of humor.


What is Joseph Stalin best known for?

Originally of Georgian descent, Stalin is famous for being the USSR leader, ruling the Russian Empire, and shaping the makeup of Eastern Europe. Stalin was the General Secretary of the Communist party, and he transformed Russia into a superpower through his economic policies. With the five-year plans, the communist dictator brutally brought about Russian industrialization through agricultural collectivization.

After Vladimir Lenin's death, he took power within a collective but became a dictator by ousting opponents, including Leon Trotsky, during the late 1920s. The Stalinist regime established the violent dominance of the Bolshevik party with labor camps, show trials, secret police, great purges, and the infamous politburo. Stalin's policies oppressed and murdered millions of people.

What did Stalin do during WW2?

On the eve of World War II, Stalin signed a Soviet-German non-aggression pact with Adolf Hitler. After initial German victories in Russia, Stalin's troops successfully pushed back. He deported over 1 million German Russians to Siberia.

Between 1932 and 1933, Stalin killed millions of Ukrainians in the Holdomor by orchestrating a famine and deporting Kulaks. In 1939, Stalin invaded Poland and Finland. The Battle of Moscow saw the Red Army force the German army to retreat.

Stalin later aligned with Britain and the U.S. against Nazi Germany. To end the war and reorganize, Stalin, American President Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill held the Potsdam and Yalta Conferences. Territorial divisions emerged, and control of Berlin was split between the USSR and West Germany.

What did Joseph Stalin do during the Cold War?

After World War II, much tension remained between the Allies and the USSR. Stalin ruled with an iron fist from the Kremlin, and Britain and the U.S. aligned in the West. Both America and the Soviet Union sought to expand their influence. An ideological and political rivalry ensued between the two superpowers escalating with atomic bomb threats from both sides.

The following decades saw rising tensions, espionage, and nuclear armament on both sides.

Why did Joseph Stalin call himself "Uncle Joe"?

Stalin's real name was Dzhugashvili, but he changed it to Iosif Stalin. The name Stalin means “man of steel.” Western leaders and the media nicknamed him “Uncle Joe” during World War II.

How did Joseph Stalin die?

According to Pravda newspaper reports, Stalin died suddenly after a short illness in 1953. Medical reports cite a massive stroke as the cause of death. In its aftermath, Nikita Khrushchev began a process of de-Stalinization. In 1953, Khrushchev was appointed the First Secretary of the Central Committee.

Cliff Weitzman

Cliff Weitzman

Cliff Weitzman is a dyslexia advocate and the CEO and founder of Speechify, the #1 text-to-speech app in the world, totaling over 100,000 5-star reviews and ranking first place in the App Store for the News & Magazines category. In 2017, Weitzman was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work making the internet more accessible to people with learning disabilities. Cliff Weitzman has been featured in EdSurge, Inc., PC Mag, Entrepreneur, Mashable, among other leading outlets.