Young Stalin

I read this about a year or so ago almost straight after reading Stalingrad by Antony Beevor and have recently had cause to revisit it. The early period of Soviet history presents such a stark contrast to the utopian dreams of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Everything in this period is mud and blood, the secrecy and deception of the Union hasn't yet spread to the general populace, who are still largely rural and unaware of what's going on amongst the political classes.

Into the melee steps Soso - the bear. He is expelled from his Orthodox seminary for reading banned literature after which he falls in love with the works of Lenin, working his way up to becoming resident bank robber, murderer and thug of the Bolshevik party. He was hated and feared by everyone else in the party and his megalomania drove the vast majority of people away from him but at once made him admired and loved by his closest allies. 

The book traces his story from birth in 1878 all the way up to the very beginnings of the revolution in 1917 from where the history of his life is better known and more widely written, including by Montefiore in the follow-up that was published prior to Young Stalin. His life truly was fascinating, but as Montefiore points out, his notoriety and lasting power were reliant on just the right circumstances of time and opportunity, without which he would have been another of the thousands of obscure, violent criminal minds driven to revolution at the time.

Instead of a blurb, the rear of the book contains nine mugshots of Stalin at various stages of his early life, and underneath them a description of his life at each point - urchin, chiorboy, student priest, poet, lover, pirate, gangster, killer, commissar. No better summation of the man's early life exists.
1910 file on Stalin from the Baku Gendarmerie