Paul Johnson, the most celebrated popular historian of our time, takes a scalpel to Stalin, whom he considers "one of the outstanding monsters of history." Johnson sets forth the essence of Stalin’s life, character, and career. "It has been a hateful task, which has caused me much pain and disgust," he writes with characteristic candor. "But it has been a duty I have performed not without a certain grim satisfaction."
"Stalin poses a particular challenge to a biographer: How does one render such a monster human? While Johnson doesn't flinch from chronicling Stalin's rise to absolute power - the remorseless vendetta against Leon Trotsky, the development of the Gulag, the extermination of millions of peasants - he also shows Stalin playing billiards, listening to his adored Mozart, and annotating Marx’s Capital in the margins. It is, in concise form, the story of Russia in the twentieth century: dark and murderous, a stage on which to display humanity's infinite capacity for self-destruction.