For those of you who know little of Stalin and the history behind how he came to power and of the Great Purge this is the book you will want to read. The author, Robert Conquest, first wrote this book in 1968, and then updated it in 1990 and 2008. When the book first came out he was criticized by many historians, but as the years have passed, new information surfaced that supported his findings.
I personally knew little regarding Russian history and considering how growing up, all the attention was focused on knowing Hitler and the Nazi's, I'm surprised that very little was said about Stalin or Mao. By the time I finished this incredibly heavy and detailed book, I almost got the impression that Hitler was tame compared to Stalin.
The author did a great job explaining the political environment prior to Stalin's rise. However, Russian politics at the time can feel quite confusing and almost absurd to a point. The book covers the murder of Sergei Kirov, instigated by Stalin and used by Stalin as propaganda to start the purges or the killing of his adversaries. The book covers and discusses the arrests and trials of Stalin's political adversary's in great detail. It covers the terror-famine of 1930-33 where it is estimated a minimum of 6-7 million people died. It also covers the purges between 1936-38 where estimates are at 20 million dead.
As you read page after page of arrest, confession of mind-boggling crimes under torture, and execution of entire families, I was amazed that Russia still had citizens after WWII. Stalin was a cold-hearted machine and had no qualms about executing those closest to him that he had known for decades. Considering he wiped out the intelligentsia and literally every experienced military commander, I do not understand how the Nazi's could not capture Moscow with the German High-Command knowing full well what Stalin had done. Also, the damage inflicted by Stalin did not leave it as a "Superpower" after WWII.
If you have never read anything about Stalin then this is the book to get, but I warn you...this is not light reading. It is packed with information and details of a horrendous nature. I thought no one could be worse than Hitler...I think I may have been wrong...