Yale University Press 2009. ISBN 978-0300110661

This book has a similar feel to his "The History of the Gulag: From Collectivization to the Great Terror (Annals of Communism)" being meticulously document based, and without particularly trying to interpret or hypothesize the factual evidence that he collects.

Khlevniuk is content to select from the voluminous records in an even handed way and let the documents speak for themselves. This has to be an advantage with his archival work being recognized in other books covering the same subject (eg. Robert Service's "Stalin: A Biography" and Donald Rayfield's "Stalin and His Hangmen: An Authoritative Portrait of a Tyrant and Those Who Served Him" - both very good).

Stalin appears as a tricky scheming liar who was also thuggish ("We'll knock your teeth in.....", "Go f... your mother", "You're next"), spending weeks reading torture confessions, fabricating evidence, crying victimization, betraying colleagues and showing a complete lack of ethics or humanity.

It was Lenin who brought him into the Bolshevik leadership precisely for these qualities (he wanted an "enforcer") with the theme of the book being the way he went from a ridiculed outsider among a group of international Bolshevik Jewish revolutionaries to their administrator, to ally of one or the other, until after 20 years he became their executioner under absolute dictatorship and the disappearance of every trace of collegiate government.

An interesting aspect of the book is the way that Khlevniuk shows how hardworking Stalin was throughout his "career". If you can actually call him a "manager" he was very "hands on" keeping a meticulous record of information from the earliest days. Lenin's heirs laughed about the Donkey Bureaucrat and Trotsky holidayed in the Crimea while Stalin tapped their telephones and built loyalties to himself after the death of Lenin. The book shows that this tendency only grew over time until under his eventual dictatorship no major decision could be taken without his agreement,  (top)
usually working through his chairmanship of the Bureau of the Council of People's Commissars.

The author shows that the suggested splits in the Party in the 1930's and theories about independent power groups are not at all supported by the evidence. All Russians from the Politburo downwards clearly lived in fear of Stalin as a matter of life and death, and the most that one could say was that the heads of different ministries would compete with each other for resources (ie. to produce some results).

Khleveniuk interestingly says on P.215, "The Soviet system, inherently unwieldy and inefficient, constantly demanded extraordinary efforts from the heads of its administrative apparatuses. Stalin, therefore, strove to surround himself with workaholics with organizational skills. By the same token , Stalin got rid of those who were not performing because of poor health or who simply failed to exhibit sufficient energy and competence."

Stalin's massive policy failures with regard to forced industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture of the early 1930's were blamed on the old Bolshevik leadership which was liquidated (apart from a few of the highest ranks) in his Great Terror starting in 1937. He murdered or deported every element on the population that could present the slightest opposition to his dictatorship and prepared for war with greatly increased military spending and rediscovered Russian nationalism.

The author makes the interesting point that, "Wartime centralization paradoxically went hand in hand with increased independence in operational matters at all levels. The main criterion for evaluating performance was the attainment of specific results." i.e. When it became a matter of life or death for his dictatorship, efficiency had to be augmented by diffusing central control.