cover image Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia, 1934-1941

Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia, 1934-1941

Robert W. Thurston / Author Yale University Press $60 (320p) I

Stalin has had the reputation of ruling the U.S.S.R. with an iron fist, employing terror to inflict his will on a hapless populace. Accordingly, Stalin was also a paranoid monster who stage-managed the twists and turns of Soviet policy that made him supreme leader. In this strongly revisionist work, Thurston, associate professor of history at Miami University, tries to refute that conception, arguing that Stalin was largely reacting to events around him. The author goes so far as to claim that, though terror existed as part of the Soviet system, Stalin never meant it to be a primary instrument for ruling. Thurston has surveyed recently opened Soviet archival material and other sources and interpreted them his way, conjecturing that in the late 1930s-the period of the Great Terror-""events spun out of... control,"" catching Stalin off-guard and forcing him to improvise. Whether one accepts what will surely be a highly controversial reassessment, the author acknowledges Stalin was nonetheless ""one of history's leading murderers, and his crimes were grotesque."" Photos. History Book Club selection. (Apr.)