STALIN’S LIBRARY: A Dictator and His Books | Geoffrey Roberts, Yale University Press, (2022), 272p.
The title accurately reflects this academic romp through the books Stalin purportedly read, the notes he scribbled, and the context of their consumption.
Stalin was more than a mass murderer (the latest estimates are 20m victims); he was an avid reader. Archives provide evidence that he had amassed a personal library of over 25,000 books (when T. Jefferson died, he bequeathed his library of 6,700 tomes to start the Library of Congress) with notes written on the pages of over 400.
From his notes, the professor and researcher Roberts concludes that Stalin saw his nation - the one he was attempting to build - as a series of ideas. He notes Stalin believed “in the primacy of ideas,” a departure from a strictly Marxist philosophy but a rational explanation of his actions: the ruthless destruction of “anyone who by his deeds or his thoughts - yes - even his thoughts - threatens the unity of the socialist state.”
Stalin once toasted amongst his fellow travelers: “Production of souls is more important than the Production of tanks…This is why I propose a toast to writers, the engineers of human souls.”
The mass murderer’s curiosity about ideas had an evident, if not dark, utility.
It’s a relatively academic and somewhat uninteresting review of an arcane topic; the author reveals himself as a fan of Stalin when he intones “extravagant claims about Stalin’s military genius had more than a modicum of credibility.” Oh really.
Stalin lived by a political dictum of Marx that maximum violence against one’s enemies was not regrettable but necessary. No amount of book collecting can reframe this approach to ruling a country as anything but evil.