It is a dark tale.
Especially because it is true.
Standing in front of two hundred engaged individuals, I was in my twelfth year of telling the story of Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin. They had heard of his rough childhood, his failed aspirations as a seminarian, his revolutionary beginnings and his ruthless claw to the side of Vladimir Lenin and atop the Russian continent. This hardened man knew one thing above all: the intoxicating effects of power. And so, to achieve and maintain power, he would orchestrate the murder of millions in unwinnable battles, government-created famines, show trials, purges, Gulags and the Great Terror.
He was a monster. But was it as simple as that?
If that is all there is, then how could this happen?
Surely in his violence, his betrayal, his utter capriciousness, people must have known better, right? With such transparent evil, there must have been a way for his bloody rule to be averted.
Well, yes, in a way.
But Joseph Stalin was surprising.
In an interview with historian, Laurence Rees, Stalin biographer Simon Sebag Montefiore noted, “[Stalin] was always superb with people and again and again people thought that they were indispensable to him, even despite the obvious evidence that everyone was dispensable…. Stalin cultivated a sort of gentleness and a sort of quietness, a lack of showiness which people trust, but also he was very charismatic in a sort of feline way…”