STARRED REVIEW
February 2021

Hitler and Stalin

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Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin never met, but between 1939 and 1945 they had a strong relationship, briefly as allies and then as enemies, and Laurence Rees brings this six-year period vividly alive.

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Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin never met, but between 1939 and 1945 they had a strong relationship, briefly as allies and then as enemies. In his riveting Hitler and Stalin: The Tyrants and the Second World War, Laurence Rees, historian, bestselling author and acclaimed BBC documentary producer, brings this six-year period vividly alive. Rees has devoted his professional life to World War II and Holocaust history. What sets his newest account apart is that he interviewed more people who had direct experience working for these two men than any other historian to date. Rees’ skillful incorporation of these eyewitness accounts, carefully checked for reliability, gives a “you are there” feeling to events.

The most important connection between Hitler and Stalin was that each believed he had uncovered the secret of existence, but those “secrets” were definitely distinct. Hitler’s starting point was race—that the Jewish people were responsible for all that was wrong in the world. Stalin, inspired by the work of Karl Marx, became a revolutionary. Each hated the other’s belief system, though Stalin was a keen reader of Mein Kampf.

Rees gives us detailed, nuanced portraits of these two men. Hitler was charismatic, but only to those who agreed with him. Stalin exercised power through his profound understanding of working through committees. Hitler expressed a vision but was not realistic about implementation, while Stalin was much more detail oriented. They both demonstrated contempt for weaker nations and ruthlessly pursued actions that showed their total disregard for the lives of their supporters as well as their enemies. During their leadership, they were responsible for the deaths of at least 27 million people, but because they were suspicious of others, they were emotionally isolated from the suffering they caused. Rees also notes that because of the infamy of Hitler and the Holocaust, less attention has been paid to Stalin’s horrendous crimes, which has allowed him to escape the level of censure that he deserves. 

There are other fine, very long biographies of these dictators. However, this excellent book for the general reader is shorter and gives an authoritative and very readable understanding of who Hitler and Stalin were and what they did.

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