I just finished reading Stalin: At The Court of the Red Tsar, by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Rather than being a history of the Soviet Union under Stalin, or a deep biography of Stalin, it focuses in on the daily lives and fascinating interactions between and amongst Stalin and his inner circle, providing an intimate view of the process of the terror, intrigue, and decisions that governed the Soviet Union at the time (Focusing on the period from the 30’s to 1954). The anecdotes and descriptions also focus in on the personalities, lives, families, and ultimate fates of his inner circle, taking special note of how no one was immune from imprisonment or execution.
Its about 700 pages long, with a hefty number of footnotes, but it is well worth it if you have an interest in Russian History, the function of authoritarian regimes, or cults of personality. It delves heavily into the mindset and atmosphere that his inner circle lived in, but one aspect of criticism is that while Montefiore does provide overviews and vignets of each major personality, these are not in the order they are mentioned in the story (Which would’ve required its own front loaded chapter of a “Dramatis Personae.”), which can leave people who have no passing familiarity with these names at a bit of a loss at first.
The book is fairly exhaustive in its research, written at a time when new archives had been opened up - thus treating us to some of Stalin’s archived thoughts and letters - particularly regarding his inner circle, some of which contradicts information presented in the memoirs of his magnates.
Its fascinating and chilling - the book doesn’t heavily focus on the atrocities themselves, but instead on the thoughts of the people conducting them.