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Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar



This thrilling biography of Stalin and his entourage during the terrifying decades of his supreme power transforms our understanding of Stalin as Soviet dictator, Marxist leader and Russian tsar.

Based on groundbreaking research, Simon Sebag Montefiore reveals in captivating detail the fear and betrayal, privilege and debauchery, family life and murderous cruelty of this secret world. Written with extraordinary narrative verve, this magnificent feat of scholarly research has become a classic of modern history writing. Showing how Stalin’s triumphs and crimes were the product of his fanatical Marxism and his gifted but flawed character, this is an intimate portrait of a man as complicated and human as he was brutal and chilling.

Sources and notes for STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR are available here.


‘I loved the totalitarian high baroque sleaze of Montefiore’s Stalin.’ Simon Schama, Book of the Year, THE GUARDIAN

‘One of the two outstanding books of the year, STALIN by Simon Sebag Montefiore… was the most civilised and elegant chronicle of brutality and ruthlessness I have ever read, its prose cool and clear but never indifferent’ Ruth Rendell, DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘Montefiore’s STALIN… horrific, revelatory and sobering… triumph of research and should be required reading in Russia. Book of the Year’ John Le Carré, OBSERVER

‘I did not think I could learn anything new about Stalin but I was wrong. A stunning performance’ Dr Henry Kissinger

‘STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR is one of the best biographies I have ever read in my life’ Shimon Peres

‘The book I have enjoyed most over the past year was STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR. It was eye-opening. How he managed to kill probably 30 or 40 million people and conceal it is unbelievable’ Alex Ferguson

‘This grim masterpiece, shot through with lashes of black humour… The personal details are riveting’ Antonia Fraser, MAIL ON SUNDAY

‘This fascinating book… [Montefiore] concentrates, as any good historian should, on pushing forward the boundaries of our knowledge of the subject… [He] provides rich detail of daily life and family relationships in a world of human values turned inside out… scrupulously fair in the way he describes Stalin’s qualities – including his ability to charm, his uncanny grasp of geopolitical issues, his brilliant handling of foreign statesmen and his genuine passion for literature’ Antony Beevor, SUNDAY TIMES

‘His masterful and terrifying account of Stalin… seldom has the picture been put in finer focus than by Sebag Montefiore. It is partly through his diligent interviews with the children of survivors and his admirable combination of history and gossip that one sees the awful banality, the brutal crudity of the men who carelessly sent so many millions to their senseless deaths’ Alistair Horne, THE TIMES

‘This magnificent portrait… Simon Sebag Montefiore has mined the rich veins of recent Russian writing on the Stalin age and of newly opened archives to give us an intimate history… The stifling, contiguous life of the Soviet elite in and around the Kremlin is wonderfully conveyed, in some of the most striking and literary passages in the book… Striking the balance between political narrative and personal biography is a difficult one… Montefiore keeps both in perspective… a wonderfully rich and vibrant portrait of the Stalinist elite who lived in the shadow of a remarkable and dangerous colossus’ Richard Overy, LITERARY REVIEW

‘Everyone in Westminster has been reading [STALIN] during these turbulent leadership times. I’ve met Labour ministers and Tory backbenchers reeling from stories… reading this book for tips on how to become an efficient fighting machine… Everyone is mugging up on Stalin’ Alice Thomson, DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘Read it or face social Siberia… a cross-over success. Academically and intellectually rigorous, it’s also a riveting read… it takes a great writer to make it seem fresh. And Sebag Montefiore certainly does that… Sebag Montefiore’s greatest achievement has been to “humanise” Stalin. Uncle Joe was a mass murderer and a paranoid sociopath. But he was also charming, friendly and flirtatious’ 100 Best Things in the World Right Now, GQ

‘Grimly brilliant’ Andrew Marr, DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘Excellent… This book is like a vast Russian novel full of characters, colour, terror, passion and treachery… love affairs, marriages, divorces, imprisonments and killings’ Susannah Tarbush, AL-HAYAT

‘Montefiore’s masterful study of Stalin and his entourage provides the best personal portrait to date of the man and his group’ Daniel Beer, JEWISH CHRONICLE

‘Montefiore has managed to get inside the mind of the 20th century’s worst mass murderer. What he has found there will affect your view of human nature… a thoughtful book of first-class scholarship as well as a transfixing narrative… all… vividly recreated by Montefiore’s caustically witty prose’ Andrew Roberts, DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘Its extraordinary revelation of the evil – the complete amorality – at the heart of the dictator’s court will change the way historians approach the great historical questions about the Stalinist regime’ Orlando Figes, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

‘An astonishingly good and important book… he provides a remarkably fresh and exciting account of one of history’s darkest periods’ Simon Heffer, COUNTRY LIFE

‘This is no ordinary scholarly life, it’s ultra reader-friendly, lively, gossipy, and packed with revelations about the intimacies and intrigues of Stalin the man and his courtiers. Brilliant’ Evening Standard, METRO LIFE

‘For anyone with the slightest interest in 20th-century history, this is essential, utterly compelling, page-turning reading. The book is a masterpiece of horror’ Robert Harvey, THE TABLET

‘Sebag Montefiore paints a detailed and fascinating picture of the complex interactions and intrigues that characterized Kremlin life under Stalin… [he] has done a valuable service in drawing our attention to a hitherto little-studied aspect of Stalinism. As his Stalin demonstrates, the personal relationships of those who ran the Kremlin provided an essential dynamic for the development of the Stalinist system’ Amy Knight, TLS

‘This fascinating account of the dictator’s reign… Montefiore provides a riveting portrait of the man and his ruling circle… this book gives us an unprecedented glimpse into his intimate life, the inner workings of his government and the relations between the members of his junta, many of whom have remained shadowy figures until now… The result is a much finer and nuanced understanding of the Bolshevik phenomenon than we have had before. Using his sources with great skill, Montefiore has succeeded in placing Stalin and the Bolsheviks in the context of their time’ Marc Lambert, SCOTSMAN

‘This magisterial new biography of Stalin… Sebag Montefiore makes some interesting new assertions about Stalin’s psychology… well-written; he evidently has a superb grasp of Russian, and can operate well in that still-difficult country’ Lesley Chamberlain, THE INDEPENDENT

‘Montefiore drives his story forward with breathless enthusiasm… in a work of great importance. Scholars will read it for the valuable new evidence it assembles. Others will enjoy it as a fascinating page-turner and an everyday saga of extraordinary Kremlin folk’ Rodric Braithwaite, FINANCIAL TIMES

‘Gripping and timely… [Montefiore]… had the bright idea of examining the letters, telegrams and diaries of [Stalin’s] intimate associates. As a result, this is a book based on extraordinary primary research… one of the few recent books on Stalinism that will be read in years to come. The devil is in the detail’ Robert Service, GUARDIAN

‘His spectacular new work… This is an impressive and compelling work’ Philip Mansel, SPECTATOR

‘An extraordinary book… he has managed to persuade a whole generation of little old ladies and elderly men – the wives, granddaughters, servants, nieces and nephews of Stalin’s henchmen – to give him a series of extraordinary interviews and, in some cases, lend him their hand-written memoirs… For anyone fascinated by the nature of evil – and by the effects of absolute power on human relationships – this book will provide new insights on every page’ Anne Applebaum, EVENING STANDARD

‘Montefiore has travelled extensively throughout the former USSR, interviewing survivors of this extraordinary era and several descendants of those closest to the Boss and gaining access to unpublished documents and photographs… The result is a dizzying kaleidoscope of new and well-known materials, all of which combine to give fresh insights into the bizarre world of Stalin’s rule’ Patrick O’Meara, IRISH INDEPENDENT

‘Utilising an immense amount of original research… offering a composite picture of the Stalin years in breathtaking detail… Montefiore… reveals a man who was, in so many ways, frighteningly human… Montefiore has succeeded brilliantly in showing that Stalin and his courtiers were human beings who laughed, loved and cried while they murdered, tortured and raped’ Gerard DeGroot, SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY

‘A more intimate, less conventional history of… Stalin… a truly fascinating body of research. The result is a vivid picture of life in this murderous court’ Charlotte Hobson, DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘A graphic and highly readable account… Montefiore has marshalled existing material, uncovered long-buried testimonies, even managed to interview three generations of Kremlin survivors… Sex and the Kremlin are not usually mentioned in the same sentence and Montefiore’s revelations are quite arresting’ Harold Shukman, TIMES HIGHER EDUCATIONAL SUPPLEMENT

‘Montefiore’s master work charts in compelling detail the story of Georgia’s two most infamous sons, the all-powerful dictator and Beria’ Andrew Cook, THE TIMES

‘No summary can do justice to the wealth of this book, which leaves little to be desired… Nevertheless, this work should be read by anyone interested in Stalin’s life and times, or in the workings of a highly developed tyranny’ Clive Foss, HISTORY TODAY

‘Marvellous’ Allan Massie, SUNDAY TIMES


Book Of The Year Selections 2003


‘Montefiore’s STALIN, I should imagine, will be the standard work on this twentieth-century monster for years to come’ Jeremy Paxman, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

‘Enormously readable and even grimly amusing… the details of the cruelty and depravity… are incredible’ Miriam Gross, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

‘Paced with details about a man who was brilliant, often charming, sometimes kind, but also terrorised his own people… The story of a monster’ Charles Guthrie, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

‘Montefiore’s STALIN showed us the century’s worst dictator wasn’t merely a paranoid narcissist but also anxious, uncertain, even charming… Now we can see him as a human being too’ John Simpson, DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘Outstanding… Unforgettable’ Antony Beevor, DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘Montefiore’s Stalin… full of wonderful detail, a more convincing portrait of the charm of wickedness than Gitta Sereny’s sober studies’ Sarah Sands

‘Simon Sebag Montefiore had one of the literary triumphs of the year in Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar’ David Robson, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

‘Montefiore’s Stalin uses newly available archival materials to paint a picture – simultaneously fascinating and repulsive – of the homelife of [these] jolly psychopaths. Book of the Year’ T. J. Binyon, EVENING STANDARD

‘The most revealing account of the inner circles of tyranny since Albert Speer’s inside story of Hitler’s bunker. Book of the Year’ Norman Lebrecht, EVENING STANDARD

‘Enlivened by sharp pen portraits and grisly anecdotes, Montefiore’s study… was admired for its elegant prose as well as its grotesque cavalcade of monsters’ Books of the Year, THE WEEK

‘Montefiore’s STALIN captivated me’ Rod Liddle, Cultural Highlights of the Year, THE TIMES

‘Brings alive that many-sided monster… the first book that has given me grounds for thinking it might be possible to understand how Stalin got away with his enormities. Book of the Year’ David Pryce-Jones, SPECTATOR

‘The most insightful account of the regime I have yet read. Book of the Year’ Oliver Letwin, GUARDIAN

‘Superb… Obligatory reading!’ Ronald Harwood, ‘My 6 Best Books’, THE WEEK

‘Illuminates the complexities of Stalinism. Book of the Year’ Neil Tennant, THE TIMES


US Praise for Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

‘Terrific . . . Montefiore’s portrait of Stalin and his circle is a deeply researched and wonderfully readable accomplishment—scholarship as a kind of savage gossip . . . its sensationalism redeemed by Montefiore’s deep grounding in the facts.’ Lance Murrow, TIME

‘Montefiore’s superb book offers a closer look at this personal side of Stalin and his top collaborators. Indeed, no Western writer has got as close. He trawled through newly opened (and often subsequently closed) Soviet archives, which brought some astonishing material to the surface . . . [A] dark and excellent book.’ Ian Buruma, NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS

‘A fascinating biography . . . The first intimate portrait of a man who had more lives on his conscience than Hitler.’ Richard Pipes, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

‘Mr. Montefiore draws upon new archival material, unpublished memoirs and interviews with survivors of that era (including many children of Stalin’s associates and underlings) to create a harrowing portrait of life in the dictator’s inner circle. In doing so, he gives us an intimate look at Stalin himself and the culture of sadism, ruthlessness and dread that flourished around him, fueling a murderous regime that would leave tens of millions of people dead.’ Michiko Kakutani, NEW YORK TIMES

‘A well-researched and insightful book . . . The narrative adroitly catches the atmosphere of the time.’ Richard Lourie, LOS ANGELES TIMES

‘If you plan (wisely) to read only one book about Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, let it be STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR. Simon Sebag Montefiore, writing with the skill of a novelist . . . has based his highly readable biographical thriller solidly and factually not only on all of the preceding scholarly studies of the Soviet dictator but also upon newly available archival materials.’ SEATTLE TIMES