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Young Stalin


What makes a Stalin? Was he a Tsarist agent or Lenin’s bandit? Was he to blame for his wife’s death? When did the killing start?

Based on revelatory research, here is the thrilling story of how a charismatic cobbler’s son became a student priest, romantic poet, prolific lover, gangster mastermind and murderous revolutionary. Culminating in the 1917 revolution, Simon Sebag Montefiore’s bestselling biography radically alters our understanding of the gifted politician and fanatical Marxist who shaped the Soviet empire in his own brutal image. This is the story of how Stalin became Stalin.

Sources and notes for YOUNG STALIN are available to download here.



What the judges said:
‘Everything you could ask for from a biography – exhaustive research, a compelling subject and a beautifully written narrative that will endure as a portrait of one of the towering figures of modern history.’


‘This remarkable book Montefiore’s thrilling portrait of Stalin’s youth. Montefiore gives a brilliant account of the 1907 Tiflis bankrobbery the resulting scenes of mayhem were worthy of the De Nero and Pacino film, HEAT’. Michael Burleigh, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

‘Should the life of a black-hearted ogre be quite so entertaining? The story Montefiore has told requires the psychological penetration and social omniscience of a great novelist. Dickens once or twice peeps over the biographer’s shoulder Cinematic analogies are inescapable: Montefiore does write a racy vivid biopic. Stalin the bankrobber resembles James Cagney at his most revved-up; Stalin the buccaneer has the courtly panache of Errol Flynn. To be Stalin was a great acting role his effrontery shockingly, shamefully irresistible.’ Peter Conrad, THE OBSERVER

‘Montefiore’s macabrely fascinating Young Stalin. The early chapters are worthy of Alexander Dumas. Stalin’s womanising [was] priapic. Riveting if chilling, [it is] indicative of the complexity of Stalin’s character so brilliantly drawn.’ Antonia Fraser, MAIL ON SUNDAY

‘Magnificent! A masterpiece of detail. Montefiore has unearthed documents long lost in Georgian archives, found the descendants of Soso’s friends and produced a vivid psychological portrait of this dangerous, alluring, enigmatic man who like Macavity could vanish from the scenes of the outrages he masterminded. This book moves with pace and authority.’ Michael Binyon, THE TIMES

‘Gripping! Montefiore’s research is brilliant. The book provides a wealth of serious and scurrilous detail, creating a memorable portrait of one of the 20th Century’s greatest monsters.’ Antony Beevor, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘A triumph of research and storytelling. In many ways YOUNG STALIN is more fascinating than its companion volume. Here a rich and complex figure emerges from new material Montefiore has unearthed If we didn’t know what happened later, we might be thoroughly charmed. Montefiore writes at a rollicking pace that captures how exciting it must have been for Stalin to make a revolution. A masterly account of the October Revolution. An outstanding book full of surprises.’ Victor Sebestyen, EVENING STANDARD

‘On practically every page of YOUNG STALIN, there is a reason to smile with satisfaction at the thrust of revelation and often a reason to gasp or even chuckle. The overall impression is of Carlylean energy with the prose torrenting along (Montefiore) dazzles. As quasi-academic populist biography goes, this is as good as it gets.’
Christopher Silvester, INDEPENDENT ON SUNDA

‘Ebullient. Montefiore qualifies for the veteran-of-labour medal with his new book The opening scene is the armed robbery: this shows the author at his best. Montefiore gives us a richly and fluently documented study of the Chief Terrorist in the making. His chapters have anecdotal exuberance and factual novelty. An impressive work of examination.’ Robert Service , SUNDAY TIMES

‘Magnificently entertaining, it reveals the complexity of historical conditions that forge revolutions and their leaders Montefiore’s dramatic prologue brilliantly establishes Stalin’s milieu and character and demonstrates the almost cinematic instinct that will enable the author to marshal shelf-loads of evidence into an engrossing popular history. The hype-detecting historian has an eye for human comedy… Montefiore shapes his material seamlessly, concluding with an epilogue which finds the septuagenarian dictator gardening and reminiscing’ Carol Rumens, THE INDEPENDENT

‘A rare treat. A book that commands and deserves our attention. It also succeeds triumphantly in cleaning away much of the grime from the portrait of a man who is no longer an icon of our movement. It is a book of exceptional scholarship based on newly opened sources from as far as Georgia, California, Russia and Azerbaijan, written in a gripping and elegant style that combines a novelist’s flair with a level of reasoned sustained and unsensational argument that is often demanded of, but seldom realised by, top flight academic historians. Groundbreaking: this book drives a plough through wholly unexplored archival territory and uncovers an enormous amount of material that is new and startling. Many received wisdoms are comprehensively overturned.’ Dr John Callow, THE MORNING STAR

‘Outstanding. Everytime Montefiore sends a ferret down a hole, he comes up with a juicy rabbit. It is hard to imagine how this account can be improved on. Montefiore (had) access to archive materials that few knew even existed, let alone thought to be accessible. Moreover the narrative flows with insight and humour: YOUNG STALIN is a prequel that outshines even STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR. Few academics have the gift that Montefiore has for making people open up their minds, hearts and archives.’ Donald Rayfield, LITERARY REVIEW

‘Montefiore’s brilliantly researched and readable portrait gives us Stalin with a Mauser in his belt, Stalin the rabblerouser, bankrobber and Marxist conspirator, Stalin the tireless scholar. The picture that emerges is more colourful, more chilling and above all more credible Montefiore’s book opens with a setpiece description of (the bankrobbery), as dramatic a crime as any writer could wish to narrate Anyone who wants to understand the shaping of one of history’s bloodiest dictators must read this original and thought-provoking book.’ Catherine Merridale, THE GUARDIAN

‘YOUNG STALIN is exhilarating. Montefiore has brought together an astonishing array of often new, often first-hand sources, handled with a deft combination of scepticism and selectivity. Here is the monster’s life before, and as, he heads into a destructive and proactive Bolshevism ideally suited to him (a context admirably developed here.) We get bankrobbery; bastards; an unmythical Lenin; Arctic exile; revolution – all in a set of highly readable short chapters, including a Conradian London one.’ Robert Conquest, author of THE GREAT TERROR

‘The intellectual’s beach read this summer, a groundbreaking work of thrilling energy and scholastic thoroughness that has turned up a wealth of new material on the early sexual, political and criminal career of Josef Stalin.’ Elizabeth Grice, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘Montefiore’s Young Stalin: a sort of Godfather Part 2, prequel as sequel to his STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR. You might as well subtitle it ‘apprentice dictator’ as Koba bombs, robs, blackmails, kidnaps, extorts and shags his way into history, becoming a sort of criminal mastermind of the Mario Puzo genre before graduating to crimes against humanity. Probably the biggest historical biography and an obvious Christmas present in 2007.’ Nick Foulkes, THE OBSERVER

‘A thrilling account not just of the man but the highly-charged history from which he emerged. Montefiore brings his own superbly novelistic flair to this prequel to his bestselling Stalin biography.’ Claire Allfree, METROLIFE

‘A gripping but dark Boy’s Own adventure, packed with bombs, violence and treachery. Full of fascinating nuggets.’ THE FINANCIAL TIMES

‘I found its use of sources compelling. There’s lots of new material here. Montefiore has a novelist’s eye for detail and the brio of a high-class journalist. The aim of any book is to inform, entertain, and be readable and this book does so admirably – and frequently with a sense of humour. An amazing achievement.’ Jenny Erdal, THE SCOTSMAN

‘As a general reader, it’s only fair to point out what a brilliant job Montefiore does in conveying atmosphere. Not only does the narrative hold one’s attention throughout, but there are some wonderful standout passages: the massive bankrobbery, his exile in Siberia, the drunken bungling of the storming of the Winter Palace. There’s so much that was new to me’ David Robinson, THE SCOTSMAN

‘Stalin throws down a formidable challenge to any biographer: Montefiore, following on from his excellent STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR, rises to it with a vivid account of the formative years of Lenin’s ‘wondrous Georgian.’ The thinking man’s street-fighter. A heady mixture of street brutality and classical education helped Stalin create his evil dictatorship. Plethora of intimate detail. This meticulous volume…’ Gavid Bowd, SCOTSMAN ON SUNDAY

‘An absolute gem. Montefiore has found an extraordinary amount of new material that gives human colour to his narrative and he writes with unusual zest. The books opens with a brilliant reconstruction of the notorious 1907 bankrobbery, and its pace never slows. Montefiore handles everything deftly: the poetry, the love affairs, even the fractious politics of the Russian Empire’s Marxist Left during the early years of the last century.’ Paul Anderson, TRIBUNE

‘Right from the portrait on the cover, Montefiore’s YOUNG STALIN explodes the cliches: more like Omar Sharif than the avuncular figure of power. This book does the important work of helping one understand how the phenomenon of Stalin and Stalinism came into existence; it is also a very good story, very well told.’ Paul Fishman, WATERSTONES MAGAZINE

‘Montefiore’s biography of the mature Stalin was a masterpiece, characterised by much original research, serious scholarship, and a vivid entertaining writing style: his prequel does not disappoint. The story is rich in anecdote and coloured heavily by the personality not merely of his subject but of Stalin’s legion of undesirable hangers-on and (as he was a formidable womaniser) conquests. Stalin’s story is told with great verve and freshness by Mr Montefiore. It provides real insight into this poisonous personality and will be hard for any other author to surpass.’ Simon Heffer, COUNTRY LIFE MAGAZINE

‘There’s a peculiarly chilling quality to Montefiore’s YOUNG STALIN. a fascinating prequel a vivid sense of scene Stalin remains horribly relevant for modern times.’ Christina Hardyment, THE TIMES

‘Important and fascinating.’ Sebastian Shakespeare, TATLER

‘Montefiore has a thesis and he is surely right in this: the Gulag and mass deaths in 1937-8 were a pivotal point in the 20th Century. His intuition is that the politics of Stalin did not appear on the state unheralded. To prove his point, he had delved in the boyhood and early manhood of the Great Terrorist The author cannot be faulted for industry. With help from Russians and Georgians, he has dug up a pile of new information. An attractive book what a complex monster.’ THE ECONOMIST

‘A good read and very well written’ Ian Blanchard, THE SCOTSMAN

‘Anecdotally exuberant study of a monster in the making,’ THE SUNDAY TIMES

‘Excellent’ Roger Lewis, DAILY EXPRESS

‘This magnificent prequel to his wonderful STALIN!’ Jonathan Mirsky, THE SPECTATOR

‘Picturesque, engaging, wonderfully readable.’ Hugh Barnes, THE NEW STATESMAN

‘Following his extraordinary 2004 STALIN, the brilliant Montefiore tackles the dictator’s youth in YOUNG STALIN.’ GQ

‘An extraordinary new biography!’ SUNDAY TIMES

‘A fascinating book, and absorbing read, throws real light on the formation of a dictator’ Carla King, THE IRISH TIMES

‘A fine biography Montefiore’s portrait of Stalin in his childhood and youth is an extraordinarily detailed portrait of one of the 20th Century’s trilogy of monsters.’ John Lloyd, THE FINANCIAL TIMES

‘A robbery masterminded by the dictator in waiting is the thrilling prologue to a portrait that defies the cliched image of the megalomaniacal Georgian peasant Chillier aspects of the bandit revolutionary’s progress are described in a cinematic narrative that is both well researched and constructed with novelistic flare.’ DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘The acclaimed historian has produced an engaging account of Stalin’s life before his rise to power based on new evidence from previously undisclosed archives.’

‘STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR was a bestsellers just as YOUNG STALIN will be. It is an enthralling if appalling account of Stalin from birth to the October Revolution, based on an incredible range of new sources The author paints a portrait of Stalin that is the most rounded we have in any language A mass of contradictions, he is brilliantly brought to life in this superb biography.’ Martin McCauley, HISTORY TODAY

‘YOUNG STALIN, like its predecessor, bubbles over like an erupting volcano. A better metaphor might be a Siberian snowstorm. The details glitter and freeze the blood. A gripping narrative. A rip-roaring tale from the old Wild West Montefiore is a blow-by-blow journalist. But he is also a painstaking historian.” Daniel Snowman, THE JEWISH CHRONICLE

‘A readable portrait of Stalin. Montefiore has gone to great pains to find new sources, especially in Georgia where he worked in archives and interviewed survivors of Stalin’s early years and family members. For the reader who enjoys a highly spiced biography this is the book.’ Alfred Rieber, TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

‘Montefiore unearths fresh details about the sheer thuggishness of Bolshevism; has filled in many details about Stalin’s associates in this account of the dictator’s early years. Montefiore knows the background remarkably well.’ Norman Stone, THE OLDIE

‘Recommended books: YOUNG STALIN and STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR by Simon Sebag Montefiore; the brilliantly written double biography charts the rise and reign of this arch behind-the-scenes manipulator.’ Kate Weinberg, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘Joe Stalin, gang-banger: In this superb prequel to his STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR, novelist, historian and UK television personality Montefiore observes that there have been many character studies of Adolf Hitler, but fewer on his semblable. Stalin, as Montefiore shows, took pains to hide the facts of his youth—which in some ways lasted until he was nearly 40, when the Revolution broke out—and to make it difficult for him to be seen as anything but a great man. As Montefiore’s groundbreaking work shows, there was much to hide. Though Stalin was a man of keen intellect and quite bookish, he was also a thug who styled himself a descendant of a “Caucasian bandit-hero called Koba,” whence his familiar nickname. He wore a thick beard and long hair, committed crimes ranging from petty theft to extortion to bank robbery and inducted fellow young people into the pleasures of reading Emile Zola’s Germinal. His fondness for brigand antics made his more moderate comrades in the underground think of him as “a muddled young comrade,” but he acquired new discipline in the tsar’s prisons, where, even if he “preferred rogues to revolutionaries,” he also made himself into an indispensable authority on Marxism, ready to cite chapter and verse in any discussion. A gift from a fellow revolutionary of Machiavelli’s Prince set him on a different course, and soon he would be in a position to revise his past to make it seem as if he had been at Lenin’s side the whole time. “At heart, he was too intelligent not to appreciate that many of the paeans to his youth were ridiculous,” writes Montefiore, who has scoured the archives to make this book. Nonetheless, Stalin insisted on those paeans all the same. Essential to understanding one of the 20th century’s premier monsters and the nation he wrought.’ KIRKUS REVIEWS (starred)

‘The dictator as a young poet-thug; YOUNG STALIN – Montefiore’s meticulously researched, authoritative biography. Just as he did in STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR, his lurid grisly chronicle of Stalin in power, Mr Montefiore has found the devil in the details, working his way with a fine-tooth comb through previously unread archival material in Russia and Georgia, where he uncovered a memoir written by Stalin’s mother. No detail is too minute.’ William Grimes, THE NEW YORK TIMES

‘Montefiore is in a class of his own. As he did in STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR, Montefiore has unearthed an unprecedented range of evidence from archives, and has tracked down an astonishing range of witnesses in this brilliantly researched book. The portrait of Stalin that emerges from these pages is more complete, more colourful, more chilling and far more convincing that any we have had before. As Montefiore shows in gruesome detail in his brilliant book, Stalin’s years in the conspiratorial underground taught the Soviet dictator to suspect traitors everywhere.’ Orlando Figes, NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS

‘A dark and terrifying story and there could be no better guide than Montefiore. He’s uncovered a mind-blowing amount of material from archives in Moscow and Georgia. The ultimate effect of YOUNG STALIN is to create a haunting, meticulous and compelling story of a man well worth trying to understand.’ Nicholas Thompson, LOS ANGELES TIMES

‘Montefiore’s magisterial and prizewinning STALIN – in its uniquely authoritative way – became the single most intimate history of an entire milieu. YOUNG STALIN is a vividly told, solidly researched and meticulously reasoned history of the 20th Century’s most monstrous political criminal. Montefiore’s work stands alongside Robert Conquest, Orlando Figes, Richard Pipes and Robert Service as the ultimate in historical research into the Soviet enigma.’ Gaylord Dold, KANSAS EAGLE

‘THE GODFATHER PART ONE: STALIN AS A BOY: Montefiore’s bestselling STALIN was a masterful magnificently readable and immaculately researched account of the Soviet leader’s rule. As a portrait of ascendant malignance, it has rarely been equalled. YOUNG STALIN is a kind of prequel. Montefiore recounts it with brio, insight, and quite remarkable amounts of never-before published information. I read it at one sitting. In some ways, YOUNG STALIN comes across as a picaresque, if grim, adventure… It doesn’t hurt that Montefiore’s considerable literary gifts allow him to bring life back to the lost exotic realm within which his saga unfolds’ Andrew Stuttaford, THE NEW YORK SUN

‘(Montefiore’s) earlier STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR is perhaps the best treatment of the nearly 3 decades under Stalin that were Russia’s darkest hour but his excellent new work addresses the formative Georgian years with a nuance they have rarely received. The result is a biographical portrait that reads like a Bilgundsroman with lush Caucasian strokes.’ Alexander Nazaryan, NEW CRITERION

‘YOUNG STALIN is brilliantly readable, as intricately plotted and full of detail as a good novel (more Conradian than Dostoevskian), scrupulously researched and full of hitherto unknown facts’ Michael Korda, MEN’S VOGUE

‘YOUNG STALIN offers the most complete accurate account of the tyrant’s early years and tells a fascinating tale of life in the revolutionary underground, drenched in violence fear and deceit and filled with a rogue’s gallery of bandits, double-agents and terrorists.’ Douglas Smith, SEATTLE TIMES

‘Montefiore’s earlier masterful biography focused on the years in power: YOUNG STALIN is a full length portrait of the young man. Montefiore has produced a portrait as complex and fascinating as his previous work.’ Andrew Nagorski, NEWSWEEK

‘An exuberant work’ Sheila Fitzpatrick, LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS

‘A prodigious researcher, Montefiore has found new archival sources, interviewed survivors and visited the haunts and homes of the great dictator to produce a prequel to his 700-page STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR. Montefiore enfolds even what is familiar about Stalin in a vivid narrative rich with new details.’ Ronald Suny, WASHINGTON POST

‘Fascinating. Montefiore relates events with flair, writing in a style that best described as propulsive. YOUNG STALIN’s greatest strength is the remarkable new material Montefiore has uncovered.’ Douglas Smith, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

‘Montefiore has found numerous new sources and he does a marvellous job in putting them to use (or: taking them into consideration). His writing is brilliant, his political conclusions are incontestable. There couldn’t be a better political biography.’ Walter Laqueur, DIE WELT (Germany)

‘With the aid of new archives, unknown correspondence, and many interviews, the young Josef Djugashvili appears, in Montefiore’s extraordinary book, in all his fascinating complexity’ Marc Epstein, L’EXPRESS (France)

‘Don’t miss the biography of this autumn. Montefiore knows how to make the past come alive’ DAGENS NYHETER (Sweden)

‘He loves his subject and his audience, the readers get what they love-new sources and anecdotes; he lets the persons talk and make history alive and present. Simon Sebag Montefiore combines the knowledge of the learned academic with the capacity and will of the experienced journalist to find new evidences’ Espen Sobye, DAGBLADET (Norway)

‘A impressive work of research throwing new light on Stalin, the man and his strange personality’ SVENSKA DAGBLADET (Sweden)

‘A fascinating read” Morten Strand, DAGBLADET (Norway)

‘Impressive, overwhelming and full of amazing and exciting stories’ Bjorn Gabrielsen, DAGENS NARINGSLIV (Norway)

‘Simon Sebag Montefiore is a force of nature. His energy, enthusiasm, insatiable curiosity, thirst for detail take him into archives and among witnesses where other writers do not penetrate Montefiore has clothed all the bare facts with intimate and hitherto often unknown detail. He had got at the manuscripts of some of Stalin’s earliest associates, including his mother. His book is like a feast.’ Rodric Braithwaite, THE SALISBURY REVIEW


‘Montefiore’s superb YOUNG STALIN gives us a terrifying portrait of the future tyrant in the violent reaches of the Caucasus, brawling and brooding in the dying days of Tsarist Russia’ Dominic Sandbrook, Books of the Year, DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘Montefiore’s portrait of Young Stalin revealed the murderous dictator enjoyed, at 18, a brief time as a romantic poet’  Tim Martin, Books of the Year, DAILY TELEGRAPH

‘The prequel to Montefiore’s rapturously received STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR, tells little Soso’s rise The author’s depth of research is astonishing but he shapes the material into a racy narrative’ Christopher Hart, Books of the Year, SUNDAY TIMES

‘My book of the year is… Simon Sebag Montefiore’s YOUNG STALIN which is the most revelatory and scoop-laden biography I have read in ages besides being a factual thriller.’ Andrew Marr, Books of the Year, THE OBSERVER

‘Vividly written and exhaustively researched, this remarkable book gives new insight into the making of the monster who often emerges less as a steely ideologue than a repellent rogue – but more complex and multi – facetted than before.’ Colin Thubron, Books of the Year, THE OBSERVER

‘A gripping and convincing account of the web-toed monster from his earliest years.’ Jonathan Mirsky, Books of the Year, THE SPECTATOR

‘YOUNG STALIN by Simon Sebag Montefiore is an enthralling, magisterial, chilling study of the making of a Monster’ Victor Sebestyen, Books of the Year, EVENING STANDARD

‘I recommend YOUNG STALIN. Montefiore offers a portrait as chilling as it is intimate’ Ruth Scurr Books of the Year, THE TIMES

‘A fascinating and hitherto largely unknown story – the adventures of this second – rate hoodlum who went on to become a first rate monster – an extraordinary book’
Adam Zamoyski, Books of the Year, THE INDEPENDENT

‘Gripping. Montefiore approaches Stalin’s early life with the insight of a novelist and the eye of a cinematographer and achieves a rare trick: a work of scholarship which is also a pageturner’ Stephanie Merritt, Books of the Year, THE OBSERVER

‘YOUNG STALIN by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Digging deep into previously unavailable archival material, the author paints a detailed, convincing portrait of the future dictator as a wild, poetic revolutionary and crime boss of the Caucasus.’ William Grimes, Favourite Books of 2007, NEW YORK TIMES

‘YOUNG STALIN by Simon Sebag Montefiore. A revelatory, exhaustively researched biography of Stalin’s murky youth and an excellent follow-up to the author’s STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR… destined to become the standard work on the subject’ Douglas Smith. Books of the Year, SEATTLE TIMES

‘Simon Sebag Montefiore’s prequel to STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR was universally admired for the depth of original research and its gripping, cinematic narrative.’ THE WEEK