I’m halfway through the second volume of Professor Kotkin’s definitive three-volume biography of Stalin. The book offers a fresh, arresting, and always illuminating take on some of the 20th century’s most important events. For me, as a student of international relations and strategy, it stands as one of the best accounts of grand strategy in action I’ve ever read. Its sole defect is its massive heft, which means that you have to prop it on a pillow if you want to read it lying on the couch. It takes you from the ruthless dictator’s successful attainment of the pinnacle of power in the Kremlin through his forced collectivization of the Soviet empire’s peasants (which resulted in mass starvation), industrialization, mass terror and purges, and on to his strategic moves on the brutal chessboard of 1930s global politics. The writing is lively, the evidence on which the narrative rests is unbelievably vast, and the subject is terrifying and terrible but endlessly fascinating.