... even the most intrepid among [readers] may balk at the prospect of spending yet another 800 pages with the same sloe-eyed psychopath who’s already occupied an army of biographers over the course of millions of pages ... Suny’s account of those early years is tremendously heartfelt and psychologically knowing ... throughout the book, Suny regularly reverts to the bigger canvas of ideas and movements, always in evocatively straightforward prose.
...Ronald Grigor Suny’s Stalin: Passage to Revolution is a worthy contribution to this continuing enterprise [of writing Stalin's biography] ... In highly readable prose Mr. Suny, a history professor at the University of Michigan, tells the story of the young Stalin’s rise within the ranks of the Bolsheviks, its disputes with the more moderate Mensheviks, and his frequent arrests and terms of imprisonment and exile ... Mr. Suny’s account of the tensions between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks is spirited and compelling ... With his focused attention on Stalin, Mr. Suny also goes too far in trying to correct earlier scholars and figures who played down Stalin’s role in the October Revolution.
...The book’s strength lies not in any innovative, broad analysis but in its excavation of important episodes of the early years. Above all, Suny knows Georgia ... Disappointingly, the book’s final chapters reproduce a tired account of Stalin in 1917. Suny wants to judge him mainly by his willingness to recognize the genius of Lenin’s policies after his return from Switzerland in April of that year ... His hefty, demanding tome emphasizes the effects of changing circumstances that pivoted both Stalin and Russia into a vortex of revolution and civil war. Suny leaves unexplained the mystery of why Stalin, once he achieved supreme power, went on with the killing on a scale that almost defies belief.
Initially, one may be wondering if readers need an additional biography of Stalin. However, this work provides an extraordinary account of elusive testimony as well as archival and interpretive material that nicely match its ambitious scope. Suny carefully blends casual episodes in Stalin’s early life with the grand narrative of the Soviet Union in early 20th-century Russia. He clearly identifies the basis of Stalin’s emergence from obscurity through the centrality of his place in 1917, dispelling the rumor that Stalin missed the revolution or that he had been a spy for the Okhrana, the Tsarist police ... This impressively researched biography provides remarkable and reliable details on the first part of Stalin’s life, along with the many fissures among the Left Communists. An important accomplishment.
A comprehensive, deeply researched study of one of the world’s most brutal dictators as he took the paths that would lead him to power ... [A] long but well-paced narrative. Without dipping too deeply into psychobiography, the author examines aspects of his home life that might have influenced his emergent defensiveness, and later paranoia ... A portrait of the totalitarian as a young artist, of great interest to any student of modern history.