This is a biography of Joseph Stalin from his birth to the October Revolution of 1917, an account of how an impoverished, idealistic youth from the provinces of tsarist Russia was transformed into a cunning and fearsome outlaw who would one day become one of the twentieth century's most ruthless dictators.
... 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.