This is the definitive biography of Joseph Stalin from his birth to the October Revolution of 1917, a panoramic and often chilling 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.
In this monumental book, Ronald Grigor Suny sheds light on the least understood years of Stalin’s career, bringing to life the turbulent world in which he lived and the extraordinary historical events that shaped him. Suny draws on a wealth of new archival evidence from Stalin’s early years in the Caucasus to chart the psychological metamorphosis of the young Stalin, taking readers from his boyhood as a Georgian nationalist and romantic poet, through his harsh years of schooling, to his commitment to violent engagement in the underground movement to topple the tsarist autocracy. Stalin emerges as an ambitious climber within the Bolshevik ranks, a resourceful leader of a small terrorist band, and a writer and thinker who was deeply engaged with some of the most incendiary debates of his time.
A landmark achievement, Stalin paints an unforgettable portrait of a driven young man who abandoned his religious faith to become a skilled political operative and a single-minded and ruthless rebel.
Awards and Recognition
- Honorable Mention for the Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize, ASEEES
- Winner of the Deutscher Memorial Prize, Barry Amiel & Norman Melburn trust
"The book’s strength lies . . . in its excavation of important episodes of the early years. . . . What I took from Passage to Revolution — and I agree with the idea — is that young Stalin was an angry optimist. . . . His hefty, demanding tome emphasizes the effects of changing circumstances that pivoted both Stalin and Russia into a vortex of revolution and civil war."—Robert Service, Washington Post
"Joseph Stalin has been the subject of many biographical studies. . . . Ronald Grigor Suny's ‘Stalin: Passage to Revolution’ is a worthy contribution to this continuing enterprise. . . . In highly readable prose Mr. Suny . . . tells the story of the young Stalin's rise."—Joshua Rubenstein, Wall Street Journal
"A Georgianist as well as a Russianist, equally comfortable with social, cultural and political history, Suny outclasses previous biographers of the young Stalin . . . It is a monumental work of history and its treatment and evocation of the young Stalin will never be bettered."—Geoffrey Roberts, Literary Review
"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."—Starred Review, Kirkus
"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. "—Library Journal, starred review
"Suny, using an abundance of newly available archival material, though there was no secret diary or introspective documents, provides an extraordinary telling, a detailed account, well written and engrossing, of the obscure and multiple layers of experience in Stalin's early life: church school, seminary, outlaw, exile, prison, attraction to Marxism."—Michael Curtis, American Thinker
"He [Suny] is a lucid writer and a perspicacious scholar."—Stephen Lovell, Times Literary Supplement
"The overriding merit of this book is that it takes Stalin seriously. It explains his life and development without feeling the need to impose a value judgement on the reader on every page."—Andrew Murray, Morning Star
"Ronald Grigor Suny has written a massive, extensively researched biography of Josef Stalin’s early years—from his childhood days in Gori, Georgia, to the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917."—Francis P. Sempa, New York Journal of Books
"Ronald Grigor Suny has created a detailed and unbiased biography of the first half of Joseph Stalin’s life. . . . one of the best on its subject."—Maria Timofeeva, International Journal of Military History and Historiography IJMH
"This is Suny’s magnum opus, the product of decades of scholarly research."—Duncan Bowie, Chartist
"Suny's focus on the young Stalin's life before the October Revolution is a brilliant strategy. The man who rose from obscurity in Georgia to a high position in Lenin's revolutionary party emerges that much more vividly, shaped by his times and circumstances yet convincing as an individual personality. Drawing on Suny's unique expertise in both Marxism and the history of the Caucasus, this illuminating book is destined to become a classic."—Sheila Fitzpatrick, author of On Stalin’s Team: The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics
"A tremendous achievement. Suny provides the most comprehensive analysis of Stalin's early years in the Caucasus, a period crucial to his development as a revolutionary, and examines the multiple layers of experience that eventually made him into the man he was."—Stephen Jones, author of Georgia: A Political History since Independence
"The most informed, detailed, and analytically elegant account of how Stalin was tempered."—Yuri Slezkine, author of The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution
"A wonderful, pathbreaking book. More than anyone else, Suny has examined all the key sources, investigated all the key episodes involving Stalin directly or indirectly, and traced young Stalin's trajectory in all aspects of his life."—William Taubman, author of Khrushchev: The Man and His Era and Gorbachev: His Life and Times
"Ronald Grigor Suny examines the formative years of the poorly educated Georgian seminarian who would become the leader of the Soviet Union through a chain of accidents and bring untold suffering to millions. Yet rather than offering a fatalistic vision of a Russia doomed to violence and authoritarianism, Suny brings to the surface human motivations and historical uncertainty."—Valery Tishkov, Russian Academy of Sciences