The vast Russian Empire is thrown into turmoil in March 1917 after Tsar Nicholas II abdicates and the Imperial Government is replaced by a Provisional Government led by moderate socialist Aleksandr Fyodorovich Kerensky.
The Bolsheviks, a network of communists headed by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and inspired by the writings of Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels, are opposed to the Provisional Government's plan to establish a bourgeois democracy in Russia. They seize government in a coup d'état staged on 6 November, the so-called 'Bolshevik Revolution'. (By the old Julian calendar the coup took place on 24 October and is therefore also known as the 'October Revolution'.)
Civil war follows as the anticommunist 'White Army' battles the communist 'Red Army'. By the end of 1920 the White Russians have been defeated. The USSR, a union of the Russian, Belorussian, Ukrainian and Transcaucasian republics, is established in December 1922. When Lenin dies in 1924 Communist Party leaders begin to jostle for the top position. More background.
Born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili on 21 December 1878 in Gori, Georgia, in the then Russian Empire. He is the fourth but only surviving child of a poor and struggling family. His father, a cobbler, is a violent alcoholic who becomes estranged from the family. His mother is a seamstress. She is devoted to her son, who she nicknames "Soso", the diminutive of Joseph. The young Stalin also takes the nickname "Koba", after the hero of a popular novel.
1894 - Stalin wins a scholarship to the Tiflis Theological Seminary in the Georgian capital, moving to the city at a time when the empire is racked by dissent and heading closer to revolution. Once resident in Tiflis he joins the city's Marxist underground and becomes a leader of a clandestine Marxist group at the seminary. However, when his revolutionary activities are discovered, he is expelled.
He takes up work as first a tutor then a clerk, devoting his nights to revolutionary pursuits. In 1898 he joins the Russian Social Democratic Party.
1900 - Stalin organises labour demonstrations and strikes in the main industrial centres of the Caucasus (the region comprising Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia).
1903 - He joins the Bolsheviks. He is repeatedly arrested and imprisoned or sentenced to internal exiled for his activities but usually manages to escape. Nevertheless, between 1908 and 1917 he is free for only 18 months.
1905 - Stalin serves as Bolshevik Party organiser in Tiflis and as coeditor of the Tiflis-based 'Caucasian Workers' Newssheet'.
In December he acts as the delegate from the Caucasus to the first national conference of the Russian Social Democrats, in Tammerfors, Finland, where he meets Lenin for the first time. Stalin attends subsequent assemblies of the party at Stockholm in 1906 and London in May 1907.
Stalin marries Yekaterina (Kato) Svanidze in 1905. She dies of typhus in 1907, leaving him with a six-month-old son, Yakov. After the revolution Stalin marries Nadezhda (Nadya) Alliluyeva. A son, Vasily, is born in 1921 and a daughter, Svetlana, in 1926.
1912 - Lenin appoints Stalin to the first Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party and as one of the leaders of the Bolshevik underground. Later, Lenin places him on the editorial board of 'Pravda' (Truth), the Bolshevik's newspaper.
1913 - He changes his name to Stalin, which translates to 'Man of Steel'. During the year he is arrested and exiled to Siberia, where he remains until March 1917, when a general amnesty is proclaimed following the abdication of the Tsar.
1914 - The First World War begins at the start of August. The Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) is pitted against the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). Germany sees in the Bolsheviks an opportunity to further the destabilisation of Russia and begins to offer support. In 1917 Lenin is allowed to pass through Germany on his way from Switzerland to Russia. Germany also provides the Bolsheviks with financial aid.
1917 - On his return from exile Stalin rejoins the editorial board of 'Pravda' and is elected to the party's Central Committee, helping Lenin to organise a meeting of Bolsheviks that approves an armed uprising.
The 'Bolshevik Revolution' takes place on 6 November. Lenin and his followers take control of first Saint Petersburg and then the whole country. Following the revolution, Russia drops out of the First World War. Stalin is made commissar (minister) of nationalities in the new communist administration.
1918 - From March the Bolsheviks refer to themselves as Communists. Their party is the Communist Party.
1919 - Stalin is elected as a member of the Politburo, the inner circle of the Central Committee and foremost policy-making body in the Soviet Union.
1922 - Stalin is given the newly created post of general secretary of the Central Committee. The position places him in control of party appointments and allows him to develop his power base. He consolidates his influence further by spying on his colleagues, a tactic that becomes a hallmark of his dictatorship.
When Lenin suffers a stroke in May a troika (triumvirate) composed of Stalin, Lev B. Kamenev and Grigorii V. Zinoviev assumes leadership.
Lenin recovers after three months and reasserts control. In letters written at the end of 1922 and beginning of 1923, Lenin singles Stalin out for particular criticism.
"Comrade Stalin, having become general secretary, has unlimited authority concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution," Lenin writes.
"Stalin is too rude and this defect, although quite tolerable in our midst and in dealing among us Communists, becomes intolerable in a general secretary.
"That is why I suggest the comrades think about a way of removing Stalin from that post and appointing another man in his stead who in all other respects differs from Comrade Stalin in having only one advantage, namely, that of being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious, etc..
"This circumstance may appear to be a negligible detail. But I think ... it is not a detail, or it is a detail which can assume decisive importance."
Lenin also criticises Stalin for using coercion to force non-Russian republics to join the Soviet Union, saying he has behaved like a "vulgar Great-Russian bully."
"I think that Stalin's haste and his infatuation with pure administration, together with his spite against the notorious 'nationalist-socialism' played a fatal role here," Lenin writes. "In politics spite generally plays the basest of roles."
However, the party takes no action. Stalin remains as general secretary when Lenin dies on 21 January 1924.
1925 - Following Lenin's death, the Kamenev-Zinoviev-Stalin troika again comes to prominence. Stalin consolidates his power base until he is able to break with Kamenev and Zinoviev. He has the city of Tsaritsin renamed Stalingrad (now Volgograd) and allows the development of a Stalin personality cult and propaganda campaign.
From 1926 to 1930, he progressively ousts his opponents on the left and right of the party, silencing debate about options for the development of communism and the USSR. By the end of the decade Stalin has emerged as the supreme leader of the Soviet Union. He is hailed by cultists as a "shining sun", "the staff of life", a "great teacher and friend", the "hope of the future for the workers and peasants of the world" and the "genius of mankind, the greatest genius of all times and peoples."
1928 - Stalin introduces the first five year plan, the "revolution from above", to develop the USSR. "We are 50 to 100 years behind the advanced countries," he says in 1931. "We must cover this distance in 10 years. Either we do this or they will crush us."
The state takes control of the economy, introducing a program of rapid industrialisation and agrarian consolidation and setting unrealistic goals for development.
Industry and commerce are nationalised. All social, political and regulatory power is centred on the state. Twenty five million peasant farmers are forced to collectivise their property and then work on the new state-controlled farms. Wealthy peasants (kulaks) and the uncooperative are arrested and either executed or deported to work camps in Siberia.
The collectivised farms are required to meet ever increasing production quotas, even if this results in starvation on the farm. In the Ukrainian Republic up to five million peasants starve to death in the famine of 1932-33 when the state refuses to divert food supplies allocated to industrial and military needs. About one million starve to death in the North Caucasus.
By 1937, the social upheaval caused by the "revolution from above" has resulted in the deaths of up to 14.5 million Soviet peasants.
1929 - The Politburo begins to discuss the expansion of the work camp system set up by Lenin following the Bolshevik Revolution. The system comes to be known as the 'Gulag Archipelago' or 'Gulag'. (Gulag is an acronym of 'Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei' - Russian for 'Main Camp Administration'.)
1932 - Although industry has failed to meet its production targets and agricultural output has dropped in comparison with 1928 yields, Stalin announces that the first five year plan has successfully met its goals in only four years. The second five year plan is introduced in 1933 and the third in 1938.
On 8 November Stalin's second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, commits suicide following an argument with Stalin during a party at the Kremlin.
Her suicide also reportedly comes after a group of students she is teaching are arrested for sedition after attempting to inform Stalin of the plight of the peasants.
Nadezhda Alliluyeva's suicide, and the scathing personal note she leaves him, are believed to have had a shattering effect on Stalin.
1934 - Stalin's purges of party members suspected of disloyalty begin in December after Leningrad party chief Sergei Kirov is assassinated. Thousands from the Leningrad party office are deported to work camps in Siberia. Few return alive.
At show trials held in Moscow between 1936 and 1938 dozens of former party leaders are forced to confess to crimes against the Soviet state. They are then executed. Among those put to death are Kamenev and Zinoviev, the former members of the troika that included Stalin. By the end of 1938 almost every leading member of the original Bolsheviks has been killed.
The campaign of terror, flamed by the secret police (the NKVD, or People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs - the forerunner of the KGB, or Komitet Gosudarstvenoi Bezopasnosti), extends throughout the party and into the general community, including the military high command. Also targeted are scientists, artists, priests and intellectuals.
All told, about one million are executed in what comes to be known as 'The Great Terror', 'The Great Purge', or the 'Yezhovshina' (after the head of the NKVD, Nikolai Yezhov). At least 9.5 million more are deported, exiled or imprisoned in work camps, with many of the estimated five million sent to the Gulag never returning alive. Other estimates place the number of deported at 28 million, including 18 million sent to the Gulag.
Stalin personally orders the trials of about 44,000 and signs thousands of death warrants. He also ends early release from work camps for good behaviour.
1936 - The Spanish Civil War begins on 18 July when Spanish Nationalists led by Francisco Franco stage a coup against the country's left-leaning Republican Government. Stalin provides support to the Republicans but is wary about antagonising Germany's Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler, who is backing the Nationalists.
1937 - On 30 July the NKVD issues Order No. 00447 setting out the "means of punishment of those to be repressed, and the number of those subject to repression." The operation is to begin on 5 August and be completed in four months.
"All kulaks, criminals, and other anti-Soviet elements to be repressed are to be divided into two categories," the order stats.
"a) The first category are the most hostile of the enumerated elements. They are subject to immediate arrest, and after their cases have been considered by a three-person tribunal (troika) they are TO BE SHOT.
"b) In the second category are the other less active though also hostile elements. They are subject to arrest and imprisonment in a camp for 8 to 10 years, and the most evil and socially dangerous of these, to incarceration for the same period in prison, as determined by the three-person tribunal."
The order then lists the numbers of individuals from regions around the Soviet Union to be "subject to repression." 75,950 are to be executed and 203,000 exiled.
At the same time, the purge of the Red Army begins. The purge results in the execution, imprisonment or dismissal of 36,671 officers, including about half of the 706 officers with the rank of brigade commander or higher. Three of the army's five marshals and 15 of its 16 top commanders are executed.
On 7 November, during a toast to mark the anniversary of the October Revolution, Stalin states that every enemy of the state will be destroyed. "Even if he was an old Bolshevik, we will destroy all his kin, his family," he says.
"We will mercilessly destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts - yes, his thoughts - threatens the unity of the socialist state. To the complete destruction of all enemies, themselves and their kin!"
1938 - On 29 September Britain, France, Germany and Italy sign the 'Munich Agreement'. The agreement, which cedes the German-speaking area in the north of Czechoslovakia to Germany, is an ill-fated attempt to avoid the Second World War.
Stalin interprets the agreement as a sign that he will not be able to count on either Britain or France if Germany becomes hostile.
1939 - On 23 August the Soviet Union and Germany sign a nonaggression pact carving up Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence, with the USSR claiming Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, part of the Balkans and half of Poland.
German troops invade Poland on 1 September. Britain and France declare war on Germany two days later. The Second World War has begun.
Stalin acts to secure the USSR's western frontier without antagonising Hitler. Soviet forces seize eastern Poland in September and enter Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in October. War is declared on Finland at the end of November.
In Poland, soldiers and others who might resist the Soviet annexation are arrested en masse. By 1941 about two million have been imprisoned or deported to the Gulag. More than 20,000 Polish officers, soldiers, border guards, police, and other officials are executed on Stalin's orders. The largest massacre takes place at the Katyn Forest near the Russian city of Smolensk. About 4,500 military personnel are executed and buried in mass graves in the forest.
Meanwhile, Stalin helps supply the German war effort, providing the Nazi regime with oil, wood, copper, manganese ore, rubber, grain, and other resources under a trade agreement between the two nations. Stalin views the war against Germany as a conflict "between two groups of capitalist countries", saying there is "nothing wrong in their having a good fight and weakening each other."
Stalin is named 'Time' magazine's person of the year for 1939 for switching the balance of power in Europe by signing the nonaggression pact with Hitler, a decision that is described as "world-shattering". "Without the Russian pact," the magazine says, "German generals would certainly have been loath to go into military action. With it, World War II began."
In December 1939, to celebrate his 60th birthday, he is awarded the Order of Lenin and given the title 'Hero of Socialist Labour'.
1940 - The war with Finland ends on 8 March. Finland loses some territory but retains its independence. In the south, the Soviets occupy part of Romania in June.
1941 - Stalin appoints himself as head of the government. Japan and the Soviet Union sign the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact on 13 April, removing the threat to the Soviets of invasion by Japan.
To the west, German troops begin to group on the Soviet border in preparation for 'Operation Barbarossa', the German plan to invade the Soviet Union. Stalin refuses to believe reports of the troop build-up or that invasion is imminent. An order is issued instructing Soviet border troops not to fire on German positions and Stalin refuses to place the country on a war footing.
Germany invades on 22 June. Stalin is caught completely off guard. He takes command of the Soviet forces, appointing himself commissar of defence and supreme commander of the Soviet Armed Forces in what comes to be know in the USSR as the 'Great Patriotic War'.
On 3 July Stalin makes a radio address to the nation. "Comrades, citizens, brothers, and sisters, fighters of our army and navy," he says, "We must immediately put our whole production to war footing. In all occupied territories partisan units must be formed."
He also announces that a "scorched earth" policy will be employed to deny the Germans "a single engine, or a single railway truck, and not a pound of bread nor a pint of oil."
The Germans advance swiftly but are halted on 6 December by a Russian counterattack just short of Moscow, where Stalin directs the Soviet campaign from his rooms in the Kremlin. His armies fight under the slogan 'Die, But Do Not Retreat'.
The 'Battle for Moscow' will be the biggest of the Second World War, involving seven million participants and an area of operations the size of France. The Germans' failure to capture the city will be their first military defeat of the war.
To the north, the Germans reach Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) in August. The city is surrounded on 8 September, beginning a 900-day siege during which almost 1.5 million civilians and soldiers die.
In order to encourage military aid from the Western Allies, Stalin agrees to release about 115,000 of the Poles imprisoned after the 1939 annexation.
Meanwhile, the United States enters the war when the Japanese air force bombs the US naval base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii on 7 December. Germany and Italy declare war on the US on 11 December.
1942 - In 'The Declaration of the United Nations' of 1 January the Allies agree not to make a separate peace with the enemy and pledge themselves to the formation of a peacekeeping organisation (now the United Nations - UN) on victory.
An accord between the British and the Soviets is accepted in May. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's plan for a "grand alliance" between his country, the USSR and the US is now a reality.
Stalin is again named 'Time' magazine's person of the year, this time for stopping Hitler and opening the possibility of an Allied victory in Europe.
In August Stalin appoints Marshal Georgy Zhukov as his deputy commander-in-chief of defence. Zhukov directs much of the Red Army's counteroffensive against the Germans.
The military turning point of the war in Europe comes with the Soviet victory at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-43. On 28 July Stalin orders the Soviet troops to take "not one step backwards." Front line forces are flanked by second lines under orders to shoot down any soldier who tries to flee. When the German forces laying siege to the city are encircled and trapped by a Soviet counteroffensive, Hitler refuses to allow them to attempt an escape. They surrender on 2 February 1943.
Almost 500,000 Red Army troops have died during the Stalingrad campaign. A further 600,000 have been wounded. The German Sixth Army has been effectively destroyed in what is at the time the most catastrophic military defeat in German history. Over 250,000 of the German-led troops are dead.
In the wake of the victory, Stalin promotes himself to the rank of marshal. He personally directs the counteroffensive that drives the German Army out of the Soviet Union, across eastern Europe, and to the heart of Berlin.
Meanwhile, conditions in the work camps of the Gulag Archipelago steadily deteriorate over the course of the war, with well over two million people dying. Camps go for weeks on end without receiving any supplies. In the winter of 1942-1943 alone about a quarter of the Gulag prisoners die from starvation.
Soviet soldiers accused of "cowardice" fare no better. In 1941 and 1942 nearly 160,000 are executed.
1943 - The Western Allies take Africa at the start of the year, land in Sicily and Italy, and prepare for the 'D-Day' landings on the Normandy beaches in France on 6 June 1944 and the invasion of Germany six months later.
In the Soviet Union, the Red Army follows up on its victory at Stalingrad. By the end of the year, the German siege of Leningrad has been broken and much of the Ukrainian Republic recaptured.
From 28 November to 1 December Stalin meets with Churchill and US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Tehran, the capital of Iran. The three leaders discuss the details of their joint campaign against Hitler and reaffirm their joint policy of accepting nothing less than an unconditional surrender from Germany.
1944 - By the middle of 1944 the Red Army is approaching Warsaw, the capital of Poland. However, the army stops short when noncommunist resistance forces launch a rebellion against the German garrisons in the city.
The ensuing rout of the resistance forces by the Germans clears the path for the ascendancy of the Soviet-sponsored Polish Committee of National Liberation (Lublin Committee). The decision to halt the Soviet forces outside of Warsaw is seen as a deliberate tactic by Stalin to smash the noncommunist Poles. The Lublin Committee is recognised by the Soviets as the government of Poland in January 1945, beginning a 44-year period of communist rule.
1945 - On 30 January advanced Soviet troops reach the Oder River, less than 70 km away from the centre of Berlin.
From February 4-11, Stalin again meets with Churchill and Roosevelt. The conference, held near Yalta in the Crimea, concludes with the issuing of the 'Yalta Declaration' committing the Allies to the destruction of German militarism and Nazism.
A conquered Germany will be divided into three zones of military occupation. Soviet forces will remain in Eastern Europe until free elections are held and the people are allowed to choose the form of government under which they will live.
The declaration also announces that a "conference of United Nations" will be held in San Francisco in April. However, while the UN will be established, Stalin fails to allow free and fair elections in the Eastern European countries the Soviets occupy after the war.
By March, as the Western forces reach the Rhine River, Soviet armies have overrun most of Eastern Europe and are converging on Berlin. The Soviets march under the slogan, "There will be no pity. They have sown the wind and now they are harvesting the whirlwind."
Few are spared. As the Soviets move through Germany they rape at least two million German women in an undisciplined advance that is now acknowledged as the largest case of mass rape in history.
Stalin is aware of the rape and looting, but does nothing to prevent it until 20 April, when he issues an order calling on his troops "to change their attitudes towards Germans ... and treat them better." On 3 August Marshal Zhukov follows up Stalin's command, introducing regulations to control "robbery", "physical violence", "scandalous events", and "unsanctioned absences."
By April an Allied victory in Europe is certain. Berlin falls to the Soviet forces on 2 May. Germany surrenders unconditionally on 7 May.
On 8 August the Soviet Union declares war on Japan and launches a surprise attack on Japanese forces in Manchuria.
The Second World War officially ends on 2 September when Japan formally signs documents of unconditional surrender.
Over 46 million Europeans have died as a result of the war. Worldwide, over 60 million have died.
Close to 60% of the European war dead are from the Soviet Union. Of the more than 26 million Soviets killed, nearly 18 million are civilians. About nine million servicemen and women from the Red Army have died. Stalin's first son, Yakov, is among the dead.
With the pressure of the war-effort now lifted, Stalin acts to secure the gains. Soviet citizens repatriated from wartime detention in foreign prisons and work camps are deemed to be traitors and are executed or deported to Soviet prison camps. Over 1.5 million Red Army soldiers imprisoned by the Germans are sent to the Gulag or to labour camps in Siberia and the far north.
Civilians repatriated from Germany are kept under surveillance by the NKVD and forbidden to go within 100 km of Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev.
Freedoms granted during the war to the church and collective farmers are revoked. The Communist Party tightens its admission standards and purges many who had joined during the war.
Eastern European countries occupied by the Soviets are turned into "satellite states" governed by "puppet" communist regimes. The 'Iron Curtain' falls across Europe and a 'Cold War' develops between the USSR and the West.
Stalin, meanwhile, is appointed 'Generalissimo' "for outstanding service in the Great Patriotic War." He is also named a 'Hero of the Soviet Union' and awarded the Order of Lenin and the Order of Victory.
1948 - The Soviets cut off land access to Allied-occupied West Berlin in June. After the blockade is lifted in May 1949, Germany is partitioned.
1949 - Another wave of Stalinist purges sweeps the Soviet Union. On Stalin's 70th birthday most of the Leningrad party organisation, including their parents, spouses and children, are secretly arrested in what comes to be known as the 'Leningrad Affair'.
Believing that Leningrad's experience of independence during the German siege is a threat, Stalin forces the city leaders to confess to treason. After a quick trial they are shot.
1950 - In April Stalin agrees to a plan by the Soviet-backed leader of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, to force a reunification with South Korea through a preemptive invasion. The Korean War begins on 25 June. It lasts for three years and costs about three million lives but ends with no definitive outcome.
1953 - In February Stalin orders the construction of four giant prison camps in Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Arctic north, apparently in preparation for new terror campaign, this time directed against Soviet Jews. However, the plan is never put into action.
Stalin is pronounced dead at 9:50 p.m. on 5 March after collapsing four days earlier at his country house outside Moscow. The cause of death is declared to be a cerebral haemorrhage, although some mystery surrounds the actual circumstances and it is rumoured that he was poisoned to stop him from starting a nuclear war with the US.
Thousands of people from across the USSR flock to Moscow to view his body as it lies in state. Large crowds fill the streets on the day of his funeral. Hundreds are crushed to death as they attempt to pay their last respects.
Following his funeral, Stalin's embalmed body is laid to rest in the Lenin mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow, beside the body of Lenin, which is also preserved.
1956 - Stalin and his policies are denounced by Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party, in a "secret speech" at the 20th party congress in February.
1961 - Khrushchev orders that Stalin's body be removed from the Lenin mausoleum and buried nearby, alongside the Kremlin wall. In November Stalingrad is renamed Volgograd.
1967 - Stalin's daughter and sole surviving child, Svetlana, defects from the Soviet Union, finding refuge in the US. She is accepted back into the Soviet Union in 1984 but returns to the US in 1986. She dies in Wisconsin on 22 November 2011.
Present-day - According to Memorial, Russia's leading human rights organisation, official records prove that during Stalin's reign at least one million people were executed for political offences, and at least 9.5 million more were deported, exiled or imprisoned in work camps. Other estimates place the number of deported at 28 million, including 18 million sent to the Gulag.
However, a poll conducted by Russia's Public Opinion Foundation in February 2003, finds that more than half of all Russians surveyed view Stalin with ambivalence or as a positive force, with 36% saying he "did more good than bad for the country." Only 29% believe the opposite.
Another poll conducted by the All-Russia Centre for the Study of Public Opinion finds that of the 1,600 surveyed 53% believe that Stalin's role in Russian history was "absolutely positive" or "more positive than negative." Just 33% think that his role was "absolutely negative" or "more negative than positive." While 27% describe Stalin as a cruel and inhumane tyrant, 20% say he was wise and humane. Sixteen percent predict that another Stalin will come to power in Russia.
On 24 March 2004, Memorial releases a list naming 1,345,796 victims of Stalin's purges, including the 44,000 sent to trial on the former dictator's personal orders.
"This list is intended to help people search for their relatives who suffered repression," says the chairman of Memorial, Arseny Roginsky. "But it is also a warning to the society and the authorities about what happens in a country where power is unchecked by the society."
The name Stalin conjures an image of 'Big Brother' - a cold, calculating and paranoid tyrant never seen but seeing everything in an Orwellian world of terror and betrayal. A gross oversimplification, to be sure, but with its roots in the reality of the Man of Steel's shadowy life and times.
By his own admission "rough" and uncultivated, and with a troubled personal life, Stalin set a benchmark for the ruthless pursuit of social engineering. He was the 'Engineer of Human Souls' in the bleak and callous Europe portrayed in the book of the same name by Czech writer Josef Skvorecky. Others have attempted to follow Stalin's lead - Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania; Pol Pot in Cambodia - but none have had his "success".