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The Stalin Cult: A Study in the Alchemy of Power, by Jan Plamper

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012. Pp. xx, 310. Illus., tables, diagr., append., gloss., notes, index. . $55.00. ISBN: 0300169523.

In The Stalin Cult, Prof. Plamper (University of London) takes a meticulous look at the complex “cult of personality” built around the Soviet dictator during his three decades of power.

Plamper opens with a chapter on “Paths to the Stalin Cult,” which deals with the idea of “personality cult” and the rise of Stalin.  The rest of the book is divided into two parts, “Cult Products,” which examines “Stalin’s Image in Time” and “Stalin’s Image in Space.”  The balance of the book is titled “Cult Production,” and deals with Stalin as the central figure in all aspects of Soviet life, the institutions that produced and maintained his image, and “The Audience” and its participation in the building and preservation of the cult.

Plamper freely makes comparisons with the manipulation of image by monarchs, other dictators, and even some democratic leaders, he strongly argues that the Stalin cult was perhaps the most well-crafted and most carefully managed in history.  For example, the promotion of Stalin’s image varied depending upon the degree to the dictator wished to hog or share credit for political, economic, and military developments.  At times Plamper plunges into quite interesting detail, such as variations in Stalin’s apparent age in portraits or propaganda posters, changes in his clothing, and, in a trait he shared with fellow-dictator Hitler, the wearing of just a single medal. 

The Stalin Cult , a volume in the Yale-Hoover Institution series on “Stalin, Stalinism, and the Cold War,” is a carefully researched, well reasoned look at the iconography of power that throws much light on the man and his regime, and will prove rewarding, sometimes chilling, and occasionally even amusing, reading for anyone interested in the twentieth century or totalitarianism.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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