Saturday, December 27, 2008

Brothers in Arms or Stalin

Brothers in Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder

Author: Gus Russo

A groundbreaking new reporting of the historical drama linking the Kennedys and the Castros that sheds new light on the JFK assassination.

Using breakthrough reporting and interviews with long-silent sources, Russo and coauthor Stephen Molton have crafted a dramatic retelling of the time before, during, and after the Kennedy killing. The book centers on the two opposed sets of brothers—the Kennedys and the Castros—who collectively authored one of modern history’s most dangerous, and tragically ironic, chapters. Bobby Kennedy pushed for the murder of Fidel Castro and instead got the death of his beloved brother, a psychic blow from which he himself never recovered. Lee Harvey Oswald killed an admired president and traumatized a nation, but in so doing may have prevented a third world war.

Built on thirty years of intense research—including discoveries so significant that they have rekindled CIA and State Department interest in the Kennedy assassination—Brothers in Arms is a vivid, character-driven, almost cinematic narration of a singularly fascinating time. For neophytes, it is the most accessible and informed single volume on the assassination. For the many readers fascinated by this story, it provides extraordinary new facts that will force a reconsideration of how and why the Kennedy murder came to pass.

Kirkus Reviews

Two investigative journalists recount the dangerous political duel between the brothers Kennedy and Castro. "I've killed my own brother!" With this anguished cry, say former Frontline reporter Russo (Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers, 2006, etc.) and screenwriter Molton (Brave Talk, 1987), Robert Kennedy, who for years headed the administration's counterinsurgency effort against Fidel Castro, acknowledged his complicity in JFK's assassination. When the name "Oswald" showed up in a dossier indicating that the unstable ex-Marine was considered for recruitment by anti-Castro forces, RFK understood that the deadly game of spy-counterspy had come full circle. As with his counterpart, Raul Castro (Fidel's younger brother), who was in charge of Cuba's intelligence service, RFK's selfless devotion knew no bounds. Both viewed the contest between their countries in highly personal terms: "what offended the dignity of the brother offended the dignity of his entire nation." Relying on past histories and innumerable interviews, the authors vividly reconstruct the Cold War atmosphere of the '60s. Acknowledging Oswald as the sole triggerman, they convincingly conclude that he was a Cuban asset who acted under his own agency, but was also a patsy for larger clandestine elements. Their tracing of Oswald's creepy progress to Dallas's Dealey Plaza, their detailed portrait of the shadowy Rolando Cubela Secades (was he a double agent?) and their intimate knowledge of the shadowy intelligence world all contribute to a deeper understanding of the sometimes purposeful, sometimes random forces at work. Russo and Molton attribute the coverup ofOswald's Cuban connection to the Warren Commission's ignorance about the extent of the Kennedy brothers' plots to kill Castro, to RFK's interest in protecting the family legacy and to Lyndon Johnson's desire to keep an enraged America from retaliating and possibly triggering World War III. A serious, intriguing look at the blood feud whose horrible consequences continue to reverberate. Author events in Washington, D.C. Agent: Deborah Grosvenor/Grosvenor Literary Agency

Interesting book: Color Me Confident or Eating for Acid Reflux

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

Author: Simon Sebag Montefior

This widely acclaimed biography provides a vivid and riveting account of Stalin and his courtiers—killers, fanatics, women, and children—during the terrifying decades of his supreme power. In a seamless meshing of exhaustive research and narrative ?lan, Simon Sebag Montefiore gives us the everyday details of a monstrous life.

We see Stalin playing his deadly game of power and paranoia at debauched dinners at Black Sea villas and in the apartments of the Kremlin. We witness first-hand how the dictator and his magnates carried out the Great Terror and the war against the Nazis, and how their families lived in this secret world of fear, betrayal, murder, and sexual degeneracy. Montefiore gives an unprecedented understanding of Stalin’s dictatorship, and a Stalin as human and complicated as he is brutal.

The New York Times

In Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Mr. Montefiore draws upon new archival material, unpublished memoirs and interviews with survivors of that era (including many children of Stalin's associates and underlings) to create a harrowing portrait of life in the dictator's inner circle. In doing so, he gives us an intimate look at Stalin himself and the culture of sadism, ruthlessness and dread that flourished around him, fueling a murderous regime that would leave tens of millions of people dead. — Michiko Kakutani

The Washington Post

The result is a portrait of Stalin and the members of his court that is unprecedented in its intimacy and horrifying in its implications, not merely because it shows that the engineers of one of history's greatest holocausts were depraved -- there has always been ample evidence of that -- but also because they emerge in these pages as surprisingly normal. This raises the possibility that, under the influence of the appropriate ideas and with the right career incentives, crimes like those of the Stalinist regime could be committed by people like ourselves. — David Satte

The New Yorker

Any biography of a tyrant runs the risk of humanizing its subject to the point of appearing to mitigate his crimes. But Montefiore’s intimate portrait actually throws the coldhearted murderousness with which Stalin pursued and defended power into sharper relief. The book—much of it based on fresh archival material—moves smoothly between detailed sketches of everyday life at the Kremlin and accounts of the paranoid and sanguinary scheming that determined Soviet politics. This juxtaposition captures the vertiginous quality of life in Stalin’s court, where no allegiance was permanent. Just as strikingly, Montefiore shows how Stalin, a “master of friendships,” used charm to win the support of members of the Party’s inner circle (many of whom ended up regretting it). This haunting book gets us as close as we are likely to come to the man who believed that “the solution to every human problem was death.”

Publishers Weekly

Montefiore (The Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin) is more interested in life at the top than at the bottom, so he includes hundreds of pages on Stalin's purges of top Communists, while devoting much less space to the forced collectivization of Soviet peasants that led to millions of deaths. In lively prose, he intersperses his mammoth account of Stalin's often-deadly political decisions with the personal lives of the Soviet dictator and those around him. As a result, the reader learns about sexual peccadilloes of the top Communists: Stalin's secret police chief Lavrenti Beria, for one, "craved athletic women, haunting the locker rooms of Soviet swimmers and basketball players." Stalin's own escapades after the death of his wife are also noted. There's also much detail about the food at parties and other meetings of Stalin's henchmen. The effect is paradoxical: Stalin and his cronies are humanized at the same time as their cruel misdeeds are recounted. Montefiore offers little help in answering some of the unsettled questions surrounding Stalin: how involved was he in the 1934 murder of rising official Sergei Kirov, for example. He also seems to leave open the question of Stalin's paranoia: he argues that the Georgian-born ruler was a charming man who used his people skills to get whatever he wanted. Montefiore mainly skirts the paranoia issue, noting that only after WWII, when Stalin launched his anti-Semitic campaigns, did he "become a vicious and obsessional anti-Semite." There are many Stalin biographies out there, but this fascinating work distinguishes itself by its extensive use of fresh archival material and its focus on Stalin's ever-changing coterie. Maps and 24 pages of photos not seen by PW. Agent, Georgina Capel. (Apr.) Forecast: With a 75,000 first printing, this is likely to draw in Slavophiles and history buffs. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal

The mission of this large work by Montefiore (Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin) is to "go beyond the traditional explanations of Stalin as `enigma,' `madman,' or `Satanic genius' and that of his comrades as `men without biographies,' dreary moustachioed sycophants in black-and-white photographs." In other words, he seeks to reorient our historical perspective by giving us a more intimate account of these men. To do so, he places Stalin and his "oligarchs" in idiosyncratic Bolshevik context as members of a military-religious "order of sword-bearers," getting up close and personal as he describes relationships among the most notable of Stalin's courtiers, including Molotov, Beria, Yezhov, Zhadanov, Kaganovich, and Khrushchev. Montefiore echoes such contemporary works as Roy Medvedev's The Unknown Stalin: His Life, Death, and Legacy and Jonathan Brent's Stalin's Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953, but he also goes beyond them. For instance, he describes the last days of Stalin in greater detail than have other authors. While Montefiore does not humanize his subjects, he does make them more understandable, if no less repellant. Recommended for academic libraries and public libraries with a strong Soviet/Russian collection. Harry Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Syst., Iola Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews

A fascinating, superbly written study of the Red Emperor Josef Stalin, "an energetic and vainglorious melodramatist who was exceptional in every way."Stalin, the one-time seminarian from Georgia, was at once a ruthlessly efficient administrator and a born outlaw (during the Civil War he funded his guerrilla activities by robbing banks), capable of commanding both fear and respect, though always preferring the former. He was careful throughout his long rule to surround himself with equally capable if easily intimidated lieutenants, whom the young British historian/novelist Montefiore (Enigma, 2001, etc.) characterizes wonderfully: Stalin's favorite secret policeman, Genrikh Yagoda, "a ferret-faced Jewish jeweler's son from Nizhny Novgorod with a 'Hitlerish moustache' and a taste for orchids, German pornography, and literary friendships"; Vyacheslav Molotov, the Marxist true believer, "small, stocky, with a bulging forehead, chilling hazel eyes blinking behind round spectacles, and a stammer when angry (or talking to Stalin)." They created an extraordinary terror state indeed, so terrible that Stalin's iron-hard Bolshevik wife committed suicide after it became clear that he had thoroughly betrayed the revolution (and behaved monstrously toward her to boot). Yet there were some curious blind spots in Stalin's total state, as well as in his understanding of the world: for all the evidence to the contrary, for instance, he could not believe that Hitler was planning an invasion of the Soviet Union, growling, "Germany will never fight Russia on her own" (and Germany didn't: Hitler brought allies to the fight) and insisting that the German attacks of June 1941 were the work of renegade generals,not of Hitler himself. "The duel between those two brutal and reckless egomaniacs," as Montefiore puts it, bled Russia dry and nearly brought Stalin's government down; but the terror state would fall only with Stalin's death in 1953, whereupon his surviving aides, "relieved to be alive," were dumped into the ashbin of history. There is much news here (including the fate of Hitler's bones), and much to ponder. Altogether extraordinary, and required reading for anyone interested in world affairs. First printing of 75,000

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