Stalin: In the Court of the Red Tsar begins at a 1932 party in the Kremlin apartment Stalin shared with his second wife, Nadya. The couple and their guests were celebrating the anniversary of the great revolution. Before dawn, Nadya was dead, a suicide. All surviving accounts agree that Stalin was devastated. Always secretive and suspicious, he became even more emotionally isolated, bitter, and suspicious. With his indelible memory, especially for slights and insults, he would later make those colleagues and their wives whom he believed were somehow involved in Nadya’s death pay with their own lives. Montefiore proceeds to bring us into Stalin’s life: into his office, apartment, dacha, committee rooms, war councils, politburo sessions, meetings with heads of state, hunting and fishing trips, private railroad cars, command bunkers, and then into the room where he died. The text is amply laced with conversation and is richly anecdotal. Though Stalin believed himself an intellectual and read voraciously (he boasted of 500 pages a day), early in his revolutionary career he was careful to hide his intellectual leanings from some of the coarser, less educated Bolsheviks whose support he needed on his way to the top. When he got there, he commandeered the role of sole arbiter of Soviet literary, musical, and artistic tastes. Montefiore never betrays admiration for Stalin, but he does recognize and detail the man’s astonishing capacity for hard work in leading a backward and crippled country, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century: "Stalin was already famous for his Sphinxian inscrutability and phlegmatic modesty.... Far from being the colourless bureaucratic mediocrity disdained by Trotsky, the real Stalin was an energetic and vainglorious melodramatist who was exceptional in every way." His ascension to power drank from the same well: "No one alive was more suited to the conspiratorial intrigues, theoretical runes, murderous dogmatism and inhuman sternness of Lenin’s Party."