Books: Not Your Average Joe

A terrific biography of Stalin takes an informed look at his tabloid side

At the end of World War II, Joseph Stalin's personal movie library expanded. His army liberated Joseph Goebbels' film collection. On movie nights in the old winter garden of the Great Kremlin Palace, Stalin and his gang (a revolving cast of Bolshevik thugs and survivors) would watch Charlie Chaplin or Spencer Tracy or Clark Gable. Stalin particularly liked gangster and cowboy films; sexual content offended him.

Stalin--tyrant and village primitive--yammered all through the double feature, talking down the stars onscreen. At about 2 a.m. he would propose, as if spontaneously, "Let's go and get something to eat." No one said no....

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