I bought this book as I wanted to try out the new Pelican range, brought back by the publishers after an absence of several years; and I was growing increasingly alarmed by what is going on in Russia now and wanted a bit of background.

It is, simply, a brilliant piece of history writing. It is deceptively simple and straightforward in style but the consistency of pace is really excellent. Of course, much detail is not included; but the narrative is strong and it feels like an exceptionally good briefing paper – balanced and authoritative.

I will always be amazed to read of Stalin’s excesses and of the way in which ideology can be used to instil such terror and impose such horror. But the continuity of the story from the first Russian revolution to Putin today is superbly maintained in this book. 

I will definitely read other books by this brilliant historian.