16 Booklist October 1, 2017 www.booklistreader.com
portrait of two brilliant men. Adams was
blunt, brash, and well-spoken, with a dark
view of human nature thanks to his Puritan
upbringings. Jefferson was genteel, politic,
an optimist about democracy. Wood recreates their oft-tested friendship and parses
their writings for their beliefs about politics
and America’s future. Wood’s hard work is
marred by his supposition that Jefferson’s
role in writing the Declaration of Independence has lodged Jefferson, not Adams, in
Americans’ permanent memory, that Adams himself knew that Jefferson was the
“superior” man. The world has changed,
and now Jefferson is judged by his role as a
willing slaveowner and his relationship with
slave Sally Hemings. Contemporary readers
may be unpersuaded by Wood’s argument.
—Mary Ann Gwinn
Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and
the Master of Terror.
By Victor Sebestyen.
Nov. 2017. 592p. Pantheon, $35 (9781101871638).
Incensed after reading articles lauding him
as a genius, Lenin fumed against the “
glorification of one personality.” In this insightful
biography, Sebestyen examines the brilliant
but ruthless personality whom journalists
glorified and shows why
the dictatorial government
that Lenin imposed on his
country made a nationwide
cult of personality inevitable.
Readers explore the complexities of that personality:
sophisticated intellectual and
shameless demagogue, cerebral logician and emotional rageaholic,
sensitive lover of music and callous murderer.
But no complexities will fascinate readers more
than those characterizing Lenin’s tangled relationships with the women who influenced
him. Taking readers deep into a marriage that
previous biographers have dismissed as merely
functional, Sebestyen illuminates moments of
real tenderness—and of painful tension—as
Lenin succumbs to the charms of a beautiful
émigré, whom he makes his mistress without
abandoning his wife. Lenin’s handling of rivals
comes into focus in a different context when
Sebestyen analyzes the ways the dictator advances his agenda by playing the scintillating
Trotsky against the ruthless Stalin. Readers see
a great historical tragedy play out, however, as
Russia’s dying Red Tsar leaves his most bloody-minded lieutenant in prime position to take
over the brutal police state he has forged. A
compelling portrait of an epoch-making figure.
The Lost Founding Father: John Quincy
Adams and the Transformation of
By William J. Cooper.
Oct. 2017. 512p. illus. Norton/Liveright, $35
John Quincy Adams was not one of our
Founding Fathers. Yet he knew and inter-
acted with them, including his father John.
Given his wide and lengthy political and dip-
lomatic experience, he seemed exceptionally
well-prepared when he was elected president
in 1824. But his administration had few
accomplishments, and he lost his bid for re-
election to Andrew Jackson in 1828. Cooper
( We Have the War upon Us, 2012) presents
a narrowly focused biography that strives
to place Adams’ political career within the
context of the rapidly changing social and
political milieu of the 1820s, which saw
vastly increased suffrage for white males and
increased popular participation in politics.
For a New England patrician like Adams,
this was distasteful and even dangerous. He
viewed political campaigning and populism
as akin to mob rule. He viewed Jackson as
the mob’s standard bearer, and he hated him
for it. With his stiff, reticent personality, Ad-
ams couldn’t adapt, yet, Cooper argues, he
was subsequently an effective congressman.
This is a well-executed and useful reexami-
nation of Adams’ long public service career.
Paradise in Chains: The Bounty Mutiny
and the Founding of Australia.
By Diana Preston.
Nov. 2017. 352p. illus. Bloomsbury, $30
Returning to the South Seas setting of A
Pirate of Exquisite Mind: The Life of William
Dampier (2004), Preston recounts two intertwined events of 1788, the founding of
Australia and the voyage of the Bounty. With
the loss of their American colonies, where
hitherto convicts had been transported, British officials sought a new penal destination;
hence, Australia. With slaveholders in the
West Indies clamoring for cheap nutrition
for their laborers, an expedition to collect
breadfruit from Tahiti was proposed; hence,
the Bounty. Describing the preparations
and leaders of each voyage, Preston introduces Arthur Phillip, who turned out to be
a competent leader of the convict fleet, and
William Bligh, who was given command of
the breadfruit boat. The controversies that
surround Bligh unfold as Preston details the
Bounty’s arduous journey and emphasizes
an obtuseness in Bligh that rendered him
oblivious to dissension among his crew. Culminating with the aftermath of the famous
mutiny—Bligh’s checkered subsequent career and the fates of the mutineers—Preston
delivers an eminently engaging account of
Britain’s discovering voyages to the South
Pacific. —Gilbert Taylor
Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–
By Stephen Kotkin.
Oct. 2017. 1,184p. Penguin, $40 (9781594203800).
Surveying his country in 1939, Soviet
statesman Mikhail Suslov gushed, “Every-
thing we have is thanks to Stalin.” In this
second volume of his definitive biography,
Kotkin chronicles 12 pivotal years that in-
deed make Soviet citizens beholden to the
Man of Steel for everything. Readers will
marvel at how rapidly Stalin transforms a
peasant economy into an industrial power.
But Kotkin details the horrific human costs, as Stalin
turns the police state he inherited from Lenin against
all who oppose him, including the millions of kulaks
he deliberately starves to
death. The great mystery,
though, is why Stalin also
turns against loyal supporters, imprisoning
or executing many longtime comrades. Kotkin probes Stalin’s astonishing willingness
to continue his murderous purges—which
yield confessions stained with the blood of
those tortured into signing them—so decimating the nation’s political and military
leadership at the very time that the Nazi
Wehrmacht is rising as an ominous threat.
Challenging historians who see only Stalin’s
psychoses in these purges, Kotkin argues
that Stalin wielded terror as a deliberate tool
of communist statecraft. Readers penetrate
the heart of the nation such brutal statecraft
has created when Germany’s own master
of terror, Adolf Hitler, invades the Soviet
Union in June 1941. A ground-breaking
series whose third volume will be much anticipated. —Bryce Christensen
The Story of the Jews, v.2:
By Simon Schama.
Oct. 2017. 720p. illus. Ecco, $39.99 (9780062339577).
The second volume of Schama’s cultural
history of the Jewish people, following The
Story of the Jews: Finding
the Words, 1000 BC–1492
AD (2014), extends from
the expulsion of Jews from
Spain in 1492 to the stirrings of modern Zionism
at the dawn of the twentieth century. Given the
repeated exiles and wanderings of the Jews over the previous centuries,
a strictly narrative history wasn’t feasible.
Instead, Schama has written a rich, fascinating survey of the various Jewish civilizations
as they evolved while living among gentiles
in five continents. As he traverses oceans
and vast regions, Schama provides portraits
of great Jewish political, artistic, cultural,
and religious figures, but he also introduces relatively obscure persons and groups,
including self-proclaimed prophets, pseu-domessiahs, and putative remnants of the
Ten Lost Tribes. Jews here are seen as both
part of and apart from the larger societies
that sometimes used and sometimes abused
them. This is a wonderful chronicle spanning centuries in the development of an
enduring people. —Jay Freeman