Hitler and Stalin Essay - Critical Essays

Alan Bullock

Hitler and Stalin

Bullock’s subtitle is borrowed from Plutarch, whose biographical essays are studies of parallel figures, from which the biographer draws certain moral conclusions and generalizations about public lives. Bullock is no moralist, though he cannot avoid making certain moral judgments on the heinous crimes of these two world-historical figures, but like Plutarch, he aims to reveal aspects of each life which may be apparent only by comparison.

Bullock’s method is that of the political biographer who concentrates on those personality traits that clearly manifest themselves in public; by and large he eschews intimate, psychological explorations of character, finding that beyond certain apparently irrefutable perceptions, a psychohistorical interpretation is mostly speculative and inconclusive.

Bullock’s analysis of Hitler and Stalin appears not only in separate chapters but also in the excellent amassing of details that prove his thesis that both men were master politicians who carefully built up their power over years and years of patient manipulation and strategy. If Hitler ultimately failed, it was because, in Stalin’s words, he did not know when to stop. His final aim was to establish a slave empire in the East (in most of what was then the Soviet Union), and he overreached himself. If Stalin succeeded, it was because his aim was to consolidate his power at home; his ventures abroad (compared to Hitler’s) were timid, though in his own country he established a reign of terror and death that far surpassed even the millions Hitler managed to murder.

Sources for Further Study

The Christian Science Monitor. May 5, 1992, p. 13.

Foreign Affairs. LXXI, Summer, 1992, p. 165.

London Review of Books. XIII, September 26, 1991, p. 20.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. March 29, 1992, p. 4.

The New York Review of Books. XXXIX, April 9, 1992, p. 3.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, March 22, 1992, p. 3.

The Times Literary Supplement. July 5, 1991, p. 4.

The Washington Post Book World. XXII, May 3, 1992, p. 4.