I used to teach Alan Bullock’s “Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives” in courses about totalitarianism. Contrary to many other college textbooks, which tend to date rather quickly, this history book seems timeless. Bullock offers a monumental social biography of two of the most evil dictators in human history as well as an epic sketch of an era. Although the author specializes in Hitler, his grasp of Stalin is equally impressive. It rivals, in fact, Robert Conquest’s “The Great Terror” in its thoroughness and depth.
As the title suggests, Bullock alternates chapters on Hitler with those on Stalin. He reveals how each dictator relied on his powers of manipulation, deception and opportunism to rise to power. They spread totalitarian regimes meant to wipe out the human spirit and large parts of humanity itself across the world. The book also explains how Hitler and Stalin initially operated within the systems which they later (mis)used for their own selfish and nefarious goals. Whatever their rhetoric and ideology, both sociopathic tyrants ultimately craved power for its own sake, at the expense of everyone else, even the causes (and allies) they initially claimed to support.
Bullock’s “Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives” gives us a detailed, compelling and extremely informative portrait of the faces of evil. It is an indispensable book for all those who want to understand how totalitarian regimes function and the role sociopathic dictators play in changing the course of history. As luck would have it, sociopaths are too self-serving and power-hungry to form lasting alliances. Had Hitler and Stalin not turned on each other, totalitarianism might have triumphed across the globe. As Winston Churchill famously stated in a speech after the German invasion of the Soviet Union: “If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”
Claudia Moscovici, Literaturesalon