Joseph Stalin died with a 25,000-book library that was not just for show, and his notes and marginalia suggest a man blessed with literary and psychological insight. Here was a man who would praise Leon Trotsky's capabilities and qualities a week after having him murdered‚ who would privately denounce his own cult of personality even as millions died under it. Maybe empathy is overrated.
Although it lies beyond the author's remit, Stalin's Library tests to destruction the consoling notion that long, wide, extensive reading confers the gift of empathy — or rather, that empathy is a value to cherish. Roberts, though, maintains that whatever vital sparks of humanity the Soviet autocrat lacked, the ability to conceive the independent life of other minds was not among them. Indeed, he credits Stalin with "too much human empathy" as the grand paranoiac envisaged the hearts of his rivals seething with non-existent plots and stratagems to oust him. What the ultimate scholar-slayer missed was any shred of the "compassion or sympathy" that might stay his hand before he sent the bodies of those minds to a slow, cold fate in the Gulag or a quicker end in the basement of the Lubyanka.
Can you imagine Stalin's insta?