Lenin by Robert Service
Lenin had a massive influence on the 20th century, and is still a significant figure in the 21st, albeit somewhat diminished by the disintegration of the USSR. This book by Robert Service argues that story of how communism came to be a major political force in the world, and how the USSR came into being is intimately tied to the personal story of Lenin. It is a fantastic book, vivid and compelling, dense and thorough without being dull. In general I find biographies tedious – who cares what that famous figure did on their Sundays – I’d rather read about the events or things that made them famous than about the minutiae of their lives. But in this case Service focuses on those parts of Lenin’s life that shaped our modern world, showing how the early parts of his life shaped his outlook and approach to things in a way that had a material impact on the shape of the Russian revolution and thus on the Soviet state. Essential reading if you are interested in a history of Russia, totalitarianism or the 20th century in general.