Tyrants, fliers and golfers are all reviewed by Patrick Wilson
Stalin - Court of the Red Tsar
Simon Sebag Montefiore, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25 ISBN: 1842127268
While the political decisions of Joseph Stalin have been thoroughly analysed, his character has remained an enigma.
Over the past five decades, numerous attempts have been made to shed new light on this extraordinarily complex tyrant.
Simon Sebag Montefiore attempts to do more than this. This is a book which aims to provide an insight into the machinations and personalities within his inner circle. From Yeshov, the dwarf who coordinated the Terror, to the police chief Beria, who raped young girls and sent them home with bouquets of flowers, the true nature of Stalin's sycophantic 'magnates' is revealed with startling depth.
Using unpublished sources previously held in KGB archives along with personal diaries and letters, we learn about the daily life of his henchmen - the alcoholism, the moral degeneracy, the holidays, the bribes, the dancing, the torture... even the books they read.
A common theme is their perpetual fear of their leader - a man who, ironically for a Bolshevik, modelled himself on Ivan the Terrible, the 16th century Tsar.
Sebag Montefiore asserts that the suicide of his wife Nadya in November 1932 had a profound effect on Stalin's psyche, and played a vital part in anaesthetising him to the bloodletting he unleashed.
Indeed, the author has no doubts Stalin was responsible for setting up the major political conspiracy against the State, prompted by the mysterious death of Kirov, his major rival, which sparked the mass Terror.
The extraordinary insights into the psychology behind the regime are a testament to the scholarship of this book.
Craft and Conflict - Masonic Trench Art and Military Memorabilia
Mark Dennis and Nicholas Saunders Savannah Publications, £8 ISBN 1902366166
Trench art takes its name from the Great War of 1914-1918, but encompasses objects fashioned by French prisoners held on the 'hulks' on the Medway during the Napoleonic wars, through to two world wars and beyond.
Not all trench art was made by POWs, but all of it is a tribute to the ingenuity of servicemen to make something out of nothing.
Military artefacts have been among military items fashioned into unique objects down the ages from the Armada of 1588 to the Bosnian war of 1992-1995.
Most trench art is non-Masonic, but the authors concentrate on that associated with Freemasonry, often made at great personal risk in prison camps.
The Lodge badges of office produced in Changi gaol in Singapore during the Japanese occupation, and made from material salvaged from a bombed bus, are classic trench art produced under conditions of great danger.
The book follows on from the highly successful summer exhibition, The Art of the Apocalypse, held this year at Freemasons' Hall in London.
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