Stephen Kotkin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Stephen Kotkin
Kotkin speaking at Politics and Prose in 2015
Kotkin speaking at Politics and Prose in 2015
Born (1959-02-17) February 17, 1959 (age 64)
OccupationHistorian, academic, author
EducationUniversity of Rochester (BA)
University of California, Berkeley (MA, PhD)
GenreRussian and Soviet politics and history, communism, global history
SubjectAuthoritarianism, geopolitics
Notable works

Stephen Mark Kotkin (born February 17, 1959)[1] is an American historian, academic, and author. He is currently the Kleinheinz Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.[2] For 33 years, Kotkin previously taught at Princeton University, where he attained the title of John P. Birkelund '52 Professor in History and International Affairs, and he took emeritus status from Princeton University in 2022. He was the director of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies and the co-director of the certificate program in History and the Practice of Diplomacy.[3] He has won a number of awards and fellowships, including the Guggenheim Fellowship, the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship.

Kotkin's most prominent book project is his three-volume biography of Joseph Stalin, of which the first two volumes have been published as Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928 (2014) and Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941 (2017), while the third volume remains to be published.

Academic career[edit]

Kotkin graduated from the University of Rochester in 1981 with a B.A. degree in English. He studied Russian and Soviet history under Reginald E. Zelnik and Martin Malia at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned an M.A. degree in 1983 and a Ph.D. degree in 1988, both in history.[4] Initially his PhD studies focused on the House of Habsburg and the History of France, until an encounter with Michel Foucault persuaded him to look at the relationship between knowledge and power with respect to Stalin.[5]

Starting in 1986, Kotkin traveled to the Soviet Union, and then, he travelled to Russia multiple times, where he conducted academic research and received academic fellowships. He was a visiting scholar at the USSR Academy of Sciences (1991) and then at its descendant, the Russian Academy of Sciences (1993, 1995, 1998, 1999 and 2012). He was also a visiting scholar at University of Tokyo's Institute of Social Science in 1994 and 1997.[6]

Kotkin joined the faculty at Princeton University in 1989. He served as the director of the Russian and Eurasian Studies Program for thirteen years (1995–2008) and as the co-director of the certificate program in History and the Practice of Diplomacy from 2015 to 2022.[4] He is now the Kleinheinz Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.


Kotkin has written several nonfiction books about history as well as textbooks. Among scholars of Russia, he is best known for Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization which exposes the realities of everyday life in the Soviet city of Magnitogorsk during the 1930s.[7] In 2001, he published Armageddon Averted, a short history of the fall of the Soviet Union.

Kotkin is a frequent contributor on Russian and Eurasian affairs and he also writes book and film reviews for various publications, including The New Republic, The New Yorker, the Financial Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post. He also contributed as a commentator for NPR and the BBC.[6] In 2017, Kotkin wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Communist democide resulted in the deaths of at least 65 million people between 1917 and 2017, stating: "Though communism has killed huge numbers of people intentionally, even more of its victims have died from starvation as a result of its cruel projects of social engineering."[8]

His first volume in a projected trilogy on the life of Stalin, Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928 (976 pp., Penguin Random House, 2014) analyzes his life through 1928, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.[9] It received reviews in newspapers,[10][11] magazines,[12][13] and academic journals,[14][15] The second volume, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941 (1184 pp., Penguin Random House, 2017) also received several reviews,[16][17] magazines,[18] and academic journals[19][20] upon its release. In these books, among other things, Stephen Kotkin suggested[21] that Lenin's Testament was authored by Nadezhda Krupskaya. Kotkin pointed out that the purported dictations were not logged in the customary manner by Lenin's secretariat at the time they were supposedly given; that they were typed, with no shorthand originals in the archives, and that Lenin did not affix his initials to them;[22][23] that by the alleged dates of the dictations, Lenin had lost much of his power of speech following a series of small strokes on December 15-16, 1922, raising questions about his ability to dictate anything as detailed and intelligible as the Testament[24][25] and that the dictation given in December 1922 is suspiciously responsive to debates that took place at the 12th Communist Party Congress in April 1923.[26] However, the Testament has been accepted as genuine by many historians, including E. H. Carr, Isaac Deutscher, Dmitri Volkogonov, Vadim Rogovin and Oleg Khlevniuk.[27][dubious ][28] Kotkin's claims were also rejected by Richard Pipes soon after they were published, who claimed Kotkin contradicted himself by citing documents in which Stalin referred to the Testament as the "known letter of comrade Lenin." Pipes also points to the inclusion of the document in Lenin's Collected Works.[29]

Kotkin is currently writing the third volume, Stalin: Miscalculation and the Mao Eclipse (TBA). He is also writing a multi-century history of Siberia, focusing on the Ob River Valley.[6]

In December 2018, he told an interviewer that he was sometimes disturbed by spending so much time studying Stalin. "It's terrible, and some days you have just got to stop and kind of walk away from the moral squalor. There's no words to describe some of the things you're reading about. And so you do have to take a breath, open the window, do something else. It's deeply troubling," he said.[30]

Published works[edit]

Year Title Collaborator(s) Publisher ISBN
1991 Steeltown, USSR: Soviet Society in the Gorbachev Era Berkeley: University of California; paperback with afterword in 1993 ISBN 0962262900
1995 Rediscovering Russia in Asia: Siberia and the Russian Far East M. E. Sharpe ISBN 1563245469
1995 Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization Berkeley: University of California ISBN 0520069080
2001 Armageddon Averted: the Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000 Oxford and New York: Oxford University; paperback with new preface, 2003; updated edition 2008 ISBN 0192802453
2002 Political Corruption in Transition: A Sceptic's Handbook Co-authored with András Sajó Central European University Press ISBN 9639241466
2003 The Cultural Gradient: The Transmission of Ideas in Europe, 1789–1991 Co-authored with Catherine Evtuhov Rowman & Littlefield ISBN 0742520625
2005 Korea at the Center: Dynamics of Regionalism in Northeast Asia Co-authored with Charles K. Armstrong, Gilbert Rozman, and Samuel S. Kim M. E. Sharpe
2009 Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of Communist Establishment With a contribution by Jan Gross New York: Modern Library/Random House ISBN 978-0679642763
2010 Manchurian Railways and the Opening of China: An International History Edited with Bruce A. Elleman M. E. Sharpe ISBN 978-0765625144
2014 Historical Legacies of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe Co-edited with Mark Beissinger Cambridge University Press ISBN 1107054176
2014 Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928[31] Penguin Press ISBN 1594203792
2017 Stalin: Volume II: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941 Penguin Press ISBN 978-1594203800


  1. ^ "Kotkin, Stephen". Library of Congress. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  2. ^ "Stephen Kotkin". Hoover Institution. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  3. ^ "Stephen Kotkin | Department of History". Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  4. ^ a b "The Department of History: Stephen Kotkin". Princeton University. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  5. ^ Michael Hotchkiss. "Kotkin crafts comprehensive portrait of Stalin's place in the world". Princeton University. Retrieved 15 October 2022.
  6. ^ a b c Stephen Kotkin. "Stephen Kotkin: Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Princeton University. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  7. ^ Zimmerman, Andrew (2014). "Foucault in Berkeley and Magnitogorsk: Totalitarianism and the Limits of Liberal Critique". Contemporary European History. 23 (2): 225–236. doi:10.1017/S0960777314000101. ISSN 0960-7773. S2CID 144970424.
  8. ^ Kotkin, Stephen (November 3, 2017). "Communism's Bloody Century". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 11, 2021.Archived 3 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes. Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928, by Stephen Kotkin". Columbia University. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
  10. ^ Suny, Ronald Grigor (December 19, 2014). "Book review: 'Stalin: Volume 1, Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928,' by Stephen Kotkin". The Washington Post.
  11. ^ Serge Schmemann (January 9, 2015). "'Stalin: Paradoxes of Power' by Stephen Kotkin". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Applebaum, Anne (November 1, 2014). "Understanding Stalin". The Atlantic.
  13. ^ Gessen, Keith (October 20, 2017). "How Stalin Became Stalinist". The New Yorker.
  14. ^ Brandenberger, D. (2016). "Book Review: Stalin, Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928 Stephen Kotkin". The American Historical Review. 121 (1): 333–334. doi:10.1093/ahr/121.1.333.
  15. ^ Siegelbaum, L. (2015). "Review: Stalin. Volume 1, Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928 by Stephen Kotkin". Slavic Review. 74 (3): 604–606. doi:10.5612/slavicreview.74.3.604. S2CID 164564763.
  16. ^ Suny, Ronald Grigor (November 22, 2017). "Terror and killing and more killing under Stalin leading up to World War II". The Washington Post.
  17. ^ Mark Atwood Lawrence (October 19, 2017). "A Portrait of Stalin in All His Murderous Contradictions". The New York Times.
  18. ^ Fitzpatrick, Sheila (April 5, 2018). "Just like that: Second-Guessing Stalin". London Review of Books. Vol. 40, no. 7.
  19. ^ Lenoe, M. (2019). "Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941". The American Historical Review. 124 (1): 376–377. doi:10.1093/ahr/rhy475.
  20. ^ Carley, M. J. (2018). "Stalin. Vol. II: Waiting for Hitler 1928–1941". Europe-Asia Studies. 70 (3): 477–479. doi:10.1080/09668136.2018.1455444. S2CID 158248404.
  21. ^ Kotkin 2014, p. 473.
  22. ^ Kotkin 2014, p. 498.
  23. ^ Kotkin 2014, p. 505.
  24. ^ Kotkin 2014, p. 483.
  25. ^ Kotkin 2014, p. 489.
  26. ^ Kotkin 2014, p. 500.
  27. ^ White, Fred (1 June 2015). "A review of Stephen Kotkin's Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  28. ^ Gessen, Keith (30 October 2017). "How Stalin Became a Stalinist". The New Yorker. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  29. ^ Pipes, Richard (November 20, 2014). "The Cleverness of Joseph Stalin". New York Review of Books. Retrieved October 11, 2021.
  30. ^ Arthur Ross Book Award: Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941, retrieved 2023-04-08
  31. ^ Stephen Kotkin (6 November 2014). Stalin, Volume 1: Paradoxes of Power. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 9780698170100.

External links[edit]