I’m (still) on a bit of a biography kick. I just finished up The Life and Death of Lenin, by Robert Payne, and I’m working on Martin Niemoller, by James Bentley.
Lenin is extremely eye-opening … offering the sad portrait of a man who caught a tail by the tiger and was forced to ride it out. Lenin was a very confused man, as anyone reading more than a few of his pamphlets and books knows – clearly he’s one of the genesis points for George Orwell’s doublethink. As Payne writes,
He would say two opposite things and believe them both, for he never had any difficulty believing what he wanted to believe.
Seldom can the old saw about the road to hell being paved with good intentions have been more true in a secular sense, as this man who supposedly loved and wished the good of poor and needy people introduced policies that led to the deaths of perhaps millions … and ushered in the era of Stalin, who accounted for tens of millions more. Lenin saw this near the end of his life, and awkwardly apologized to the workers of Russia in several of his autobiographical notes.
The Neimoller book is about an extraordinarily interesting man who, a U-Boat captain in WWI, became a Christian pastor and defied Hitler in the years leading up to WWII, orchestrating probably the only organized opposition to the Nazis. He was tossed into a concentration camp for his troubles – Dachau, I believe – but survived and lived long after the war, working for world peace. The book’s a bit turgid and slow, but it’s worth plowing through to get a sense of the man.
I’m also picking at a biography of Somerset Maugham, but that will take some time yet …