The Brothers Karamazov was Stalin's favourite book. How odd. Somehow you don't think of that murderous lump curling up with a good book- and especially not one as weird and theological as this- but that's how it was. He was a great reader- typically getting through 500 pages a day- which is one hell of a lot- and his tastes in literature seem to hark back to the poet and seminarian he once was- before the power trip kicked in. So what did this blower-up of churches make of Dostoevsky's Christian mysticsm? Quite a lot apparently- because his copy of the book survives and it's the chapters about the saintly Fr Zosima he seems to have studied most closely, underlining passages about murder, guilt and forgiveness with his coloured pencil. What can we make of it? Nothing really- nothing for sure- except that these questions engaged him. The chapter one might have expected him to home in on- Ivan's "poem" about the Grand Inquistor who seeks to relieve the world of the great burden of thought- goes unmarked. Was it too close to home or did he baulk at gifting posterity with anything too self-revelatory?
The remnants of Stalin's library have, apparently, found their way into Vladimir Putin's private office- and Putin, when he has nothing better to do- likes to take volumes from the shelf and discuss Stalin's underlinings with his visitors. Those are sessions it would be good to sit in on.