All young people are the same,” said Stalin, “so why write . . . about the young Stalin?” Yet he was wrong: he was always different. His youth was dramatic, adventurous and exceptional. When in old age he reflected on the mysteries of his early years, he seemed to change his mind. “There are,” he mused, “no secrets that won’t be revealed for everyone later.” For me as a historian unveiling his clandestine life up to his emergence as one of Lenin’s top henchmen in the new Soviet government, he was right about the secrets: many of them can now be revealed. There are few works on early Stalin (compared to many on young Hitler), but this is because there seemed to be so little material. In fact, this is not so. A wealth of vivid new material that brings to life his childhood and his career as revolutionary, gangster, poet, trainee priest, husband and prolific lover, abandoning women and illegitimate children in his wake, lay hidden in the newly opened archives, especially those of oftenneglected Georgia. Stalin’s early life may have been shadowy but it was every bit as extraordinary as, and even more turbulent than, those of Lenin and Trotsky—and it equipped him (and damaged him) for the triumphs, tragedies and predations of supreme power. Stalin’s pre-revolutionary achievements and crimes were much greater than we knew. For the first time, we can document his role in the bank robberies, protection-rackets, extortion, arson, piracy, murder—the political gangsterism—that impressed Lenin and trained Stalin in the very skills that would prove invaluable in the political jungle of the Soviet Union. But we can also show that he was much more than a gangster godfather: he was also a political organizer, enforcer and master at infiltrating the Tsarist security services. In contrast to Zinoviev, Kamenev or Bukharin, whose reputations as great politicians are ironically founded on their destruction in the Terror, he was not afraid to take physical risks. But he also impressed Lenin as an independent and thoughtful politician, and as a vigorous editor and journalist, who was never afraid to confront and contradict the older man. Stalin’s success was at least partly due to his unusual combination of education (thanks to the seminary) and street violence; he was that rare combination: both “intellectual” and killer. No wonder in 1917 Lenin turned to Stalin as the ideal lieutenant for his violent, beleaguered Revolution.