Stephen Kotkin

Senior Fellow / National Fellow 2010–11
Research Team: 

Stephen Kotkin, in addition to being a Hoover senior fellow, is the Birkelund Professor of History and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and History Department of Princeton University, where he has taught since 1989.  He received his PhD at UC Berkeley during the years Reagan was president.  He has been conducting research in the Hoover Library and Archives for three decades.  He founded and runs Princeton’s Global History Initiative.

Kotkin’s research encompasses geopolitics and authoritarian regimes in history and in the present.  His publications include Stalin, Vol. I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928 (Penguin, November 2014), part of a three-volume history of Russian power in the world and of Stalin’s power in Russia. The first volume has been called "superb" (Wall Street Journal); "riveting" (New York Times); "magisterial" (American Scholar); "masterful" (Literary Review); "near definitive" (New Yorker);  "exceptionally ambitious" (Atlantic); "exciting" (Reason); and "judicious" (First Things).  He has also written a history of the Stalin system’s rise from an in-depth street-level perspective, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (University of California, 1995). With the Berlin Wall collapsing two months into his first course at Princeton, Kotkin has written a trilogy analyzing communism’s demise.  Two volumes have appeared thus far: Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse 1970–2000 (Oxford, 2001; revised edition 2008) and Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment, with a contribution by Jan T. Gross (Modern Library, 2009).  A third, on the Soviet Union in the third world and Afghanistan, is in manuscript.

Although he has never served in government, Kotkin has participated in numerous National Intelligence Council events over the years.  He served as the lead book reviewer for the New York Times Sunday Business Section (2006–9), and has published a large number of reviews and essays in the New Republic, Foreign Affairs, Financial Times, Times Literary Supplement, and New Yorker, among other venues.  He has been a Hoover National Fellow, an American Council of Learned Societies Fellow, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, and a Guggenheim Fellow.


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Recent Commentary

In the News

Understanding US/China Relations

featuring Stephen Kotkinvia Top 1000 Funds
Wednesday, June 19, 2019

With the US-China trade war turning into what looks to be a grave and possibly permanent collapse in relations between the two super powers, institutional investors will reap their biggest gains from dislocation, according to Stephen Kotkin, professor of history and international affairs at Princeton.


American Hustle

by Stephen Kotkinvia Foreign Affairs
Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Robert Mueller III played lacrosse and majored in government at Princeton. He graduated in 1966 and soon thereafter volunteered for and was accepted into the Marine Corps. He won a Bronze Star for heroism in the Vietnam War and later attended law school at the University of Virginia. He has since spent nearly a half century in either private legal practice or law enforcement, including 12 years as director of the FBI. Mueller epitomizes the old WASP establishment.

In the News

Steve Bannon Declares War On China

quoting Stephen Kotkinvia The American Conservative
Friday, April 12, 2019
Despite its dispiritingly anti-intellectual president, the Trump era has paradoxically been the Age of the Think Tank.

How Putin Outmaneuvers A Blundering United States On The World Stage

by Stephen Kotkinvia The Washington Post
Friday, March 29, 2019

The United States and its allies won the Cold War, a prolonged struggle across the globe, but news accounts nowadays give the impression that the West has lost the post-Cold War “peace” amid a resurgence of authoritarianism. Exhibit A: Russia.

In the News

Searching For World Order: America, China, Russia, Iran

featuring Stephen Kotkinvia Foreign Policy Research Institute
Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Cold War of the 20th century seems clear cut, in retrospect: a galvanizing competition to rally free and market-oriented societies against a godless communist empire. But the 21st century has brought about new, more complicated conflicts. Historian Stephen Kotkin examines U.S. relations with China, Russia, and Iran from the 1970s to the present. Professor Kotkin won the seventeenth annual Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Book Award for Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941 (Random House), the second volume of a definitive biography of Joseph Stalin. The first volume, Paradoxes of Power, was nominated for a Pulitzer.

Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928
In the News

"Stalin: Waiting For Hitler": Talk By Stephen Kotkin

mentioning Stephen Kotkinvia Amherst College
Friday, February 22, 2019
"Stalin: Waiting for Hitler" is a talk by Stephen Kotkin, who is the John P. Birkelund Professor in History and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is also a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He directs Princeton's Institute for International and Regional Studies and co-directs its Program in the History and Practice of Diplomacy.
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The Original “Great Game”

by Stephen Kotkinvia Hoover Digest
Monday, October 29, 2018

Duels between hegemons are as old as history itself. The nations wrestling over the fate of the world in our own time: China and the United States.


Technology and Governance in Russia: Possibilities

by Stephen Kotkinvia Governance In An Emerging New World
Wednesday, October 3, 2018

This paper will ruminate in a highly preliminary way on the possibility of change in Russian governance as a result of disruptions in technology.  No such momentous changes are on the horizon at the moment.  That said, history moves in surprising ways, and unintended consequences are the norm.  Technological disruption, too, usually brings change in unforeseen directions.  Whatever happens, it will not happen the precise way we might anticipate.  

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Joseph Stalin: Waiting For Hitler

interview with Stephen Kotkinvia Uncommon Knowledge
Monday, June 25, 2018


Part 2: How Joseph Stalin engineered the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Hitler and his struggle with disinformation leading up to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. 

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Joseph Stalin: Waiting For Hitler

interview with Stephen Kotkinvia Uncommon Knowledge
Monday, June 25, 2018

How Stalin engineered the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Hitler and the consequences of his decision.