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

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Why Does Joseph Stalin Matter?

interview with Stephen Kotkinvia Uncommon Knowledge
Thursday, June 7, 2018

Part 1: How Stalin transformed the USSR in profound and enduring ways.

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Why Does Joseph Stalin Matter?

interview with Stephen Kotkinvia Uncommon Knowledge
Thursday, June 7, 2018


How Stalin transformed the USSR in profound and enduring ways.
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The Past Isn’t Even Past

by Stephen Kotkinvia Hoover Digest
Friday, April 20, 2018

A hundred years since it began consuming lives by the millions, the embers of communism still burn.

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Communism’s Bloody Century

by Stephen Kotkinvia Wall Street Journal
Friday, November 3, 2017
In the 100 years since Lenin’s coup in Russia, the ideology devoted to abolishing markets and private property has left a long, murderous trail of destruction.

Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941

by Stephen Kotkinvia Books by Hoover Fellows
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

In 1929, Joseph Stalin, having already achieved dictatorial power over the vast Soviet Empire, formally ordered the systematic conversion of the world’s largest peasant economy into “socialist modernity,” otherwise known as collectivization, regardless of the cost.

Stephen Kotkin reviews ‘The Future Is History’ by Masha Gessen.
Analysis and Commentary

Review: Lamenting The Motherland

by Stephen Kotkinvia Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Examining the psyche of modern Russia, through the eyes of those born at the end of the Soviet era and who grew up at a time of hope. Stephen Kotkin reviews ‘The Future Is History’ by Masha Gessen.

Photographic portrait of the “Great and Generous Leader,” Joseph Stalin.

When Stalin Faced Hitler

by Stephen Kotkinvia Foreign Affairs
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

[Subscription Required] Through the first four decades of his life, Joseph Stalin achieved little. He was born in 1878 to a poor family in Gori, Georgia, then part of the Russian empire. His father was a cobbler; his mother, a cleaning lady and seamstress. Stalin’s childhood, illnesses and mishaps included, was largely normal for the time.


Is Putin Getting What He Wanted With Trump?

by Stephen Kotkinvia The New York Times
Saturday, June 10, 2017

In the Senate last week, Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, asked the fired F.B.I. director James Comey if he had “any doubt that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 elections.” Mr. Comey responded with a single word: “None.”

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Moscow’s Wounded Pride

by Stephen Kotkinvia Hoover Digest
Friday, October 21, 2016

Vladimir Putin embodies many of the pathologies of the post-Soviet state, a land both animated and crippled by its sense of mission.


Brexit And Institutional Investors

by Stephen Kotkinvia Top 1000 Funds
Friday, July 15, 2016

Britain’s vote on June 23, 2016 to leave the European Union (EU) has been salutary, exposing the political, economic, and cultural divide between the Davos elites (to use shorthand) and the majority population.