"Only child of a driven single mother", the handsome Georgian prodigy excelled. Gifted choirboy, brilliant student, fervent trainee priest – then a good-ish lyric poet, dashing ladies' man and romantic revolutionary. The murder and enslavement of millions came a bit later. Joseph D – "Soso", "Koba", "Stalin", the master of many masks and disguises – crucially chose to put another talent, for underworld thuggery, bank robbery and organised crime, at the service of Lenin's Bolsheviks. The rest is (still) little-known history, brought to mesmerising life in this terrific, and terrifying, biography of the years to 1917. Then, the death star left the wings and took a public role at last. Alas.