tv Book Discussion CSPAN December 29, 2013 3:05pm-3:46pm EST
biography." mr. montefiore, if i may start with a quote you have in the front of your book from amos oz, and this is the quote. jerusalem is an old nymphomaniac who squeezes lover after lover to death before shrugging him off her with a yawn, a black widow who devours her mate while they are still penetrating her. what does that mean? why did you include that? >> guest: well, that quite wittily captures the fascination of jerusalem. why jerusalem has such a magnetic draw to everyone in the world but also especially to me why i wanted to write this book. jerusalem is a lens through which you can write a history of the middle east, a history of the world almost. and the exciting thing about it, it has actually been conquered by just about every single great civilization you care to mention, you know? the asyrians, the romans, the greeks and going right up to the turks, the british and now the
israelis. so in every way it's a fascinating place, it's a fascinating gateway, if you like, to see the history of the world. >> host: is jerusalem strategically located? how did it become so vital? >> guest: absolutely not. absolutely not. it's not strategically valuable at all. it became strategically valuable when it became a great city and a great fortress. but actually, it's far there the trade routes. when armies are invading up and down, are invading egypt or from egypt invading in towards syria, they march up the coast as napoleon did too. there's another one i didn't mention. and they don't go anywhere near jerusalem. so jerusalem is irrelevant. jerusalem is all about holiness. its value comes completely from the, it's a temple city. and its prestige as a capital and as a name in history really comes from that, for that reason, from its sanctity that's
all about religion. >> host: when did it begin? as a city? >> guest: well, it began, you know, it began in sort of probably the second millennium before christ. at least. and, um, it started as a probably just as a small mountaintop fortress just with water, a spring and a mountaintop. and, of course, in those days high places were often holy. but -- and have a fortress, you often built a fortress in a high, holy lace, and it needed to have a spring. and that's all jerusalem had. there was nothing special about it. what made it special and has made it special throughout its history has been the decisions, the whimsical, capricious decisions of a few men. and it was david's decision to use this kind of canaanite shrine, use this fortress to be rather like washington, d.c. a neutral capital between northern and southern tribes.
it was that decision. he could have chosen somewhere else, he didn't. he chose this place. and that was the beginning of the special nature, the special sanctity of jerusalem. >> host: did it ever serve as a neutral capital? >> guest: never. there's never -- it hasn't been neutral ever in its history. jerusalem has a special power. it's one of those places, i mean, first of all, it's -- one of the unique things about it is that everyone feels they know jerusalem. everyone feels there's an authentic jerusalem. and everyone feels that their authentic jerusalem needs to be built in jerusalem if it isn't already there. so that's one thing. everyone feels that jerusalem is their sort of other home city, i think teddy -- [inaudible] once wrote. but the other strange thing about it it's a city, most cities people want to live there. if they conquer it, they're happy for it to have many different peoples in it, but jerusalem has always sort of
infected its conquerors with a wish to own it absolutely, exclusively. >> host: you write in "jerusalem: the biography," in jerusalem the truth is often much less important than the myth. >> guest: that's right. if you're writing history in jerusalem and writing this book, it's the most exciting and the hardest thing i've ever done. it's been a sort of nightmarish challenge in a way. but if you're writing about jerusalem, the myths are often more powerful than the facts. as a historian, i want to write about the facts. and in this book regardless of the agendas of all the ethnic groups and all the religions and all the old ticks -- politics, i've tried to tell the truth, to
get as close to the facts as i can even when deeply inconvenient. at the same time, the myths are often the things that have changed history more than the actual facts. so one's always writing a history of both. oftentimes the facts matter less. for example, the most famous christian road, i suppose you'd call it, in jerusalem, the road where christ is supposed to have carried his cross along the row of sorrow, but historians now think it extremely unlikely that that's actually the right route. >> host: why? >> guest: yet -- they think it's actually the route to the wrong, to the wrong, um, location of pie late's -- pilate's palace. it's explained in the book, the geography is explained in the book, there's no point in explaining it here. but basically, it may well geographically be the wrong
place historically. does it matter? no, it doesn't matter. because millions of christians believe this is a holy place, and this is one of the themes of the book, what makes a holy city? a holy city is a place where man can encounter the divine, can meet god. where divinity is especially intensely present. that's definitely true in jerusalem. but part of divinity, part of holiness, part of it is a heritage, a pedigree. so one of the features of jerusalem which is most interesting is all these holy places have been made even more holy because somebody else finds them holy too. or somebody else found them holy before we did. and that's a fascinating thing, you know? so the holiness is redoubled, intensified, trebled, quadrupled. and, you know, there's great, there's a great sort of instinct to use the stories, the holiness, the very stones that have stood in somebody else's
victory arch, somebody else's temple, somebody else's palace on the buildings of an earlier conquest, of an earlier religion and to use those things in your own story, in your own new revelation. and that's one of the fascinations of jerusalem. people often say how do do you write about jerusalem, it's layer upon layer of history, but it isn't. the history is completely interwoven, and it's more like a tapestry. it's impossible to unravel. >> host: what's another one of the myths of jerusalem? >> guest: um, gosh, there are so many of the mists, i'm just trying -- myths, i'm just trying to think. another one is the jewish tomb of simon supposedly one of the early high priests, simon. simon the good. that almost certainly is, in fact, the tomb of a byzantine woman. you know, that's another one. and for the muslims there are um
teen things that are -- umpteen things that are absolutely mythical. so it goes across all the religions. >> host: and what are some of the more important holy sites in jerusalem? you mentioned the via dela rosa. >> guest: yeah. i mean, the key site, the first site, the key site is the temple mount. that's the center of ate all. that's -- it all. that's where it all happens. >> host: and what happened -- >> guest: well, that's the place where solomon built the jewish temple, first temple, and his own palace stood there. whereafter that was destroyed by the babylonians in 586, a second temple was built there. and this temple was then rebuilt by herod the great, and when he rebuilt it, he built the most magnificent temple and the most magnificent city jerusalem's ever been. even today's it's not so great. and that's the temple that jesus walked in. so it's one we're very familiar with.
herod the great, by the way, was one of the most fascinating character in the book. >> host: why? >> guest: the biblical henry viii, if you like, and the herod dynasty are the biblical tutors and -- [inaudible] if you can imagine that. herod the great, he's also the jewish stalin. the jewish version of josef stalin. he's a fascinating character. subtle, brutal dictator, mass murderer. he married ten times, more than henry viii. he killed three of his own children which henry viii never did. of most interesting thing is he killed the woman he really loved. herod the great was a mongrel in the sense that he was half jewish and half arab, so he was a perfect mixture. but the jews didn't think he was a real jew, the arabs didn't really think he was a real arab, and in order to win legitimacy, he decided to marry the most beautiful jewish heiress, mary
ann, who was one of the dynasty. and she both loved him and hated him. their relationship was utterly tormented and twisted. they had children together. but when he found her plotting against him in the end, he had her strangled, georgia rotted in public. she was buried in honey, sort of embalmed in honey, and he threw himself into her grave to try and find her again, he loved her so much, he never recovered from her death. so fascinating character, herod the great, but he almost built probably the most successful and beautiful religious building ever built, the temple, the greatest temple. the second temple, but in its greatest manifestation. and it only stood for about 70 years before it was destroyed by titus and the romans in 70 a.d. in a terrible confrontation. >> host: simon sebag be montefiore, what's the islamic hold on jerusalem?
>> guest: well, that's a very important story, too, because when -- [inaudible] was reciting the quran, he adopted, he respected, he commandeered, he borrowed much of the holiness of the jewish and christian prophets and included them in his. he believed that islam was the real, the final revelation. and these were earlier -- the jewish and the christian were early revelations that had been, that had lost god's blessing. and, therefore, jerusalem -- though never mentioned per se in the quran, is most probably referred to as the faraway shrine. and when the, and when he talked about jerusalem, when the early muslims believed and talked about jerusalem, they believed that the final day, the judgment day, was imminent and that could only take place in jerusalem. and, therefore, they wanted to conquer jerusalem especially. and when they did conquer it, they immediately went to the temple mount where the temple had stood and wanted to pray
there because it had been the jewish temple l. and, therefore, when they were building their great empire, they built the dome of the rock there in 691. and after the temple was the islamic temple, if you like. and it was quite self-consciously built in order to overpower the christian holy sites which were there, the church of the holy accept all cur and to co-opt jewish history. it's a fascinating building, again, one of the most beautiful and successful imperial and religious buildings ever built in history. >> host: you write in "jerusalem" that part of your family motto includes jerusalem. how did that come about? >> guest: um, an ancestor of mine was called most -- moses montefiore. very wealthy financier. he was partners with the roth child family in business.
happened he was also jewish, and's very proud of his judaism. and he went six or seven times to jerusalem in days when you had to go by carriage and ship. you had to go with body guards and guns to defend yourself from bandits. he fell in love with jerusalem. and in 1860 he built the first jewish settlement, if you like, outside the old city walls. it was also virtually the first settlement because soon afterwards the arab achris accuratic family -- aristocratic family started to build the suburbs around the walls. his was the fist. and it's called the montefiore quarter, the montefiore cottages. he built a windmill there which is still there which is very beautiful, victorian wind mill. though what the hell it's doing -- it looks totally out of place in jerusalem.
and it's interesting because this place was used as fortress in 1968 by jewish fighters. and two or three times arab irregular fighters tried to storm this jewish suburb and the wind mill. and the british were, of course, backing the arabs in this battle, and they blew the top off. but anyway, he so loved jerusalem that he adopted it as his motto. and i have it on my ring here. so you know, we still -- we're very proud of that connection in month forly. >> host: what's the british involvement in jerusalem, palestine, etc. >> guest: british involvement is very similar to the american involvement today in that it originated, a large part of it stems from evangelical belief that jerusalem could, should, will ultimately lead to judgment today, the second -- judgment day, the second coming of christ.
so the muscular christians of victorian evangelists in ending bland were very -- england were very attracted to this. they believed in the second coming. and, but also there were huge strategic reasons why britain was involved in the middle east. in 1882 they had taken egypt, for example. in 1878, they had taken cyprus. so they were moving to a forward position in the middle east and, of course, jerusalem was part of that. in 1917, in the first world war, they defeated the ultimate empire, and they took jerusalem. and they had a jewish mandate there. in 1916, key moment, and 1917, the parish empire was in -- british empire was in desperation to win the war. america had just joined the war, russia was to therring on the verge of revolution, and it looked like britain might lose the war to germany. so they made promises in the middle east to two or three
different groups, to the arabs, to the jews and to the french, their allies. as well as to the russians, incidentally. and in the end they issued the balfort declaration, a controversial decision, one that led to the state of israel. and, but the british, you know, having started this process weren't able to finish it properly. they lost the will, they lost the power. the cost in treasure and in blood was too much for them. and faced with sort of jewish resistance, arab resistance, they just basically, the british -- it is not a proud day for us brits -- they basically just kind of fled the scene in 1948. they just kind of handed it over to the united nations and just left a terrible mess. united nations had no teeth, no troops on the ground, and the result was just a huge war where all the kind of arab countries ran about invading and fought for jerusalem.
and ultimately, jerusalem was split in 1948 until 967, reunited in 1967 as we all know, and has been ruled by israel ever since. >> host: you end your book with, "jerusalem," in 1967. why? >> guest: '67 is really the moment that the present day situation was created. the book does, in fact, go right up to netanyahu and obama and all that. but the last sort of set piece, if you like, is the storming of jerusalem by israeli forces in june '67, and it's a sort of -- it's a moment that changed history completely. it changed the state of israel and the nature of the state of israel. it changed the character of israel because it was such an exciting moment for jews all over the world, christians all over the world too. it was such an inspiring moment, an exciting moment. and even for secular jews it was an almost messianic moment when it seems like the little country
of israel had taken jerusalem -- reunited jerusalem, and jews could again pray at the western wall, the wall -- the place, as jews call it, where -- which is all that was left of herod's temple which we talked about earlier. so it's a very kind of vital moment. and everything that's come after, everything we have today in the middle east comes from this moment. so it was a natural and exciting and spectacular place to, for the book to reach its kind of climax. though, i mean, so much has happened since, and we go into all the details of that right up until, as i said, obama and netanyahu and all the rest. >> host: one of the little side lights that i saw in your book is that mary magdalene's hand is there? >> guest: well, there are all manner of, of sort of relics in jerusalem. and there are all sorts of bizarre things there. i mean, there are swords and hands and, yes. so there's all sorts of the
fascinating relics in the church of the holy she pull yes. and she's just one of those, one of the fascinating women who are buried in jerusalem. women, in the book women are very important in jerusalem, as you mentioned. the church of the holy sepulchre, that wonderful christian church, that romannesque crusader church was built by the margaret thatcher of the crusades who is a wonderful character, beautiful woman. half french, half armenian. and they said, the his torns at -- historians at the time said she was as intelligent as a hand which is high praise. and she built the church of the holy sepulchre. it's her building. and she's buried -- her full
body is this jerusalem. her real body is buried in jerusalem too. and, of course, you know, and there was many other wonderful women including my favorite one is azmahan. she was a lebanese princess, an arab pop singer. she was the sort of britney spears of the arab world. and she was also an egyptian film star. and she caused havoc having affairs with men and women of of every single possible sect; palestinians, british, french, americans, egyptians, the lot. shia, sunni. she bestrode all of them. and when she was, when her car mysteriously crashed in the river, in the nile when she was filming one of her movies, her death was sort of like the death of marilyn monroe, it was a great mystery, had she been murdered? the candidates for having killed her were virtually everybody.
the american oss, the mi6, the british secret service, king farooq of egypt, you name it. the gestapo. anyone might have killed her because she had so many enemy, and she'd seduced everybody. so she's definitely one of the heroines of jerusalem. >> host: who lives in jerusalem now? what's the population? >> guest: you know, the -- well, it's now overwhelmingly a jewish city. and it's more jewish than it's ever been. there are, perhaps, i think there were something like 200,000, 300,000 palestinians living there. and there was something like 9 or 800,000 depending on the municipalities. so it's overwhelmingly now a jewish city, and it's more jewish than it's ever been, perhaps since the days of herod the great. there are and a beautiful city
now. i mean, the old city, you know, has been, you know, the archaeological sites there are astonishing. for example, you know, they've now dug up, by the western wall you can see the pile of huge rocks that were pushed off the temple mount by titus' roman soldiers as they destroyed the temple. and you can see the astonishing palaces of the cay -- the first arab dynasty to rule jerusalem, who loved jerusalem. and they built these palaces up so high that they could ride their horses across the bridge onto the temple mount from their palaces. and among these palaces they've been excavated. so whether it's jewish or arab muslim or christian history you're interested in, it's never been more easy to see the complexity of the city is, you know, is all, is there
beautifully presented now. >> host: how is the temple mount managed? >> guest: well, tsa a good question. -- that's a good question. it's actually run by the arab woks which is a trust, if you like, of the muslim community. and when the israelis took it in '67, the general that's a military hero and minister of defense who organized the victory of '67, the astonishing israeli victory of '67, he went this there, sat down, took his shoes off and sat down with all the leadership. basically, you control, you will control the temple mount. and that's the way it should be, or in fact. he was actually a very wise character who understood the way business is done in the middle east, by negotiation. and he -- and that's the way it's remained ever since. and i mean, obviously, there are very few extremists who want to sort of, who would like to
rebuild a jewish temple on the temple mount. but that's not going to happen. and the buildings, the mosque even for a jewish person like me, even as a historian there are some of the most beautiful buildings on earth. so it's quite right that it should be. the management of the temple mount should remain exactly as it is. >> host: is jerusalem the capital of israel? >> guest: yeah. i think it is the capital of israel. but i think, i think ultimately it probably one day will be shared this some form or other. in some form or other. and as you know, the actual agreement, the actual deal of how you would divide up not just jerusalem, but how would you divide up the occupied territories, if you like, of the west bank, sue her rah, judeo rah and sumera, however you want to call it. the clinton parameters, if you
like, are well known. and that is sort of the deal that would be done. like each side would get tear own holy places or run their own holy places. the christian and armenian quarters would be split in some way between the israelis and the palestinians. it would be the capital of both countries. and i still believe that a two-state solution is the best way to, um, is the best way to go can. i mean, when you look, as a historian, when you write this sort of stuff, when you read the story, so much bloodshed. but what's important is that both sides need to recognize the stories, the narratives, the tragedies, the triumphs of the other side. and if that was possible, if my book contributed to that in any way, that's one of the reasons i wrote it, so that people could see the full story unvarnished of both sides. >> host: well, you write in your book, "jerusalem," mr. montefiore, you tried to
write this history without a political agenda. how do you do that? >> guest: well, it was impossible, of course. be -- but i bent over backwards to do it. and this book is just coming out -- it's come out in arabic, in fact. it's coming out in hebrew -- >> host: it came out in arabic? >> guest: it came out in arabic be. you know, i've had thousands of letters from all over the arab world because one of the things this book is, is it's about the people that made jerusalem. but it's about the women that made jerusalem, but it's also about the families that made jerusalem. because cities are made by families. so it's about royal dynasties like the herods, it's also like the great arab dynasties, the great palestinian dynasties. what i did was i really wanted to tell their story. so i found a member of each of those families and got their stories. so those stories are in this book. and they're not in of the books about palestine and israel. so, and tear family stories are
amazing, and there are great characters in these stories. it's also about the rothchilds and so on who helped build jerusalem, the modern jerusalem. and so for the, you know, for many arab readers they're reading their history. they don't find it in books. but be i really kind of adopted the attitude that i couldn't please everybody, and i shouldn't. what mattered was the truth as close as you can get it. i was told when i started to write this book, my father said to me, simon, if you say king david didn't exist, i'll kill you. my palestinian friends said to me, simon, if you don't mention this and that about the palestinian cause, we'll kill you. and my armenian friends said the same. so i realized that immediately that like, i shouldn't aim to please everybody. the first governor of jerusalem in 1917, 1918 said when he arrived, rather to be governor of jerusalem, he soon fell out with both the arabs and the j well, -- jews.
so he went to the prime minister, david lloyd george, and said i'm going of to have to resign. and lloyd george said, absolutely not. but if either side stops complaibing about you, you'll be fired instantly. so i had this quote beside my desk as i wrote this book. and, you know, the ting was not to please everybody, but actually to get as close as you can to the facts. that's the big challenge. >> host: did king david exist? >> guest: king david did exist. king david did exist. but there was a lot of, there's very little evidence that he did exist except the bible. but there is evidence. and i think he did exist. he was the founder of the -- [inaudible] >> host: what did former president clinton say about your book? >> guest: actually, he was very nice. i finally started getting all these texts from america one lunchtime in london, and they all said bill clinton's on, he's on this morning nbc, and he's talking about your book. >> host: today show.
>> guest: today show. and he's talking about your book. he was wonderful about it. he said, you know, he thought it was -- he raved about it. he said, you know, he said it was spectacular, and he loved the book. and immediately sort of whatever it is, 200, it whizzed up about a hundred places in about an hour. so, but it was very nice when people like clinton or shimon peres or kissinger -- >> host: david cameron? >> guest: david cameron. it's very nice when people who are working with jerusalem, involved this the peace process, involved this israel and the middle east, when people like that read the book and sort of appreciate it. i mean, especially bill clinton and kissinger, obviously, because both of them are american statesmen who have been deeply involved this the peace process. >> host: are either of them friends of yours? >> guest: no. they've just read the books, and, i mean, kissinger had also
read my stalin books and was, you know, had liked them. so it's just lovely when people like that get in, you know, like your work. it's a dream come true. of. >> host: this is booktv on c-span2. we are in london, and currently we are talking with author and historian simon sebag montefiore. we've been talking about his most recent nonfiction book, "jerusalem: the biography." but you did mention your writings on russia, and you've mentioned your family. what influence does your family have on your russian history books? >> guest: i think, i think my father's family, montefiores, are jews from italy -- >> host: what does that mean? >> guest: that means they're from the arab world, jews from the mediterranean as opposed to from germany and russia. and in america, of course, you have lots of both. but my mother's family are from ukraine, from russia. so i've always been fascinated by russia for that reason.
and i think that's the origin of hi kind of obsession with russia, with russia and with the soviet period as well. >> host: young stalin. what can we learn about the future dictator stalin from his youth? >> guest: everything. young stalin, it was such fun to write "young stalin." trots key said young stalin had just been a gray blur who missed the revolution. he was a specialist in assassinations and in bank robberies. in his 1907 spank robbery -- bank robbery made the headlines all over the world. he held up a stagecoach. i said it was like butch cassidy, in the capital of georgia. and he killed enormous numbers of people in this bank robbery,
50 people were killed in this bank robbery, and they got away with the equivalent of $20 million to fund eleven in's -- lenin's bolshevik party. and no one had been able to rauf that stalin had organized this party. and he actually killed all the people who could prove it. when he became a world statesman, he didn't want to seem like a bank robber. so he basically killed everyone, changed all the materials. but some of the stuff, some of the materials that proved his involvement were this the georgian -- in the georgian archives, and the president of georgia let me into these archives. very kind, because they were closed. and inside i found fascinating evidence. you know, the really interesting thing about it was apart from the story of this bank robbery which is just amazing because they held up the stagecoach, they threw sort of bombs underneath, they blew i, they killed all the cossacks who were driving around and the bankers inside. and then at the last minute one of the horses got up and ran off with the money still in the
stagecoach down the hill. so two of the gangsters ran off and blew it up, blew themselves up too and got the money. and stalin was smoking a cig net a doorway watching all this, as usual. never doing anything himself, always organizing. what's interesting is in every bank robbery you need an inside man, so i found the memories of the inside man, and do you know why he helped stalin set up this bank robbery? because he admired not stalin's politics, stalin's communism, but stalin the poet. he admired his oatly. because before stalin was a bolshevik revolutionary, he was a published poet. and his poetry was highly regarded in georgia which is a country where poetry's enormously important. and this man met stalin and said i've got a tip for you. there's a stagecoach arriving with 300,000 rubles in it. and i'm going to tell you all the details of it. >> host: why did stalin originally join lenin's
bolshevik party? >> guest: testifies a that gnat call believer in -- he was a fanatical believer in marxism. he believed it was justice. he believed in the strug 8s of the prohe tear yacht, and he also believed that he himself was history personified, that he had a potential role to play himself. and he created himself from nothing. he adopted the name man of steel, stalin. >> host: what was his relationship with lenin? >> guest: very close. i mean, lenin said, you know, stalin is exactly the type of man we need. the reason why he succeeded to become soviet leader was because he combined two different sorts of politician. you know in politics there's the politician who can speak well, who can write articles, who can, you know, think of ideas. lenin was one of those people. but there's also the sort of political leader who's good at organizing assassinations, bank robberies, secret work, what the
russians call black work or wet work. and stalin was unusual in that he could do both. and, you know, if the soviet union had become a peaceful country, there'd been no civil war, it had just become serenely accepted by everybody, probably he would never have become leader. but because it became -- it was born in a civil war and incredible brutality, the most extreme, the most brutal man who could do all these things, who could -- who had both the characteristics you need to be successful in a country at war, stalin, he won the contest to be leader. so it wasn't a coincidence. and the way he became stalin, the way he made himself through violence, through the secret world of ban fitly -- banditry, also through many, many love affairs surprisingly, it's all in my book, "young stalin," it's all based on the archives. >> host: you followed that up
with "the red czar." how did the folks around him, how did his court -- >> guest: yeah. i mean, i call it the red czar because stalin was always written about especially during the cold war as a sort of an enigma, a sort of satanic, gray kind of a gray devil-like man, if you like, who was kind of capable of the most terrible brutality. what i was very lucky about was because i started writing, my first book was catherine the great, and the people around president putin loved this book. and as a result, they gave me access to stalin's papers which were just opening. this was in 2000. so i was able to write the book i'd always dreamed of writing which was to write about stalin as if you were writing about the court of louis xiv or gwen division khan, not as a communist. not in the ideological way, but exactly as a medieval king, as a czar. and that's why it's called "the red czar." and the archives that i found
enabled me to write about this and to show that, basically, of course, they were all ideological fanatics. they absolutely believed in communism. and not just in communism, they believed that you needed to use bloodletting, killing to reengineer society, to create a new society. stalin took it further than anybody else. but all of them believed in it and talked about it, how you had to -- you know, who you had to kill. whole classes of people. >> host: did the soviet archives detail how many people died under the stalin regime? >> guest: yeah, sort of. i must say, you read letters in the stalin archives, and you literally sob as you see, you know, you see the tragedies, you know, that people are being destroyed. first of all, there are death lists signed by stalin and all his top people. but there's also amazingly humane stuff in there. there was one file which is, um, the file of stalin's daughter, svetlana, in which age 7 she used to like to pretend to be
dictator or russia herself, and she would write i, svetlana stalin, first secretary of the communist party, write to comrade stalin that i hereby ban all homework in the soviet union for the next six months. and these laws are all signed by the entire government of russia, including stalin. so, you know, it's just interesting, you know? these archives allowed us to write for the first time about the human stalin. and by the way, the human stalin is not to in any way apologize or conceal his character, all the brutality of the regime. in fact, i think it highlights it much more strongly because these were real people. not diabolical, horror film characters. then one can understand how stalin happened, how communism happened and how the whole regime was set up. and that's what i do in this book. i use things like svetlana's letter, but also the death lists
to show how power worked and how the top families of the top, you know, 50 leaders lived. >> host: both "young stalin" and "the court of the red czar" are award-winning books. how did stalin live? did he live like a czar? >> guest: he didn't live with the splendor of a czar. he lived personally quite modestly, but he had enormous numbers of houses all over the soviet union. in fact, one of the interesting things was i went around all the houses he had -- many of them beautiful houses overlooking the black sea. one of the ladies who showed me around was a very old lady who was about 90 something. and she said to me, oh, yes, i said to her, and, being a jealous historian, i wanted to make sure no one else had been around before me, and i said has anyone else been around these houses? and she said to me, no, no one's been round them for a long time except there are that was arab
gentleman that insisted on seeing every single one of stalin's houses. i said, what was his name? saddam hussein, she said. so, of course, saddam hue -- hussein was obsessed with stalin. and when he was an ally of the soviet union in the '60s and '70s, he said i want to see every single house of stalin's. so he is the only other person apart from me who has been round every one of stalin's houses and seen how he lived. >> host: simon sebag montefiore, what are your current and near-future projects? >> guest: well, i've got a novel coming out in september which is exciting. set, you know, in a family in russia. and it's really a book about lo. and it's based on a true story as well. but in history i'm researching now a history of the roam novembers, the whole dynasty from 1613 to 1917, all those czars ending up with nicholas and alexander and