Evil under the sun — I’ve been reading Donald Rayfield’s Stalin and His Hangmen for the past few days. Good read, not quite as well-written perhaps as the recent similar study of Hitler’s inner coterie The Devil’s Disciples by Anthony Read but equally compelling as a study of men who organized repression and murder for the state, or more particularly the person who ran it. Worth a read if you’re a history wonk, to be sure, but the other day I was struck about how calmly and easily I could read about it in the light of a summer afternoon in California in a comfortable enough suburb, waiting for my bus to take me home. It was less a realization of ‘how nice it is not to have to worry about this stuff, I am in the best of all possible worlds,’ more a sense of how the 1920s and 1930s in Russia seems like little more than murky black and white photographs, where millions perished and were reduced to text on a page.