Hardly any political figure in the 20th century aroused so much passionate and confused controversy as Leon Trotsky. There was a danger that his name might have disappeared from history. Isaac Deutscher's three volume life of Trotsky was originally published in 1954, and was the first book to counter the powerful Stalinist propaganda machine that had sort to expunge Trotsky's name from the annals of the revolution, or worse, to leave it there as a synonym for an arch-traitor.
It's also remarkably balanced. I was expecting Trotsky to come off much better than he did, frankly. Deutscher gives us a man who came up with all sorts of horrible ideas before Lenin did, but had the good fortune to lose the debate when his ideas were particularly noxious, so Lenin could take the short term glory and long term hatred, while Trotsky got all that love as the anti-Stalin... despite being totally proto-Stalin, but with a much, much (much) better personality and brain and luck. Weird stuff.
Part one, takes us through the scant details of Trotsky's birth and early years, to the revolution, his transformation from semi-pacifist to the People's Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs
Isaac Deutscher is an ideal scribe for this work: his knowledge of soviet politics, at the time, must be unparalleled and he is scrupulously fair. He praises Trotsky's bravery and foresightedness, when he is in advance of the thinking of the soviet, but also chastises his willingness to accept the rejection of his views and his unstinting work and vocal support for solutions with which he does not agree.
The picture that arises from this book is of a great man with flaws... and haven't we all got those? Russia was not ready for socialism, it needed to go through a capitalist phase. I can well see why Trotsky and Lenin would not wish to hear that view and how easy it must have been to believe that communism was coming to the world. It is just a pity that the first iteration of this form of government should have been such a disastrous failure.