Before he returned to Russia in 1917, Lenin spent nearly two decades in exile in Europe. The death of his elder brother, Aleksander, who was hanged in 1887 for his part in a failed assassination attempt against the tsar, Alexander III, convinced him to reject the path of romantic martyrdom.
Instead, Lenin devoted himself to the task of building an elite vanguard party, a cause that took him to Paris, London, Geneva and Brussels. He was fondest of London, where he learned English at Speakers' Corner and emulated Marx's labours in the British Museum.
In Helen Rappaport's vivid account of this often neglected period, we finally have a worthy counterpart to Simon Sebag Montefiore's Young Stalin. The ruthlessness with which Lenin seized power after he arrived at the Finland Station owed much to the privations and hardships of exile. Rappaport's book reminds us that autocrats are made, not born.
Hutchinson, 400pp, £20