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By 1944, they had talked themselves into believing that "Uncle Joe" was a "regular guy" who "meant well to the world and to Poland", as Churchill put it, and that Soviet Russia was going to become more "liberal". The levels of delusion they had scaled were breathtaking. "Poor Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Hitler", Churchill told his ministers. "He was wrong. But I don't think I'm wrong about Stalin." This was after Stalin had forced them to agree to Russia's dominion over Central Europe at the Yalta Conference. "I can deal with Stalin," President Truman wrote in his journal after their first meeting at Potsdam in July 1945, describing him as "honest".

The Western Allies could not hope to defeat Hitler without Stalin. But nor could he hope to survive without them. Yet from the start they made moral compromises that fatally undermined their position and placed them in his power.

In this wonderfully readable and sensitively balanced book, Laurence Rees tells a depressing and ugly story, but one that badly needed to be told, and his excellent use of first-hand accounts by those caught up in the events vividly captures what they meant for the millions of ordinary people who suffered the consequences.

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