Born Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili, a sickly, pockmarked child with webbed toes, Stalin was beaten "like a dog" by his alcoholic father (known locally as "Crazy Beso") and mercilessly thrashed by his mother. When he asked her in old age why she hit him so much, she replied: "It didn't do you any harm." Oh yes it did, says Sebag Montefiore in this lively and accomplished account of Stalin's "gangsterish", pre-revolutionary youth . . .