Khrushchev: The Man and His Era

Khrushchev: The Man and His Era

by William Taubman


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Remembered by many as the Soviet leader who banged his shoe at the United Nations, Nikita Khrushchev was in fact one of the most complex and important political figures of the twentieth century. Complicit in terrible Stalinist crimes, he managed to retain his humanity. His daring attempt to reform Communism—by denouncing Stalin and releasing and rehabilitating millions of his victims—prepared the ground for its eventual collapse. His awkward efforts to ease the Cold War triggered its most dangerous crises in Berlin and Cuba. The ruler of the Soviet Union during the first decade after Stalin's death, Khrushchev left his contradictory stamp on his country and the world. More than that, his life and career hold up a mirror to the Soviet age as a whole: revolution, civil war, famine, collectivization, industrialization, terror, world war, cold war, Stalinism, post-Stalinism. The first full and comprehensive biography of Khrushchev, and the first of any Soviet leader to reflect the full range of sources that have become available since the USSR collapsed, this book weaves together Khrushchev's personal triumphs and tragedy with those of his country. It draws on newly opened archives in Russia and Ukraine, the author's visits to places where Khrushchev lived and work, plus extensive interviews with Khrushchev family members, friends, colleagues, subordinates, and diplomats who jousted with him. William Taubman chronicles Khrushchev's life from his humble beginnings in a poor peasant village to his improbable rise into Stalin's inner circle; his stunning, unexpected victory in the deadly duel to succeed Stalin; and the startling reversals of fortune that led to his sudden, ignominious ouster in 1964. Combining a page-turning historical narrative with penetrating political and psychological analysis, this account brims with the life and excitement of a man whose story personifies his era.

"A brilliant, stunning, magnificent book. One of the most important figures of the twentieth century, who had a lot to do with setting the stage for the twenty-first, Khrushchev finally has the biography he deserves—deep and detailed yet fast-paced, scholarly yet not stuffy, historical yet intensely human. Taubman brings Khrushchev alive in all his complexity, capturing both the humanity that somehow survived in him and became the bedrock for his political decency, and the cynicism that made him part of the brutality of the Soviet system. The book has the sweep of a Big Book about a Big Figure, yet its style is no-frills, no-nonsense, straight-from-the-shoulder, with judgments proferred judiciously. Taubman does a superb job of portraying the rogue's gallery of Soviet leaders while providing a colorful canvas of the country and its history. Having spent several years of my own life in Khrushchev's shadow, I couldn't be more admiring of what Taubman has accomplished." —Strobe Talbott, former U.S. deputy secretary of state, editor and translator of Khrushchev's memoirs "Monumental, definitive, rich in detail. Taubman pulls aside the curtain and shows us both a fascinating man and new facts about Soviet decision making during the most dangerous days of the Cold War. A highly readable, compelling story." —Anthony Lake, former U.S. national security adviser "The definitive account of Khrushchev's career and personality, this is also a wonderful page-turner about the deadly duel for power in the Kremlin. Altogether it is one of the best books ever written about the Soviet Union." —Constantine Pleshakov, co-author, Inside the Kremlin's Cold War "Few books in the field of Cold War history have been as eagerly awaited as William Taubman's biography of Nikita Khrushchev. Reflecting years of research as well as a keen sensitivity to culture, context, and personality, this extraordinary book more than matches the extraordinary character of its subject. It is a superb portrayal of one of the most attractive—but also dangerous—leaders of the twentieth century." —John Lewis Gaddis, professor of history, Yale University "A portrait unlikely to be surpassed any time soon in either richness or complexity. This volume, with its brisk, enjoyable narrative, succeeds in every sense: sweep, depth, liveliness, color, tempo. Each chapter shines with mastery and authority."—Leon Aron, The New York Times Book Review "Masterful and should salute its author for a wonderful achievement....Starting with a juicy subject...Taubman has drawn on a huge body of material, much of it from newly available Soviet sources....He spent nearly twenty years on the book. The result is fun to read, full of insight and more than a little terrifying."—Robert G. Kaiser, Washington Post "Thanks to Taubman, one of the most important figures of the 20th century finally has the biography he deserves....In reconstructing a single paradoxical life, he helps us understand better the complexity of the human condition."—Strobe Talbott, Los Angeles Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393051445
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 03/17/2003
Pages: 908
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

William Taubman is professor of political science at Amherst College and the author of Stalin's American Policy, Moscow Spring, and other books on the Soviet Union.

Table of Contents

Note on Russian and Ukrainian UsageIX
1.The Fall: October 19643
2.Kalinovka's Own: 1894-190818
3.Making It as a Metalworker: 1908-191730
4.To Be or Not to Be an Apparatchik: 1918-192945
5.Stalin's Pet: 1929-193772
6.Stalin's Viceroy: 1938-1941114
7.Khrushchev at War: 1941-1944147
8.Ukrainian Viceroy Again: 1944-1949179
9.The Heir Nonapparent: 1949-1953208
10.Almost Triumphant: 1953-1955236
11.From the Secret Speech to the Hungarian Revolution: 1956270
12.The Jaws of Victory: 1956-1957300
13.The Wider World: 1917-1957325
14.Alone at the Top: 1957-1960361
15.The Berlin Crisis and the American Trip: 1958-1959396
16.From the U-2 to the UN Shoe: April-September 1960442
17.Khrushchev and Kennedy: 1960-1961480
18."A Communist Society Will Be Just about Built by 1980": 1961-1962507
19.The Cuban Cure-all: 1962529
20.The Unraveling: 1962-1964578
21.After the Fall: 1964-1971620

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Khrushchev: The Man and His Era 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
four_bears on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a recent biography of Nikita Sergeyevitch Khrushchev, written in English and taking advantage of all the recent scholarship and documents made available in Russia. In addition, the author worked extensively with Sergei Khrushchev, the son who is now an American citizen.Khrushchev celebrated his birthday on 17 April (when his birth was registered) but was actually born on 15 April 1894 (or 3 April by the old style calendar used before the revolution) in the small village of Kalinovka in Southern Russia. He lived there until 1908 when he moved to the eastern Ukranian town of Yuzovka where his father worked in the mines.But the biography doesn¿t begin with his birth, rather with this paragraph: ¿Ask many Westerners, and not a few Russians, and they¿re likely to recall Nikita Khrushchev as a crude, ill-educated clown who banged his shoe at the United Nations. But the short, thick-set man with small piercing eyes, protruding ears and apparently unquenchable energy wasn¿t a Soviet joke even though he figures in so many of them. Rather, he was a complex man whose story combines triumph and tragedy for his country as well as himself.¿There is no film and no still picture of Khrushchev banging his shoe at the UN, though most people in attendance that day in October of 1960 agreed that he did slip off his shoe (a loafer type) and wave it around. Some will swear he banged it on the desk to emphasize his point and others will vociferously deny it. All will probably agree that both the waving and the banging were Khrushchev-like gestures.Khrushchev is most remembered by those interested in Soviet history for his ¿secret speech¿ at the 20th annual Congress (1956) of the communist party when, in a session open only to high ranking communist members from the USSR, Khrushchev spoke for 4 hours attacking Stalin and the abuses of power which had become everyday occurrences in the USSR. For someone who had risen to power under Stalin and participated in the central government during the 30ies and 40ies, it was almost unthinkable. Khrushchev told his audience how thousands and thousands of citizens had been arrested, tried in completely illegal trials, and then deported to labor camps or executed. The counter-revolutionary charges were always ¿absurd, wild and contrary to common sense.¿ Characteristic of Khrushchev, the speech was bold¿even rash¿daring. No one but Khrushchev in his generation could possibly have been imagined to do such a thing. It was undoubtedly both the smartest and the dumbest thing he ever did.I always thought that the CIA lucked out and got a copy early on¿not that they had much clue what the speech meant. In fact, Khrushchev arranged for it to be subtly leaked, first to the rest of the communist bloc and then to the rest of the world.But Khrushchev¿s whole story is far more interesting than just the secret speech. Taubman says that ¿beneath the surface Khrushchev¿s efforts at de-Stalinization, awkward and erratic though they had been, had allowed a nascent civil society to take shape where Stalinism had once created a desert.¿ His efforts at reform and his reaching out to the rest of the world paved the way for Gorbachev and Yeltsin in the next generation. Even though he boasted that the grandchildren of Americans would live under communism (and it ended up that his own son is now lives under capitalism), in spite of the naiveté and the bluster and the inconsistencies, Khrushchev left an important legacy. In a 1998 poll of young Russian adults who were asked to evaluate their 20th century leaders, most (Lenin, Stalin, Brezhnev but also Gorbachev and Yeltsin) were considered to have done more harm that good while Tsar Nicholas II was assessed positively. Opinion on Khrushchev was evenly divided. Though they were surely wrong about the Tsar, they at least recognized in Khrushchev something which made an important impression.If you¿re interested in Russian history of the 20th or 21st century, you couldn¿t go wrong with