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K Blows Top: A Cold War Comic Interlude Starring Nikita Khrushchev, America's Most Unlikely Tourist Hardcover – June 2, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although Punch magazine famously commented on the humor of Nikita Khrushchev's desire to visit Disneyland during his 1959 trip to America, Carlson a former writer for the Washington Post, can still mine the tour with hilarious results, due in equal parts to Khrushchev's outsized provocateur personality and the bizarre and thoroughly American reaction to his visit. Numerous secondary players provide comic support: then vice president Richard Nixon's fixations on mano a mano debates with the quicksilver premier; Boston Brahmin and U.N. ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Khrushchev's tour guide, who dutifully filed daily analysis of Khrushchev's public tantrums; popular gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, who in a noteworthy example of bad taste attacked Mrs. Khrushchev's attire. A host of other American icons also make appearances: among them Herbert Hoover, Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine and Frank Sinatra. Although Carlson's focuses on the comic, there are insights into Khrushchev's personality, many provided by his son Sergei, now a respected professor at Brown University, illuminating the method in Khrushchev's madness. All in all, in Carson's hands the cold war is a surprisingly laughing matter. (June)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Most North Americans remember Nikita Khrushchev, the Russian dictator, as the guy who banged his shoe on his desk at the UN in 1960. Few recall that the shoe-banging was preceded by a 1959 visit to the U.S. in which Khrushchev, or K as he was headlined in the press, toured the country and captivated the world with his comic, belligerent, threatening, childish, and just-plain-offbeat antics. This hugely entertaining book chronicles that cross-country adventure. Drawing on contemporary news reports, modern interviews, and memoirs written by some of the participants, it’s a story about a poorly educated but extraordinarily powerful man who became, for a brief time, a pop-culture icon. Here was a man who could quite literally bring about the annihilation of the world (or so he frequently claimed) meeting Hollywood icons, eating hot dogs, mugging for the press, arguing with President Eisenhower, making fun of Vice President Nixon, and behaving as though he was unaware of the widespread social turmoil caused by his visit. The book is consistently informative and funny, but there are episodes that are strangely surreal—for example, the showdown between the State Department and the American Dental Association over who got to use a certain hotel ballroom (the dentists won). This is a fine example of popular history at its most engaging—anecdotal but informative and written with great feeling for the comedic side of current events. --David Pitt

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (June 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586484974
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586484972
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,144,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Journalist Peter Carlson is a pioneer of sorts. He is apparently the first author in the US to write a book-length account of Soviet Union chairman Nikita Khrushchev's 1959 visit to the US. For good measure and to set the tone he begins the book with a short descriptive account of Vice President Richard Nixon's earlier 1959 visit to the USSR and concludes it with a little encore featuring K's second trip to the US ---the famous 1960 visit to the United Nations when he took off his shoe and banged it in protest.

The book consists of 82 very short and readable chapters. Carlson knows how to write humorously. The book is hilarious. Really. If you read it, you'll be chuckling on every page, I predict. No. Make that several times per page!

The lion's share of the book chronicles K's 2 week 1959 tour of the US, from DC to LA and back, including famous stops along the way at an Iowa corn farm and a Pittsburgh steel mill. Oh, I almost forgot the cafeteria at IBM headquarters in San Jose. What really impressed him at IBM was not their computers (K. figured his Russian computers must be pretty good if his guys could hit the moon, which they had done shortly before K. arrived in the US), but he'd never apparently eaten at a self-serve cafeteria. He was bowled over by this and afterwards made sure some were built in his country.

The book might/could/should have been a bit shorter, but the author had compiled all this good stuff from newspapers and the Time-Life archives and probably figured he HAD to use it all. (He also has consulted works on the time period by historians such as Gaddis and Beschloss.) But if you don't want to or can't read everything here, do not miss chapter 57 entitled "A Riot in the Cathedral of Capitalism".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a delightful book! As a young teenager, all I knew about Mr. Khrushchev was that we had to practice "duck and cover," my parents spoke solemnly of the Soviet Threat, and the words "atomic" and "nuclear" seemed to saturate our daily lives.

Peter Carlson has given us a fine, well-researched story to show the reality of Khrushchev as opposed to the headlines we all remember. The author has an agile facility with metaphors - "a massive head that looked like one of the statues found on Easter Island" and the telling quote from his research quoting Khrushchev as saying, "The most dangerous form of resistance . . . is when they yes you to death."

"K Blows Top" is a grand story full of humour, insight, and historical information. Whether a reader cares about Mr K or not, this book is a keeper.
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Format: Hardcover
The Cold War is over; we won it and we have forgotten about it, because we have hotter things to worry about. Young people now, and those in the future, will watch, say, Doctor Strangelove, and be astonished that the world could have organized itself in such a way. If you really want to get in touch with how weird the Cold War years were, a wonderful introduction is _K Blows Top: A Cold War Comic Interlude, Starring Nikita Khrushchev, America's Most Unlikely Tourist_ (PublicAffairs) by Peter Carlson. Carlson describes himself as "the world's most zealous (and perhaps only) Khrushchev-in-America buff". He is a reporter who used to amuse himself by looking through holdings of the Time-Life library. When on a whim he asked about clippings from Khrushchev's 1959 visit to the US, the librarian said, "Are you sure you want them all?" This was a huge story at the time, and there was a mountain of clippings, including the one from which the title of the book comes: "Denied Tour of Disneyland, K Blows Top". No, he never got to Disneyland, but he got to plenty of other places he wanted to go, and others the State Department wanted him to go, and it was a very weird thirteen days. This is why the phrase "media circus" was invented. Carlson's hilarious book tells a lot about Khrushchev, but also a lot about America and Americans of the time.

Many of the funny situations in Carlson's book have to do with the clashes of how Khrushchev saw himself compared to how his hosts saw him. He arrived in Washington in his new TU-114 aircraft, which he was proud of because although he had been warned that it might have mechanical problems, it was the world's tallest aircraft.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
During the height of the cold war Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev spent two madcap weeks exploring 1959 America--kissing babies, hobnobbing with Hollywood stars, touring factories, and setting off riotous media stampedes in an Iowa cornfield and a San Francisco Quality Foods supermarket. Fortunately, Peter Carlson chronicles the whole ridiculous but revealing episode in K Blows Top, a window into the world as it was not so long ago. Khrushchev was alternately charismatic, infuriating, hot-headed, warm-hearted, wily and artless, and Americans were mesmerized in spite of themselves, fascinated, frightened and charmed.

While this is one of the funniest books I've read for a while, Carlson doesn't neglect the serious side of the story. Whatever goodwill was generated by Khrushchev's visit was lost when the Soviets shot down an American U-2 spy plane in a mission that President Eisenhower only reluctantly approved. Both sides were angered and went into face-saving mode, ruining a multi-leader summit hosted by France's wryly frustrated Charles De Gaulle and leading to Khrushchev's UN shoe banging tantrum and the Cuban missile crisis. As Carlson presents him, Khrushchev is a temperamental conundrum who nevertheless brought real reform to the Soviet government after the bloody excesses of Stalin, as Khrushchev's own bloodless ousting by Leonid Brezhnev ironically proves.
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