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Khrushchev: The Man and His Era Paperback – April 17, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 94 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Amherst College political science professor Taubman's thorough and nuanced account is the first full-length American biography of Khrushchev-and will likely be the definitive one for a long time. Russians, Taubman explains, are still divided by Khrushchev's legacy, largely because of the great contradiction at the heart of his career: he worked closely with Stalin for nearly 20 years, approved thousands of arrests and executions, and continued to idolize the dictator until the latter's death. Yet it was Khrushchev who publicly revealed the enormity of Stalin's crimes, denounced him, and introduced reforms that, Taubman argues, "allowed a nascent civil society to take shape"-eventually making way for perestroika. Taubman untangles the fascinating layers of deception and self-deception in Khrushchev's own memoir, weighing just how much the leader was likely to have known about the purges and his own culpability in them. He also shows that shadows of Stalinism lingered through Khrushchev's 11 years in power: his fourth-grade education left him both awed and threatened by the Russian intelligentsia, which he persecuted; intending to de-escalate the Cold War, the mercurial, blustering first secretary ended up provoking dangerous standoffs with the U.S. The bumbling, equivocal speeches quoted here make Khrushchev seem a rank amateur in international affairs-or, as Taubman politely puts it, he had trouble "thinking things through." Working closely with Khrushchev's children, and interviewing his surviving top-level Central Committee colleagues and aides, Taubman has pieced together a remarkably detailed chronicle, complete with riveting scenes of Kremlin intrigue and acute psychological analysis that further illuminates some of the nightmarish episodes of Soviet history. 32 pages of photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

There has been a surprising paucity of information produced about the baby boomers' biggest bogeyman. During the 1960s, Khrushchev's bluster and missile rattling jangled the nerves of a generation of Americans fearing a nuclear holocaust. Khrushchev's antics and methods provided the basis for Soviet behavior for the next 20 years and sowed the seeds of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Taubman (political science, Amherst Coll.; Stalin's America Policy, Moscow Spring) has produced a massive biography that is both psychologically and politically revealing. According to Taubman, Khrushchev's rise in the Bolshevik party and patronage by Stalin can be partially laid to Stalin's diminutive stature. Though only 5'6", he still towered comfortably over Khrushchev at 5'1". Drawing on newly opened archives, Taubman threads together all the unanswered questions that Americans have, e.g., why did Khrushchev de-Stalinize Russia, and was Khrushchev himself implicated in Stalin's terrors? The shoe-banging incident, the Berlin Wall, Sputnik, and the Cuban Missile Crisis are all woven together with the accuracy of an academic and the style of a writer. Recommended for all public, academic, and special libraries.
Harry Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Syst., Iola
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 896 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (April 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780393324846
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393324846
  • ASIN: 0393324842
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #300,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David J. Gannon on March 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
One of the less commented upon consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union--an event that, in many ways, Nikita Khruschev set in motion--is the access into Russian documents and society the event has provided to historians trying to understand and document various aspects of the Soviet Communist experience. It is unlikely a book such as this could ever have been written before the collapse. One can only hope many more like it are in the offing.
Using access to documentation about and personalities surrounding Khruschev, Professor Taubman has written what will surely stand as the definitive Khruschev biography for a long time to come. Professor Taubman has vividly captured the essence of Khruschev-the insecure bombastic and idiosyncratic nature of this truly unique historical figure who owed both his rise as well as his fall to his love-hate relationship with Stalin, the man who he supported wholeheartedly and then denounced and debunked. The boo does a marvelous job of providing an insight into the truly ethnic Russian aspects of Khruschev's personality and behavior-his passions, his profanity, his impulsiveness-aspects that at once render him all too human in both genuinely sympathetic and concomitantly repulsive ways.
Khrushchev represents an intermediary between the cult-of-personality communism of Lenin and Stalin and the more corporate, politburo oriented communism of the Brezhnev/Andropov era. Professor Taubman also provides clear-cut and insightful analysis of Khrushchev's role in this area as well. Moreover, all of this is deftly presented within the context of the wider Soviet and international political events of the times.
Well written and very well paced for a genuinely scholarly historical work. This is one of the best biographies I have read in many, many years.
A brilliant effort.
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Format: Paperback
Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev was a `simple' man. He was also an extraordinarily complex man full of internal contradictions and conflicts. The child of peasants, Khrushchev had only four years of formal education. Yet he rose up from the ranks of the proletariat (perhaps the only Soviet leader with true proletarian roots) to become the leader of one of the superpowers of the 20th century. William Taubman's meticulously researched and beautifully written, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, unravels the complexities of this `simple' soul.

Khrushchev the leader was everywhere during my cold-war youth. I grew up with images of his `kitchen debate' with then Vice President Nixon and his shoe banging episode at the United Nations. Khrushchev's alleged threat to bury the U.S. (he never actually said as much) was common knowledge even to children of the era and may explain my wearing a Khrushchev mask one Halloween while trick or treating.

Since his departure from the world stage in 1964, neither history nor historians have paid much attention to Khrushchev. Historians continue to pay far more attention to Lenin, Stalin, and even Trotsky than to Khrushchev and no one has ever really managed to take an extended look at the man behind that Halloween mask. William Taubman has, in one fell swoop, managed to balance the scales.

Taubman follows the normal chronological outlines of Khrushchev's life and times. As one would expect we begin with his impoverished childhood in the Donbass coal mining region of Russia.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Taubman's biography of Khrushchev is immensely readable, emphasizing the personal aspects of the dictator's life. It is the portrait of a man temperamentally unsuited to lead a great nation. Nevertheless, Khrushchev emerges as more human than the other dictators during the Soviet experiement, and most readers are likely to feel a grudging affection toward him.
Taubman begins with a quick summary of Khrushchev's childhood and quick rise in the Communist Party apparatus under Stalin. Seemingly unambitious, often to the point of evading promotion, Khrushchev thrived and survived during the worst of the Stalin era. After Stalin's death, Khrushchev adeptly asserted himself over supposedly stronger rivals to wield primary power by 1956.
Taubman doesn't give a complete, detailed account of Soviet domestic and foreign policy during the Khrushchev era, but concentrates instead on several key events: The Secret Speech, the Invasion of Hungary, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is also a fairly detailed account of Khrushchev's troubled and ambivalent relationship with artists and intellectuals, which reveals him at his worst, often devoid of elementary self-control.
Despite his blustering threats and personal vulgarity, Khrushchev was in many respects admirable and likeable, and it is hard to read of his ouster and lonely retirement without sympathy.
In Taubman's account Khrushchev suffered from an inferiority complex based on his lack of education and culture. I'd like to suggest an additional explanation for his intemperate behavior. I believe Taubman's biography shows Khrushchev as a basically decent man who wanted the party and government to which he'd dedicated his life to succeed. Not a cynical careerist like most of his colleagues, Khrushchev may have been stricken more by doubt about the system he represented than about his own capabilities.
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