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Khrushchev's Cold War: The Inside Story of an American Adversary Hardcover – October 17, 2006

4.8 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the crowded field of Cold War historiography, Fursenko and Naftali continue to unearth valuable gems from newly available Soviet government documents, a portion of which were first put to use in their history of the 1962 U.S.-Soviet standoff over Cuba (One Hell of a Gamble). Building on increased access to such material, they develop a fascinating picture of the inner dynamics of the Soviet state and its leadership during the Khrushchev era that far surpasses anything U.S. intelligence could manage at the time. They make a convincing case that Khrushchev's major, post-Stalin reorientation of Soviet foreign policy was rooted in competition on the global playing field (and a policy of social regeneration at home), along with a need to cloak the U.S.S.R.'s weaknesses in arms and resources vis-à-vis the U.S. This volatile combination reinforces a strategy of bluffs and brinkmanship in several Cold War crises between 1956 and 1962—in the Middle East, Central Europe and the Caribbean. Yet perhaps most surprisingly, Khrushchev's foreign policy—despite an energy that, when unchecked, "tended toward recklessness"—came with a genuine desire for peaceful coexistence between the superpowers not seen again until Gorbachev. (Oct.)
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"Magisterial... a fascinating tour of foreign policy." Moscow Times "Deeply researched... indispensable for anyone hoping to understand the Cold War's most dangerous phase, and how the world managed to survive it." The New York Times Book Review "[Contains] unsettling insights into some of the most dangerous geopolitical crises of the time." The Economist "...enthralling... I find this book instructive and very dispiriting." Jonathan Mirsky, The Spectator" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1St Edition edition (October 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393058093
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393058093
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,061,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dr. Gerhard Volz on March 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If - and that is a big if (the book is fully 600 pages long - it helps to fall ill when you read it - I did!) - you have the time and want to invest it for obtaining a first class overview over the great power play during the decade between 1955 and 1965 - the Khruschev era - this definitely is the book to read! Its authors not only provide a refreshingly new perspective to the (more or less well-) known events of, i.a., the first Israeli-Egyptian war, the (Soviet) occupation of Hungary and the Cuban missile crisis, they fully succeed in transforming this period of history into a most plausible and very exciting "story", in fact, into something of a "thriller" (in the best sense of the word). It is the story of a great power desperate to come up to its claim to possess or at least to be accorded equal status with the other - even greater - super-power, the United States or, more generally, the "West". In order to achieve that one goal, almost anything would do, even extreme brinkmanship that several times brought the world close to thermonuclear war. Khrushev is shown as a man to have carried within himself the dominating characteristics of the Soviet Union itself, viz., an enormous inferiority complex, trying to combine it with catching any opportunity that would present itself to bring pressure to bear on the other side, even using or better: threatening the use of force, wherever it seemed this might bring political advantage. Fortunately for the world, this mercurial leader who disposed of the means to blow up the world (or at least: great parts of it) was restrained enough (be it on his own reason, be it by his more risk-averse colleagues within the Presidium) not to actually let the world go "over the brink" but to withdraw each time at the last moment.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Aleksandr Fursenko & Timothy Naftali's KHRUSHCHEV'S COLD WAR is an account of the major incidents of the Cold War from 1955-1964 told primarily from the Soviet (and specifically Khrushchev's) perspective. What distinguishes this book is that instead of relying on interviews and memoirs and third-party reporting, the authors have accessed contemporaneous notes and minutes taken at the meetings of the Politburo (Presidium), that handful of men who actually made the decisions guiding Soviet policy during this time. In other words, they get their data straight from the horse's mouth, untainted with revision and wishful thinking.

This makes for startling reading. For those of us used to seeing history in broad terms as a somewhat logical result of competing forces (political, military, moral, economic and cultural), this book provides a bucket of icy water in the face. The drivers of policy were all too often not reasonable responses to existing circumstances but irrational, thoughtless, ill-considered and unrealistic reactions based on hubris, petulance and plain stupidity. Khrushchev was clueless (perhaps we already suspected this). But so too was the entire Politburo (less predictable). And so too were the Western leaders--de Gaulle and Eden in particular; Adenauer also; Ike and JFK come through a little better, although far from unscathed.

This last is especially troubling. In authoritarian regimes thugs and idiots rise naturally to the top, but in developed Western democracies the system should inculcate a certain rationality in leadership, something mandated by the need to respond to the will of the electorate.

Which of course brings us to today. The Suez debacle and Iraq have obvious parallels.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Edward Crankshaw, Khrushchev's British biographer, acknowledged the Soviet leader's various faults, but noted that, although "rough, domineering, violent, sometimes vindictive, boastful, filled with peasant cunning, quite uneducated in the conventional sense, and with a mind that was never fully trained, [Khrushchev] nevertheless embodied certain qualities of character, imagination, perhaps even humility, which set him apart from his colleagues and above all of them." Despite traits acquired from the Soviet system of which he was a product, in his later years, Khrushchev occasionally showed signs of being "a courageous statesman with flashes of deep wisdom, who in other circumstances might have become an outstanding world figure held in wide respect."

Khrushchev's Cold War provides a somewhat less favorable portrait of the Soviet leader. Its emphasis is not on the contrast between Khrushchev's good and bad instincts, but rather on his ironic policy of confrontation with the West in order to make the USSR more like the West--in terms of military power, standard of living, and perhaps even provision for peaceful transfer of political power within the Soviet Union. Authors Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali have produced a massive, but very readable, 670-page volume (including 74 pages of annotation and a 45-page index). Fursenko was chairman of the history department of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Naftali, the former director of the Presidential Recordings Project at the University of Virginia, subsequently served as director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, and as a consultant to the 9/11 Commission.
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