Cover image for Khrushchev : the man and his era
Khrushchev : the man and his era
Taubman, William.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2003]

Physical Description:
xx, 876 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
General Note:
Map on lining papers.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DK275.K5 T38 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
DK275.K5 T38 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
DK275.K5 T38 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
DK275.K5 T38 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
DK275.K5 T38 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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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

Author Notes

William Taubman is Bertrand Snell Professor of Political Science at Amherst College.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Taubman masterfully replicates in his biography of Krushchev the career contrasts expressed by his grave marker--a bust framed half by black stone, half by white. Up to his elbows in blood, Khrushchev will nevertheless go down in history as the denouncer of Stalin. He partially denounced Stalin in the celebrated "secret speech" of 1956, and did so as a maneuver in a power struggle with inveterate Stalinists; however, his revulsion for Stalin's rule was genuine. The paradox of Khrushchev's complicity in the repression and his natural humanity induces Taubman to treat his life as a mirror of the entire Soviet experience. The author observes that the young Khrushchev might have been a successful factory manager but for the revolution. After initial hesitation, he joined the Bolsheviks in 1918 and in a dozen years ascended to Stalin's inner circle, enforcing the boss' edicts in various posts. Ambition, guilt, a true belief in Communism, and self-doubt churned within him, and the effects of his exuberant, tension-filled character, on the cold war and on Soviet domestic affairs up to his overthrow in 1964, close out Taubman's outstandingly composed work, assuredly the reference point for future writings on Khrushchev. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This is the first scholarly biography of Khrushchev. Generally, if Taubman (political science, Amherst College) errs, he errs on the side of kindness towards his subject. Although nothing is hidden, the sharp edges of this controversial and at times brutal man are smoothed off. Taubman shows that Khrushchev was as capable of knifing an opponent as was Stalin himself. Otherwise, he would not have ended up by the side of the dictator's deathbed in 1953. Stalin's brutal regime allowed Khrushchev to rise from humble beginnings, with limited education, to the top of world power. Yet, once he reached the pinnacle as ruler of Russia from 1956 to 1964, he more than anybody else was responsible for the collapse of the system that created him. Taubman sees Khrushchev as a gatekeeper of a historical epoch, with one foot in the bloody Soviet revolution and the other in the perestroika of Gorbachev. The study is an exemplar of scholarship, with an extensive bibliography and index. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. For all public and college libraries. A. Ezergailis Ithaca College

Table of Contents

Note on Russian and Ukrainian Usagep. IX
Prefacep. XI
Introductionp. XVII
1. The Fall: October 1964p. 3
2. Kalinovka's Own: 1894-1908p. 18
3. Making It as a Metalworker: 1908-1917p. 30
4. To Be or Not to Be an Apparatchik: 1918-1929p. 45
5. Stalin's Pet: 1929-1937p. 72
6. Stalin's Viceroy: 1938-1941p. 114
7. Khrushchev at War: 1941-1944p. 147
8. Ukrainian Viceroy Again: 1944-1949p. 179
9. The Heir Nonapparent: 1949-1953p. 208
10. Almost Triumphant: 1953-1955p. 236
11. From the Secret Speech to the Hungarian Revolution: 1956p. 270
12. The Jaws of Victory: 1956-1957p. 300
13. The Wider World: 1917-1957p. 325
14. Alone at the Top: 1957-1960p. 361
15. The Berlin Crisis and the American Trip: 1958-1959p. 396
16. From the U-2 to the UN Shoe: April-September 1960p. 442
17. Khrushchev and Kennedy: 1960-1961p. 480
18. "A Communist Society Will Be Just about Built by 1980": 1961-1962p. 507
19. The Cuban Cure-all: 1962p. 529
20. The Unraveling: 1962-1964p. 578
21. After the Fall: 1964-1971p. 620
Epiloguep. 647
Abbreviationsp. 653
Notesp. 657
Bibliographyp. 793
Glossaryp. 825
Acknowledgmentsp. 827
Indexp. 831