The New York Times
Taubman has made use of materials from over two dozen Russian and American archives, of more than 70 personal interviews (including ones with Khrushchev's children, grandchildren, in-laws and other relatives), of published and unpublished memoirs, innumerable newspaper and magazine articles, even Soviet newsreels. The list of published books and articles consulted by the author extends across 13 pages. This volume, with its brisk, enjoyable narrative, succeeds in every sense: sweep, depth, liveliness, color, tempo. Each chapter shines with mastery and authority. — Aron Leon
William Taubman's moumental. long-awaited biography of Nikita Khrushchev is the most important book on Khrushchev to appear in English since the deposed Soviet leader's own memoirs in 1970. It is rich in analysis and factual detail, shedding new light both on Khrushchev's life and on the Soviet state.
The New York Review of Books
Khrushchev has been the subject of a long shelf full of books but never, until now, a comprehensive and authoritative biography. William Taubman, a professor of political science at Amherst College, has filled that gap with a masterpiece of scholarship, investigation and narrative. He has, as his subtitle promises, brought alive Khrushchev and his era. He has also established the salient connections between that momentous story and the drama underway in Russia today.The Los Angeles Times
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.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Few have written a political biography that better captures both a historic figure and the history of which he was a part. Taubman's towering work is stunning not only for its scale and diligence every aspect checked and cross-checked, no source neglected but for the skill with which he reconstructs what is essentially a history of Soviet politics during a key phase. Khrushchev, from his peasant coal-miner childhood through his rocket-like rise as a young apparatchik in the 1920s and 1930s to his place at the top of the post-Stalin heap, was the essence of a middle-aged Soviet regime. At once bumptious, clever, ruthless, idealistic, personally insecure, and politically bold, Khrushchev embodied as much as guided the system. But guide he did, from the assault on the Stalin cult, through the 1956 East European uprising, the Berlin confrontations, and the Cuban missile crisis. In the retelling, Taubman adds a wealth of behind-the-scenes detail. The book is a gift, as fascinating as it is important.
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
Communist murderer, reluctant despot—or pretty good guy? The answer that emerges from this complex, massive, but engagingly written study: all of the above. Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), suggests Taubman (Political Science/Amherst College), was less paradoxical than opportunistic. "A study in unresolved contrasts," he had a survivor’s gift for being in the right place at the right time and a strong sense of how to avoid trouble though constantly beset by it. Indeed, he was frequently in danger during the first decades of his long career; amazingly, as Taubman documents, he was one of the few one-time (if short-time) followers of Trotsky not to have been murdered at Stalin’s orders, and despite remarkable failures at many turns—including the disastrous Kharkov feint against the invading Nazi forces, which cost the Red Army 267,000 casualties—he managed to avoid the firing squad time and again. Khrushchev enthusiastically endorsed the liquidation of the regime’s enemies, though he was tormented in his final years by his complicity in murder; he crushed freedom movements in Hungary, Poland, and East Germany, though he set in motion some democratizing efforts in his own country that Gorbachev and Yeltsin would fulfill three decades later; and he made every effort to educate and cultivate himself, fostering the arts even while heavily censoring the likes of Boris Pasternak, another of many acts he would come to regret. Taubman shows us Khrushchev in all his guises, revealing a man far different from the shoe-banging clod of Western media caricature. The account of Khrushchev’s masterful destruction of secret policeman Lavrenty Beria, his chief rival to become Stalin’s successor, revealsastonishing Machiavellian powers that Khrushchev had hitherto carefully concealed. Taubman’s analysis of Khrushchev’s eventual fall before what amounted to a right-wing coup is similarly masterful, supplementing the partial record Khrushchev left in his own memoirs and making good use of newly declassified documents from Soviet archives. Altogether superb: an essential study of power and its corruptions and contradictions.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Thanks to Taubman, one of the most important figures of the 20th century finally has the biography he deserves. Strobe Talbott
Masterful and monumental...one should salute its author for a wonderful achievement. Robert G. Kaiser
New York Times Book Review
A portrait unlikely to be surpassed any time soon in either richness or complexity....shines with mastery and authority. Leon Aron
Strobe Talbott - Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Thanks to Taubman, one of the most important figures of the 20th century finally has the biography he deserves.”
Robert G. Kaiser - Washington Post
“Masterful and monumental...one should salute its author for a wonderful achievement.”
Leon Aron - New York Times Book Review
“A portrait unlikely to be surpassed any time soon in either richness or complexity....shines with mastery and authority.”