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Khrushchev: The Man and His Era

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating Details ·  830 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
The definitive biography of the mercurial Soviet leader who succeeded and denounced Stalin. Nikita Khrushchev was one of the most complex and important political figures of the twentieth century. Ruler of the Soviet Union during the first decade after Stalin's death, Khrushchev left a contradictory stamp on his country and on the world. His life and career mirror the Sovie ...more
Paperback, 896 pages
Published April 17th 2004 by W. W. Norton Company (first published March 1st 2003)
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John Taylor
May 16, 2016 John Taylor rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. Fascinating insights about the man and Russia. Khrushchev was born in 1894 and he was an eye witness to the Bolshevik Revolution, the two world wars, the cold war, the crisis in Berlin and the crisis in Cuba. A man of bluster, energy and high hopes for the communist dream, he helped bring the USSR down when he condemned Stalin, after his death, for the atrocities and false imprisonments of millions he suspected of standing in his way. Damage to the image of Stalin was something c ...more
Jul 23, 2012 Jerome rated it it was amazing
A vivid, lively and readable biography of Khrushchev, a man known for his colorful, crude, and seemingly un-statesmanlike conduct. Taubman provides a good deal of insight into the man’s interesting personality, and the various traits that made him both obviously human and also rather repellant. The Soviet style of government can be understood in two different ways---authoritarian and centralized (Lenin and Stalin), with a strong and colorful leader at the top, and as a more corporate, Politburo- ...more
Frank Stein
Feb 03, 2017 Frank Stein rated it liked it
It's debatable whether or not Nikita Khrushchev ever banged his shoe at the United Nations Assembly in 1960. There are photos of him pounding the lectern with his fists, and reports of him waving the shoe, but some say he never smacked it down. The irony, as William Taubman points out in this Pulitzer Prize winning biography, is that the young Khrushchev was tormented by his lack of shoes as a child, and that the moment that came to define him in the history as a rustic vulgarian, also demonstra ...more
Apr 01, 2014 Joe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
For many of us “Russian common-man” Nikita Khrushchev was the first “human face” of Soviet leadership – Lenin a grainy figure from newsreels or a corpse on display in a tomb; Josef Stalin a phantom figure seen with FDR and Churchill in pictures. In one news-clip breath Khrushchev was grinning gap-toothed from one jug-ear to the other, and in the next moment slamming his shoe down on his desk at the UN. To label Mr. Khrushchev mercurial is an understatement. He was a bundle of insecurities; who f ...more
Jul 13, 2008 John marked it as to-read
Shelves: soviet-history
After p. 180
I am not sure that I can read much more of this book. To be sure Taubman's book is a splendid example of the biographer's art and craft, fully deserving of the aclaim and prizes, including the Pulitzer, that various critics bestowed, etc., etc. It's just that the subject is so very uninteresting.
I have read tens of biographies of Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, and Bukharin, among the many Old Bolsheviks whose fascinating lives are told and documented in wonderfully engaging and powerful bo
Czarny Pies
Sep 19, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it really liked it
Shelves: european-history
Cette biographie a bien merite son prix Pulitzer. Il est base sur des recherches approfondies et presente un analyse nuance de ce courageux chef Sovietique qui a mis fin aux pires abus de Stalinisme et qui a essaye d'ouvrir un dialogue avec les pays de l'ouest. Essentiellement le lecteur trouve un communiste pur et dur qui voulait le communisme soit humaine et qui etait convaincu que c'etait.

Khruschev a été une masse de contradictions. Ses études ont fini dans ses années adolescentes mais il a t
Antonio Nunez
Jul 11, 2013 Antonio Nunez rated it it was amazing
Khruschev spent all his life trying to get out of the Vozhd's shadow. Stalin made him what he was, and, until the end of his life, he ran from his legacy, while at the same time continuing to indulge in many of its ways. For a very long time Kruschev has been a walk-on character in the Stalin biographies (particularly egregiously in Volkogonov's "Autopsy of an Empire", where everyone after Stalin is a let-down). Stalin was so exceptional (and I'm not saying this as praise: rather the opposite) t ...more
Steve Kettmann
Apr 27, 2010 Steve Kettmann rated it really liked it
My review published in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003:

A foul mouth that shaped history

Reviewed by Steve Kettmann

Sunday, April 27, 2003


The Man and His Era

By William Taubman

NORTON; 768 Pages; $35
Short, fat and crude, Nikita Khrushchev was an enigma to President Kennedy and his advisers during the tense days of the Cuban missile crisis and remains an enigma to this day.

If William Taubman never really comes to terms with that enigma in this faultlessly researched biography, "Khrushch
Joshua Treviño
Aug 14, 2008 Joshua Treviño rated it really liked it
It seems ungenerous to criticize William Taubman's "Khrushchev," not least because it's about the only Khrushchev biography in English to speak of. Still, it is important to explore what this book is not: it is not a portrait of Soviet life; it is not an exploration of Communism (though there's plenty of information on that topic); and it is not, alas, a particularly great straight biography of Nikita Khrushchev. The book is disappointingly thin in sections where one hopes it will be rich with h ...more
Andrew Myers
Mar 23, 2017 Andrew Myers rated it it was amazing
Probably one of the best biographies I've ever read. Great author, really knows how to weave it all together.
Jun 26, 2009 Shawn rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Interest in modern history
I really enjoyed this biography. He was an odd willy chap to say the least. Starts with him growing up and working in the mines, and receiving the equivalent of a fourth grade education. Up through Stalin, WWII, Stalin's death, his rise and fall.

A lot seemed to be glossed over, but at 908 pages, one could not cover all, in detail. He somehow survived Stalin, and was continually underestimated, and thought dull, which he worked to his advantage. He was briefly a Trotsky follower, and may be the o
John Melvin
Mar 10, 2017 John Melvin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This book provides a sense not only of who Khrushchev was but also of the history of the Soviet Union, it's system and other leaders.
Seth J. Vogelman
Feb 26, 2017 Seth J. Vogelman rated it really liked it
A bit tedious but a good overview of the man and his complexities.
Jul 24, 2014 Owain rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
The book was okay but I could have done without the blatant political bias and journalistic spin. The most interesting facts for me was that Krushchev spent his younger life working in coal mines in a place called Yuzovka which was named after a Welsh Capitalist by the name of Hughes (Y is exchanged for H in Russian apparently) a region that has long been ethnically Russian, like the Crimea, and is now known as Donetsk-as in the People's Republic of Donestk- where a lot of the fighting has been ...more
Aaron Million
Exhaustively researched biography about an almost-forgotten leader of Russia's past. Taubman really has command of his material throughout the book; the copious notes section at the back is almost another book in itself. When considering how secretive, paranoid, and suspicious Russia is of any Westerner, it is somewhat of a miracle that Taubman was able to locate as many sources of research as he did, and get quite a few people to agree to on-the-record interviews.

The book starts out with Khrus
Bill Yeadon
Nov 27, 2016 Bill Yeadon rated it really liked it
Having Khrushchev in the evening news so frequently during my formative years made this book I really looked forward to reading. Parts of it were very difficult to read, especially trying to figure out why he was known under two different last names.

Khruschev was complex, to say the least. He loved to refer to himself as just a simple peasant, but when someone else inferred this idea he was upset. Khrushchev was one of the few people that survived so many years under Stalin. He had conflicts abo
Jul 15, 2008 Graham added it
Well deserved Pulitzer prize winner: This is a splendidly detailed and expertly researched biography, while still being eminently readable. It brings out the enormous strengths and exuberant humanity of its subject, as well as his fatal weaknesses, hypocrisies and explosive tendency to alienate those who politically could have been his allies, e.g. the intelligentsia. I am always sorry for him when I read accounts of his ouster, though (one minor flaw) the material on that is all at the beginnin ...more
Jun 19, 2009 Marty rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in modern political history
Recommended to Marty by: The New Republic review
A fascinating examination of the middle period of the Soviet era through the life of a man who rose, via the revolution, from the very bottom of Russian society to its pinnacle. Once there, Khrushchev struggles with the price he--and countless others--paid for him to get there. He tries to undo the damage and make an unworkable system function. He never surmounts the insecurities of his hardscrabble rural origin and lack of education. Navigating Stalin's terror and coming out the other end was a ...more
Linda Schell
Jul 18, 2014 Linda Schell rated it really liked it
Khrushchev, the man whose life's desire was to be an engineer, is a true dichotomy as his recently and belatedly erected black and white monument in Russia implies. Yes, he was complicit in Stalinist crimes. Nevertheless, he was more human than many world leaders today, and more human than most of his contemporaries. Khrushchev was a product of his time. If he had not been brutal, he, his family and his friends would not have survived, leaving more brutal and ruthless leaders to grab his positio ...more
Jul 26, 2011 Steve rated it it was amazing
It took a while -- it is a good-sized book, as I did most of the reading while commuting on trains. But the only reason I put the book down was to transfer from train to subway to bus. To get the perspective of Khrushchev on the what occurred in Soviet World War II, through the Stalin purges and denunciation and the Cuban Crisis was expected and was well done.

Taubman went well beyond the expected. You got to read and learn about the man and how he danced on the edge of political life in the Sta
Sep 21, 2015 Leonardo marked it as to-keep-ref
Shelves: rusia
Realmente, ¿no fue la posterior suerte de Kruschev (destituido en 1964) una prueba de la ocurrencia de Oscar Wilde de que si uno dice la verdad, tarde o temprano se verá atrapado? El análisis de Sartre, no obstante, se queda corto en un punto fundamental: el informe de Kruschev sí tuvo un traumático impacto; incluso «si estaba hablando en nombre del sistema» –«la máquina estaba sana, pero su principal operador no lo estaba; este saboteador había aliviado al mundo de su presencia y todo iba a fun ...more
Bruce Hesselbach
Oct 09, 2016 Bruce Hesselbach rated it really liked it
Taubman reveals great insight into a controversial figure. Overall the book does an excellent job of explaining how Khrushchev led through triumphs and failures. Khrushchev appears to be something of an "I Claudius" figure in that Stalin and others let him live, thinking he was just an amusing buffoon, and no real threat, when actually he was far more capable and dangerous than others suspected. There are two things the book could have done better. First, the WWII battles featured in the book co ...more
Jan 13, 2015 Sunil rated it it was amazing
Almost 10 years after I first read the book, the history it outlines is still fresh in my mind. Notably this reads like the work of a man who has dedicated his life to understanding one subject- minutely chronicling Khruschev's life- as a young man, rejection by some of his love interests, eventual rise, a tendency to suck up to his master (Stalin), a shrewd 'confession' during the purges, eventual battles against the likes of Beria (author wonders if Beria was double crossed by him), his own te ...more
Oct 13, 2013 Godlarvae rated it really liked it
Andy Tischaefer
Mar 02, 2015 Andy Tischaefer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This was exactly what I wanted when I set out to read more biographies this year. I learned a ton. Humbling read. I can't believe how little I knew of the details of the Communist revolution, rule under Stalin, and rule under Krushchev.

Really good book. The only thing I didn't like about it was the author's tendency to jump around in time. A chapter would cover a certain time period (say, 57-59) but would sometimes jump around within that time period. I think it was to aid in the narrative
May 01, 2012 Cat rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
All pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others. A lengthy (very!) and depressing look at Communism under Stalin, and the rise of Khrushchev. When Khrushchev is the best of the bunch, you really figure someone needs to go back to the drawing board...

Anywho, an excellent biography by Taubman, a look at the history of that time in the Soviet Union, the politics between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. The caveat--it's an information dense book, not read quickly or easily.
Victor Gotisan
Dec 14, 2016 Victor Gotisan rated it really liked it
Întotdeauna am fost curios ce a fost în capul celui care i-a luat locul lui Stalin. Cum este să vii după cineva care tăia și spânzura în stânga și dreapta? Printre altele, Hrușciov e personajul istoric preferat. Iar Taubman chiar l-a desenat frumos. De aia și s-a pricopsit cu un Pulitzer pentru acest volum.
Aug 05, 2012 Vladimir.serbin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is always interesting to hear "other" opinions about the historical events. In this case an American about the Soviet Russia. One can count on a certain independence - in contrary to the books written by Russian authors. The book gives a chance to look at the realities of the time via the prism of a personal fate, which makes the book more interesting to read.
Zeb Larson
Mar 07, 2014 Zeb Larson rated it it was amazing
The big question I was left with was how Khrushchev managed to hang on to power for ten years, or if bureaucratic inertia kept him on top more than anything else.
Taubman portrays Nikita as a clever man undermined by his own impatience and volubility. A good read and certainly very well written.
Aug 07, 2011 Phil rated it liked it
When I first tried reading the book, I just couldn't get interested in it. So I stopped reading it. I went back a couple of months later and finished it. Liked it better, but still was not enthusiastic about it.
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