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Khrushchev: The Man and His Era

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  550 ratings  ·  39 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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Apr 08, 2012 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
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 ete une masse de contradictions. Ses etudes ont fini dans ses annees adolescentes mais il a t
Steve Kettmann
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
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
Linda Schell
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
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
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
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
Jun 19, 2009 Marty rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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
Antonio Nunez
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
Zeb Larson
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.
Andy Tischaefer

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
Chris Schaffer
Some of the parts were a little long winded and tedious but I pretty much liked it.
Kai Palchikoff
Nov 16, 2014 Kai Palchikoff is currently reading it
Shelves: biography
Pulitzer 2003
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.
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.
H Wesselius
More than a biography, its a description of an entire era from the revolution to Brezshev. From Krushchev's perspective we get a different view of life under Stalin and the Cold War. Well worth the time if you have the time to read 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.
The book lives up to its ambitious title. I'd give it a Pulitzer too. I'd recommend doing a fair amount of reading on Stalin before attempting this book, though. Montefiore's Stalin bio at least.
The amount of detail put into this book is totally amazing. If you've ever wanted a look into what true Soviets wanted for their country, this book will show you.
Jānis Būmanis
Labs, pamatīgs darbs par visnotaļ pretrunīgu un sarežģītu personību un dzīvesstāstu. Nedaudz nepatika, tas, ka brīžiem radās sajūta ka autors cenšas Hruščovu attaisnot
This was one of the 2004 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to
Great insight into an historical figure that doesn't get that much attention. It's an interesting, albeit long, look at a central figure in Soviet history.
Aaron Jordan
Outstanding historical research. Well-deserving of the Pulitzer. An excellent book for anyone interested in the history of the Cold War.
Jul 20, 2007 Otto added it
Biography by a political scientist and a historian, not a communist or a capitalist. Sometimes harsh but usually fair.
Heavily footnoted & exhaustive to the point of exhausting . . . in other words, just the way I like it.
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