K Blows Top: A Cold War Comic Interlude Starring Nikita Khrushchev, America's Most Unlikely Tourist
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K Blows Top: A Cold War Comic Interlude Starring Nikita Khrushchev, America's Most Unlikely Tourist

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  359 ratings  ·  80 reviews
"Khrushchev's 1959 trip across America was one of the strangest exercises in international diplomacy ever conducted - "a surreal extravaganza," as historian John Lewis Gaddis called it. Khrushchev told jokes, threw tantrums, sparked a riot in a San Francisco supermarket, wowed the coeds in a home economics class in Iowa, and ogled Shirley MacLaine as she filmed a dance sce...more
Hardcover, 327 pages
Published June 2nd 2009 by PublicAffairs (first published April 11th 2009)
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In 1961, when I was eight years-old, two older, seemingly cooler cousins from New Jersey taught me a parody which, at the time, I thought was the funniest thing I had ever heard:

Krushchev, the bald-head Russian,
Had a very shiny head.
And if you ever saw it,
You would even say he's Red.

All of the other Russians
Used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Krushchev
Play in any Russian games.

...and so on.

I memorized that and sang it non-stop on my return home, probably annoying all of my frie...more
I can't believe that I am about to say this, but this book was really, really good! I say that because I am in no way a politically-minded person. I read this book for one reason only: a reading challenge.

When I read the title, which included the word Comic, I wondered how on earth there could be anything comical about this book, communism, politics, or the Cold War. Was I ever wrong! There were so many funny lines and incidents throughout the book that made me either smile, smirk, or laugh alo...more
What is there to say really about a travelogue in which a man so hell-bent on a type of World Domination pays a visit on an unsuspecting nation and in turn proceeds to wreak havoc on everything (and everyone) that he meets there? Well, if that person is Nikita S. Khruschev, Premiere of the Supreme Soviet during the bucolic, idyllic days of the Eisenhower era, you've got yourself one HELL of a story to tell!

The book itself is divided up into three separate sections (or "trips" mind you as the aut...more
Gerald Kinro
Kind of nostalgic for me, as I remember Premier K’s visit to the U.S. Author Carlson takes us back for a behind-the scenes and some not too behind the scenes look at the whole episode. It begins with Nixon’s “Kitchen Debates” in the Soviet Union with the premier. Then comes an accidental invitation that Mr. K accepts. The supporting cast—Host Henery Cabot Lodge, the ambassador to the United Nations, Shirley MaClaine, Marilyn Monroe, and Sinatra augment the comedy of the whole visit. The star its...more
During the height of the cold war Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev spent two madcap weeks exploring 1959 America--kissing babies, hobnobbing with Hollywood stars, touring factories, and setting off riotous media stampedes in an Iowa cornfield and a San Francisco Quality Foods supermarket. Fortunately, Peter Carlson chronicles the whole ridiculous but revealing episode in K Blows Top, a window into the world as it was not so long ago. Khrushchev was alternately charismatic, infuriating, hot-heade...more
Now here's a recently published book that is a fun ride on the time machine! In 1959, when Khrushchev came to the U.S. for the subject trip of this book,I was ten years old -- yet I do remember that it happened, and I especially recall his next trip out when he did the shoe banging at the U.N. (also covered in the book). I and my classmates were terrified that our fates were to be dictated by this world leader whose behaviors surpassed those experienced on certain days each month when we were to...more
Funny account of Khrushchev's two week visit to America during the Eisenhauer presidency. His verbal duels with then Vice President Richard Nixon are documented and make you cringe at the absurdity of world leaders behaving as they do.

I had forgotten that there was a time, not so long ago, that Russia was ahead of us in the space program and some American scientists felt we were substantially behind Russia in research in many areas. This is the atmosphere in which Khruschev takes a very unusual...more
K Blows Top is laugh out-loud hilarious. If you're interested in books on the Cold War this one is a must. It's a great companion to Fred Kaplan's 1959: The Year Everything Changed, another great book. K Blows Top can be read as a sequel to the Kaplan book as it pretty much picks up where that book ends. Not very often do I read a non-fiction book that makes me laugh as this one did. The more you know about the time period, the more you'll appreciate the humor.

It just goes to show how, only now...more
Nikita Khrushchev seems like such an amazing and terrifying character. Journeying across the United States for two weeks in 1959, he seemed to oscillate between manic episodes of hilarity, sullen withdrawal, and livid spurts of rage. Quite frightening considering he was at the helm of the USSR. Khrushchev comes across as smart and funny at his best, and insecure and unhinged at worst. The use of a shoe as a gavel at the United Nations a year later reinforces the later. This book shows his streng...more
Khrushchev tours America in 1959. Here's my favorite quote from this fabulous book: "This trip is like one of those tea parties in Dostoyevsky when everyone meets in apparent comity and then, after three or four minutes, Nikolai Nikolaevich for no discernible reason overturns the boiling samovar on the head of Alexander Alexandrovich. It is a Russian party, elevated only by the possibility that the guest of honor may blow his stack. It is both awesome and deplorable how suddenly Nikita Khrushche...more
K Blows Top is a result of the personal obsession of the newsclip-collecting journalist, Peter Carlson. Ironically, his growing fascination with Khruschev mimicked the effects that K's cult of personality had on Americans during his 1959 tour of the US. Through instances like the press and the publics' maddened clamoring through a California supermarket to get a glimpse of K's perusing of the American grocery experience, Carlson shows the transformation of opinion towards this odd man in the hei...more
Really interesting read!!!
I was 11 years old when the events described in this book took place, so I had only just begun to be interested in politics and world affairs. My memories of the Cold War at this time basically revolved around the 'duck and cover' drills at school and the discussions my friends and I had at recess about what would happen in a nuclear war and which side would 'win'. I found it fascinating to go 54 years back in time via this book to revisit these events with an adult perspective. This was an enor...more
having grown up listening to my very conservative father telling stories of the cold war era, it was refreshing to hear a lighthearted recount of the characters, and they were characters!, involved.

the writing lacked the heavy emotion and ideals my father put into the tales, and simply told the story as it unfolded - an extraordinay visit during an extraordinary time involing extraodinary characters.

i think i would have liked khrushchev, as a person, had i met him briefly and when he was in a go...more
May 23, 2013 Zack rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Zack by: Washington Express
Shelves: read-in-2013
Synopsis: The wacky escapades of the First Chairman of the CPSU abroad in 1950s America.

Thoughts: This book is hilarious, and you know it's true because some of it is absolutely too bizarre to make up. Though the events it covers are frequently overlooked today, wedged between the shame of the Army McCarthy Hearings and the terror of the Cuban Missile Crisis, there was a time when the tantrum-throwing, finger-pointing, Cossack-dancing Premier of the Soviet Union and chief Communist of the whole...more
Mar 23, 2010 Trena rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Enjoyers of Popular Nonfiction
Recommended to Trena by: Washington Post Express
This is a really fun book, a piece of pop history writing about serious historical events. In 1959, Nikita Khruschev, shoe banger, paid a visit to the US after then VP Nixon visited the USSR and held the "kitchen debate" and there was some kind of kerfuffle with a botched invitation meant to carry prerequisites (the prereqs were left off). I never knew what "kitchen debate" referred to--I vaguely thought it had something to do with FDR's kitchen cabinet--but it turns out to have been a discussio...more
In my first semester of college I signed up for a very coveted Freshman seminar titled "Understanding the Cold War." It was a good class. We watched Dr. Strangelove, read Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising, and nearly drowned in a growing body of stuffy academic articles dissecting various aspects of the Cold War. However, shortly after the semester started, some jerks flew planes into the World Trade Center, and "understanding terrorism" relegated "understanding the Cold War" to the realm of "oh, wa...more
So here’s a wacky premise: the by-turns jovial and irascible leader of the United States’ sworn enemy, in the shadow of mutually assured destruction, tours the nation at the personal if accidental invitation of the President, with family and a rabid media circus in tow. Hilarity, with a frisson of doomsday, ensues. Even better? It’s all true.
In 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev embarked on a historic, bicoastal jaunt across the U.S. While the trip culminated in a (not particularly fruitful)...more
This was a very entertaining and enlightening and very extensively researched recounting of the events leading up to Krushchevs 1956 visit to the US (including the "kitchen debate" in Moscow with then vice president Nixon", the actual visit, and the follow up visit a year later when an enraged Kruschev banged his shoe at the UN and buddied up with Castro. As someone who remembers as a child sitting with my mom on the living room couch watching the cuban missile crisis speech and being terrified...more
Margaret Sankey
In 1959, Nikita Khrushchev toured America in a two week bizarro extravaganza. Always on the verge of a temper tantrum and with the threat of nuclear missiles always looming, he was also weirdly charming with women and children and an unexpectedly shrewd manipulator of one of the first network TV ""media events."" Watch as Khrushchev teaches an Iowa State Home Ec class how to make pancakes to catch good husbands, causes a media riot in a San Francisco grocery store while calmly discussing frozen...more
This book was especially refreshing to someone who is interested in Russia, The Cold War and the fall of Soviet Communism...because most books on those subjects are decidedly unfunny. This book is engaging, well-written AND very funny.

K Blows Top is a collection of hilarious stories and anecdotes from Krushchev's visits to the United States, during the Cold War. Krushchev (being THE enemy) was not technically invited to the U.S., but that didn't stop him from having a grand ol' time while here....more
K BLOWS TOP is a very entertaining and strange travelogue detailing the two week journey the Soviet dictator took across the United States in 1959. Khrushchev is kind of a bi-polar guy, one minute pleasant and charming, the next red-faced and screaming at reporters, handlers, flunkies, American politicians, not being allowed to go to Disneyland (seriously) or anyone who gets his goat. All I really knew about him before this was the infamous banging on the shoe at the UN in 1960 or 1961, but this...more
Shawn Kupfer
I'm a fan of the Cold War.

Yeah, I realize that sounds a little odd, but it's when I grew up. I was in a military household, too, so "the Russians" were a common dinner-table discussion. So there's a certain nostalgia there for me, which means I tend to gravitate toward any of the non-fiction from that era.

K Blows Top! is a fun, quick read (not that it's a short book, necessarily -- you just want to see what happens next, so you end up plowing through it) that casts dictator Nikita Khrushchev as...more
Nikita Khruschev wasn't a real popular dude when he planned his visit(s) to the United States. I can't say truthfully that I was a card-carrying member of his fan club either, but I have to say after reading it that I am utterly charmed by the gruff, yet fun loving exterior of K. It's always refreshing to read a humorous side of history, this thoroughly provided that, along with giving another look at our US buddies Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon and Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower. It also provides a snap...more
Khairul H.
An interesting collection of anecdotes of Khrushchev's 'accidental' journey across the United States. It was considered 'accidental' because President Eisenhower offered an open invitation to the Soviet Premier to visit America but with conditions. The American ambassador however forgot to relay those conditions and merely told Khrushchev of Ike's invitation, which Khrushchev immediately accepted. So begins the extraordinary tale of the book.

However, as I have stated above, this book merely foll...more
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Just to set the tone for what you should expect when reading this book, the title, "K Blows Top" comes from the display one Nikita Khrushchev showed when he was told he wasn't allowed to take a tour of Disneyland (I mean who wouldn't blow their top if they couldn't go to Disneyland???).

I love books that talk about some of the more offbeat moments in history and Mr. K visiting the U.S. during the height of the Cold War is one of those almost-too-good-to-be-true moments. The book feels like a lis...more
Maybe I've been spoiled by books like David Denby's and David Hajdu's and others like them to expect a side of analysis, some cultural critique along with my period history. But this lacks that level of insight-- it's true, it's a funny story and well told, but aside from collecting all these stories together, it doesn't seem like Carlson has any deep insight into the personalities involved, or the times the events took place in. I mean, I'm pretty convinced he must, but I wish more of it made i...more
This is an enjoyable read of a quirky trip by the leader of Russian Communism during the height of the Cold War. I'm not I understand why, but this bogged down a bit in the middle for me. Perhaps there was too much set up or perhaps the trip itself really wasn't quite epic enough to comfortably compose a full book. After the initial trip which occurred in 1959, the book also covers Krushchev's follow up trip which resulted in the 'shoe pounding' incident. I actually found that and the follow up...more
Michael Nelson
One of the more entertaining history books I've read. The fact that this guy had his fingers on the nuclear trigger is right out of Dr. Strangelove.
This is truly great book. A rich snapshot of the time period, this well-researched and well-written account immerses the reader in the sights, sounds, hopes, and fears of 1959. At once a detailed historical narrative and a rollicking, comedic adventure, I couldn't wait to find out what was on the next page. By the end, I felt as though I'd known Krushchev personally, for better as well as worse. Necessary reading for anyone interested in understanding the nuances and contradictions of the Cold W...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Strange title 3 30 Jul 29, 2013 03:13AM  
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Peter Carlson is the author of K Blows Top, which has been optioned for a feature film. For 22 years, he was a reporter and columnist for the Washington Post and is now a columnist at American History magazine. He has also written for Smithsonian, Life, People, Newsweek, The Nation, and The Huffington Post. He lives in Rockville, MD.
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