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The Year I Was Peter the Great: 1956—Khrushchev, Stalin’s Ghost, and a Young American in Russia

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  93 ratings  ·  23 reviews
A chronicle of the year that changed Soviet Russia—and molded the future path of one of America's pre-eminent diplomatic correspondents

1956 was an extraordinary year in modern Russian history. It was called “the year of the thaw”—a time when Stalin’s dark legacy of dictatorship died in February only to be reborn later that December. This historic arc from rising hope to cr
Kindle Edition, 289 pages
Published October 10th 2017 by Brookings Institution Press
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3.87  · 
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 ·  93 ratings  ·  23 reviews

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victor harris
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-history
Kalb arrived at a turbulent time in Soviet history. It was when Khruschev denounced Stalin and the purported " thaw" was commencing. Unfortunately it was also at the time when the Hungarian rebellion was crushed. As he had unusual access to historical documents and the Russian people across much of the country and "republics", it was interesting how programmed so many of the people were, and how convinced they were of the inevitability of the success of communism. There were a number of outburst ...more
Peter S
Oct 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I think journalists, people who enjoy 20th century history, and those who are interested in Eastern Europe/Former Soviet Union will all love this book.

Although I have not read many memoirs, I cannot imagine that there are many much better than this one. Kalb is a fantastic writer who has truly riveting stories to tell.

I especially enjoyed chapters 8-12. In these chapters he discusses his run ins with Khruschev himself and Zhukov (Russia’s hero of WWII), as well as his journeys to central Asia
Norman Brewer
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Marvin Kalb’s The Year I was Peter the Great recounts 1956, “the year of the thaw” in the Soviet Union, when Khrushchev denounced Stalin only to soon mimic his ruthlessness by crushing the Hungarian Revolution.
The book’s title came from Khrushchev’s jocular nickname for Kalb, then a young attache at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. His goal of being a diplomatic correspondent was just a glimmer on the horizon as he built his resume as a doctoral candidate at Harvard.
Kalb achieved that dream, and his
Matthew Moody
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My first book on anything USSR, and I loved it. The writing is concise, and paced so well I finished the book in days. This is accomplished by having a delightful blend of detail and story. My favorite moments were always the conversations with Soviet citizens. All of them shared the anti-war sentiment, something we forget perhaps too often. Another excellent piece is when Kalb enters the synagogue in Kiev and connects with a man who knew his grandfather, very heartwarming. I was unaware of just ...more
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I found this to be a fascinating read. I remember Marvin Kalb and his brother Bernard Kalb as foreign reporters for NBC and CBS along with the giants Edward R Murrow, Eric Sevareid, etc. The author paints a very descriptive picture of that crucial year (1956) in current Russian history. He had the benefit of being at the embassy in Moscow after having competed extensive college studies in Russian history and the Russian language, so he could interact and interpret what the Russians, all the way ...more
Marina Turner
May 21, 2018 rated it it was ok

The book first turned me off because it was so author-centric. I should have predicted that since it's a memoir, but it took away from the experience. There were some interesting parts and I do feel like I learned some about the culture in the year of the thaw, but considering how many great books are available would not choose this one again. However, I may seek further reading on related topics. Might just need to avoid the memoir structure for my taste.
Dec 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting book, about a very interesting year in the Soviet Union. It is also considerably nostalgic (for me, at least) as it takes place during the great days of CBS news, when Murrow was their star and Walter Cronkite was the up-and-coming new guy. It also depicts what may be the story of a lost America, where upward mobility was possible for a bright kid who went to CCNY with no money but lots fo talent.
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very readable analysis of "the year of the thaw" in Russia....1956. Kalb spent a year in Russia, translating documents for the US Embassy while working on his dissertation on an obscure Russian writer. He had many opportunities to talk with ordinary Russians during this pivotal time in their politics. Well worth the read.
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very clear, prescient, and observant first-hand account from someone who was lucky to be in the Soviet Union as an American during the year of the thaw. Dawdles a little long on foreign policy at times, but I really felt like I was getting a front-seat view into a forbidden world. Important reading as relations fray again between the two countries.
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
I thought this book Needed some tighter editing. I really did not need to know about city college’s great basketball team in a book about Russia. It’s a book of brushes with famous people, ideological arguments with commoners and a travelogue. Then again, where else are you going to read about meeting Khrushchev and Edward R Murrow?
Lynda Buck
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
...Wow!!.. Marvin Kalb has written a memoir that reveals a time in Russian history that thoroughly relates to today's world...You are there as he explores a culture and beliefs that are still an enigma to ours...I am looking forward to reading more of his books...Thankfully, there are many more of them ..
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
My interest in The Soviet Union in the late 50s is not strong enough to make this an interesting read, but that is my fault, nor the author’s. I had hoped he had met Khrushchev more than once, but alas, he did not. It has many moments as a travelogue and as an account of a scholar trying to find original sources, but politically it lost me.
Mar 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs, history
Fascinating memoire of Bernard Kalb's year in Russia during the "1956 thaw", Polish and
Hungarian uprisings. His conversations with ordinary Russians provide insight into the Russia's culture, world view and dissatisfaction with the status quo. "Kostya understood that something was profoundly wrong with Russia's system of government. He did not want to repudiate the system . . . But he did want to see fundamental reform. He did not know quite how to define the reform, nor how to achieve it, but h
Janet Daprato
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent book/ memoir. Only downside is that in places it is like reading a history book, but the personal parts make up for it. Marvin Kalb is a true to form journalist and his only agenda is to learn and communicate. It is relevant to anyone interested in Russian history, as well as history of socialism and communism.
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Delightful. As a young man, Kalb spent a year in Russia during the tumultuous transition from Stalin to Khrushchev. He found ways to engage with regular citizens as well as officials and leaders. His own fascinating career flowed from this experience, and it's a story entertainingly told. The first of a projected 3 volume memoir, it closes back in the US in a meeting with Edward R Murrow. Fun!
May 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended to anyone who wants to read a kind and respectful human account of a foreigner's experience in the USSR and a no-nonsense harsh analysis of Soviet politics at the same time. A rare combination, actually.
Dec 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I've always enjoyed 20th century Russian history and this book doesn't disappoint. Kalb writes about his experiences during an important year in Russian history, the year of "the thaw". Well written with a love for his subject.
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book provided good information about the process of change in Russia.
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, history, nonfiction
All of the conversations are written like they came from an old Russian novel.
Terry Earley
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-request
What a fascinating and insightful memoir. I have a newfound interest and respect for Kalb, and am looking forward to reading his other books, starting with "Imperial Gamble".
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Thank you to Anastasia A. for giving us this book. It provides a personal look inside the Soviet Union when Khrushev came to power.
Nov 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I would rather have given it a 3.75 but only because it is a little dry.
James Voorhees
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Marvin Kalb spent 1956 in Moscow. A putative scholar, working on his PhD at Harvard, he spent the year translating the Soviet press for the State Department. It was a fateful year for the Soviet Union, the year of The Thaw. It began with Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin in February; it ended after Soviet tanks squashed the Hungarian Revolution.

Kalb was not yet a reporter, but he showed the instincts of a reporter, talking to anyone he met, keeping his notebook open. And he got ordinary peopl
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