The man who was going to bury usIt is hard to remember, but 40 years ago, when the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev said “We will bury you,” and “Your grandchildren will live under communism,” some in the West thought he might be right. Communism, for all its terrors, had moved a backward, peasant Russia an enormous distance. Khrushchev’s Soviet Union ended Stalinist terror and became the first nation to put an astronaut into space, the first to send a rocket to the moon. It seemed to have the barbarian vigor to deal ruthlessly with obstacles, yet it bristled with problem-solving energy.
Yet Khrushchev was shockingly crude. He publicly berated colleagues and subordinates. At the United Nations he banged his shoe on the table to underline his point. His adventurism in putting missiles into Cuba almost tipped the world into nuclear war. Khrushchev’s “hare-brained schemes” and his countrymen’s embarrassment over his boorishness eventually brought him down, and the Soviet Union began its long decline.
William Taubman’s “Khrushchev: The Man and His Era” is the first full biography of Khrushchev since the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991. In addition to newly opened archives, Taubman has been able to interview a slew of Khrushchev’s associates ranging from cooks to former Kremlin power brokers. After so many years of enforced silence, his sources were eager to talk.
The result is as scholarly as anyone could desire, yet in swift-moving, supple prose Taubman spins a fascinating narrative about a man he admits to viewing with “both a special affection and special disdain.”
Russians cannot, even yet, make up their minds about Khrushchev. A 1998 survey asked about their 20th-century leaders. All were viewed negatively except Czar Nicholas II. On Nikita Khrushchev, opinion was evenly divided.
by Hal Piper