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K Blows Top: A Cold War Comic Interlude Starring Nikita Khrushchev, America's Most Unlikely Tourist (2009)

by Peter Carlson

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1794153,499 (4.17)1
Khrushchev's 1959 trip across America was one of the strangest exercises in international diplomacy ever conducted. 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 scene in Can-Can. He befriended and offended a cast of characters including Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe. K Blows Top is a work of history that reads like a Vonnegut novel. This cantankerous communist's road trip took place against the backdrop of the fifties in America, with the shadow of the hydrogen bomb hanging over his visit like the Sword of Damocles. As Khrushchev kept reminding people, he was a hot-tempered man who possessed the power to incinerate America.… (more)
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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-headed, warm-hearted, wily and artless, and Americans were mesmerized in spite of themselves, fascinated, frightened and charmed.

While this is one of the funniest books I’ve read for a while, Carlson doesn’t neglect the serious side of the story. Whatever goodwill was generated by Khrushchev’s visit was lost when the Soviets shot down an American U-2 spy plane in a mission that President Eisenhower only reluctantly approved. Both sides were angered and went into face-saving mode, ruining a multi-leader summit hosted by France’s wryly frustrated Charles De Gaulle and leading to Khrushchev’s UN shoe banging tantrum and the Cuban missile crisis. As Carlson presents him, Khrushchev is a temperamental conundrum who nevertheless brought real reform to the Soviet government after the bloody excesses of Stalin, a truth ironically proved by Khrushchev’s own bloodless 1964 ousting by Leonid Brezhnev. ( )
  Jaylia3 | Nov 20, 2011 |
Generally, I am not much of a reader of political books, yet this one took me by surprise and captivated my attention. Peter Carlson who calls himself "the world's most zealous (and perhaps only) Khrushchev-in-America buff" has certainly done his homework. Sharp writing, very clever political observations of the period, combined by well-researched and quoted facts, so there is no room for fiction. The writing is objective, the author reveals drawbacks and weak points on both sides without any bias and points his satirical and true-to-fact pen in both directions - American and Soviet. At times, though, a little more sophistication and intelligence was ascribed to Khrushchev than is probably due, but that's natural for a foreign writer, because in English translation some Russian phrases spoken by the Soviet premier might sound that way. To his citizens (and I was one at one time) Khrushchev was little more than a bureaucrat of the highest order, but the book did reveal to me some human side of his which I was never aware of. At the same time, it was frustrating and painful for me to read that a politician of such high rank would behave at times with less that adequate dignity when abroad. But facts and memoirs by so many people cannot lie... A very good book.

-- ( )
  Clara53 | Apr 4, 2011 |
Usually, political history is dry, boring, tedious, and filled with bloviating pontification.

Instead, this is filled with good humor, striking descriptions, and the hilarious antics of everyone's favorite Communist premier.

It was great reading - once I started, I found it hard to put down. Also wonderful for the treadmill - I ran as fast as I turned the pages, anxious to get to the final explosion at the UN. ( )
  _ScarpeGrosse_ | Oct 21, 2009 |
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  MightyLeaf | May 25, 2010 |
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For my daughters, Emily and Caitlin, and of course, once again, for Kathy.
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Prologue: Maybe it was Khrushchev throwing a temper tantrum because he wasn't allowed to visit Disneyland.
Chapter 1: Preparing to meet Nikita Khrushchev in the Kremlin, Vice President Richard M. Nixon spent the early summer of 1959 stuffing his head with proverbs.
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Khrushchev's 1959 trip across America was one of the strangest exercises in international diplomacy ever conducted. 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 scene in Can-Can. He befriended and offended a cast of characters including Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe. K Blows Top is a work of history that reads like a Vonnegut novel. This cantankerous communist's road trip took place against the backdrop of the fifties in America, with the shadow of the hydrogen bomb hanging over his visit like the Sword of Damocles. As Khrushchev kept reminding people, he was a hot-tempered man who possessed the power to incinerate America.

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