Khrushchev: The Man and His Era
By William Taubman
W. W. Norton, 2003, 768 pp.
Few have written a political biography that better captures both a historic figure and the history of which he was a part. Taubman's towering work is stunning not only for its scale and diligence -- every aspect checked and cross-checked, no source neglected -- but for the skill with which he reconstructs what is essentially a history of Soviet politics during a key phase. Khrushchev, from his peasant coal-miner childhood through his rocket-like rise as a young apparatchik in the 1920s and 1930s to his place at the top of the post-Stalin heap, was the essence of a middle-aged Soviet regime. At once bumptious, clever, ruthless, idealistic, personally insecure, and politically bold, Khrushchev embodied as much as guided the system. But guide he did, from the assault on the Stalin cult, through the 1956 East European uprising, the Berlin confrontations, and the Cuban missile crisis. In the retelling, Taubman adds a wealth of behind-the-scenes detail. The book is a gift, as fascinating as it is important.