In This Review

Assignment Russia: Becoming a Foreign Correspondent in the Crucible of the Cold War
Assignment Russia: Becoming a Foreign Correspondent in the Crucible of the Cold War
By Marvin Kalb
Brookings Institution Press, 2021, 352 pp

In this engaging memoir, Kalb, the renowned American journalist, begins by recalling the youthful advantages that spurred his career: his intellectual gifts, Harvard education, insatiable curiosity about the world, and unflagging energy. His talents were quickly recognized by some of the major figures of American journalism, first and foremost by the legendary Edward R. Murrow. Starting out in 1958 as a news writer for a local CBS radio station, Kalb quickly reached the “pinnacle of [his] professional aspirations” in 1960, when he became CBS News’ Moscow correspondent. For his first assignment in that capacity, Kalb was sent to cover the Paris summit that year, where the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was supposed to discuss the postwar situation in Berlin with his British, French, and U.S. counterparts. The summit failed before it started, but Kalb managed to get an exclusive interview with Khrushchev and even to treat him to a freshly baked croissant. Kalb shares what he thought at the time about some major historical developments, such as the early cracks in the Sino-Soviet alliance, as well as his experience with the Soviet bureaucracy. In one episode, hotel officials repeatedly denied Kalb’s request for a larger bed: the six-foot, three-inch journalist had to make do with a bed that was only five feet, ten inches long. In the end, he had his own bed airmailed to Moscow from New Jersey.