There is no shortage of books about Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev (NSK). Amazon.com lists more than a hundred books that include the word Khrushchev in their titles, including the memoir Khrushchev Remembers by NSK himself. This interest is not surprising, as Khrushchev presided over the transition of the USSR from Stalinism to a more open society and that transformation determined, to a large extent, the course of history in the latter part of the twentieth century.
The author of Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower is NSK's son, Sergei, who himself has undergone a remarkable transformation. He used to be a designer of cruise missiles for the Soviet navy during his father's tenure. Much later, he settled in the United States and became interested in another kind of cruises:. He lectures on luxurious cruise ships, sharing his recollections, presumably not gratuitously, with the bourgeois customers who, according to his father, were supposed to be surpassed and buried by the new glamorous society he was building in the now defunct USSR. And my hunch is that even though his father would probably be shocked by this twist of irony, being a pragmatic, he would approve of his enterprising son.
The book was written in Russian and has been translated into impeccable English. It is not really a biography. Rather, it is a collection of firsthand and secondhand accounts of the events witnessed by Sergei Khrushchev. The accounts of the events before Stalin's death and during the ensuing struggle for power up to the time when NSK became undisputed leader of the USSR are sketchy, simply because the author was too young at the time. Thus, the book does not shed much new light on the jockeying for power when NSK outmaneuvered such formidable foes as Beria, Malenkov, Bulganin, Molotov, Kaganovich, and Zhukov. Instead, that part of the book paints a picture of a family man with simple tastes, devoid of the paranoia of the Stalin era, enjoying rural life, his garden, and pets, and sincerely interested in improving the life of his fellow Russians.
Needless to say, this picture clashes with the image of NSK as Stalin's henchman who rose to the top by being a ruthless and duplicitous person, as he is shown in the movie Enemy at the Gate. Was he a closet liberal who was able to adapt to Stalinism while managing to keep his healthy attitudes intact and trying to mitigate the worst excesses of his boss? Another book recently published by L. P. Beria's son tries to revise history along such lines, and it cannot be easily dismissed, either. In fact, as soon as Stalin died, Beria proposed a program of liberal reforms that was even more sweeping than NSK's program. Was Beria sincere? Can a sadistic murderer be a closet liberal? Those questions are beyond our task, but NSK definitely deserves the benefit of the doubt.
The bulk of Khrushchev's book deals with the events occurring between 1954 and 1964. That is when NSK started the long road of de-Stalinization, dismantling of the iron curtain (which was later continued by Gorbachev after a long hiatus), building apartment houses and trying to improve the diet of the Soviet people. It includes detailed coverage of NSK's visit to the United States in 1959, the space race, the construction of the Berlin Wall (dismantled during the Gorbachev tenure), the invasion of Hungary, and the Cuban missile crisis. …