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KHRUSHCHEV’S COLD WAR by Aleksandr Fursenko Kirkus Star


The Inside Story of an American Adversary

by Aleksandr Fursenko & Timothy Naftali

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-393-05809-3
Publisher: Norton

A Strangelovian paradox: The only way to preserve peace is to court war.

So believed Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, who combined political cunning and a remarkable survival instinct with a sad awareness that “the Soviet position in the superpower struggle was so weak that Moscow had no choice but to try to set the pace of international politics.” Confronted with five major crises—Egypt’s seizure of the Suez Canal and subsequent intervention by France and England, a coup in Iraq, the Cuban missile showdown and workers’ uprisings in Hungary, East Germany and Poland—that threatened to turn the Cold War hot in an instant, Khrushchev refused to cede ground until he was certain the Soviet position had been clearly understood. The West paid attention—perhaps too much attention. Thus, write historians Fursenko and Naftali (who previously collaborated on a book about the Cuban Missile crisis, One Hell of a Gamble, 1997), Khrushchev was able to mislead the opposition; for instance, he realized early on that Washington overestimated the Soviet’s nuclear capability, especially its nuclear attack force, which was minimal, since the USSR lacked aircraft carriers, midair refueling capabilities and even the necessary long-range rocketry. Thanks to Khrushchev’s skills, the U.S. and its allies spent untold amounts of money on things military, which the Soviet leader hoped would bankrupt them. But, as it happens, Khrushchev had to fight many battles back home; though his spirited shoe-banging helped prevent the outbreak of nuclear conflict, his critics at home “blamed Khrushchev for taking Moscow unnecessarily to the brink of war in 1956,” and even closer to that brink in Cuba in 1962. Working with recently released Soviet documents, the authors offer a nuanced picture of the Soviet leader and of a time marked by fear and plenty of pettiness (as when Khrushchev, touring the U.S., was refused admission to Disneyland).

Sobering—even scary—and necessary reading for historians of the modern era.