A fast-paced work of political history, peppered with references to Shirley MacLaine’s knickers, Iowa corn, Dwight...



A high-spirited, often hilarious account of a forgotten moment in Cold War history.

It began as something of a dare, as if the last occupant of the White House had invited Saddam Hussein to visit Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon and then debate the superiority of American over Ba’athist culture. In this instance, following the so-called Kitchen Debate in Moscow, Nikita Khrushchev set out on a road show to beat the capitalists at their own game, proving that the Soviets knew all about refrigerators, ICBMs and hot dogs. Former Washington Post reporter Carlson writes that Khrushchev’s back-and-forth wanderings across the country in 1959 were quite bizarre, drawing many protests but some admiration. Among those in the former camp was Marilyn Monroe, who thought the Russian leader “was fat and ugly and had warts on his face and he growled...Who would want to be a Communist with a president like that?” Walt Disney refused him admission to Disneyland, and the American Dental Association refused to make room for him when he arrived in New York. A less volatile ruler might have brushed such things aside, but Khrushchev, goaded by Richard Nixon, was in a fighting mood, clearly wanting to impress upon the American people the fact that his finger was on the button that could launch thermonuclear doomsday. Carlson writes both vividly and sardonically of Khrushchev’s tour, with its mundane and strange moments alike, among the latter a wonderful moment when the San Francisco Beats erected a sign to greet “Big Red” with the words, “Welcome to San Francisco, Noel Coward!” Fortunately, given all the opportunities to tick Khrushchev off beyond repair, Americans behaved themselves.

A fast-paced work of political history, peppered with references to Shirley MacLaine’s knickers, Iowa corn, Dwight Eisenhower’s frown, Nina Khrushchev’s sidelong glances at Frank Sinatra and all the other makings of mutually assured destruction.

Pub Date: June 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-58648-497-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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