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K BLOWS TOP by Peter Carlson

K BLOWS TOP

A Cold War Comic Interlude Starring Nikita Khrushchev, America’s Most Unlikely Tourist

By Peter Carlson

Pub Date: June 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-58648-497-2
Publisher: PublicAffairs

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.