This detailed portrait of the Soviet leader lays bare the many contradictions of his political philosophy and career. Historically sandwiched between Stalin and Brezhnev, Khrushchev was nonetheless a pivotal figure in Soviet history. Born into a poor peasant family, he interpreted his personal history as proof of the validity of communism. Like most self-made men, he sincerely and strongly believed in the society that permitted his success, in contrast to some of his more cynical or bourgeois-born colleagues. As a witness to and a participant in the Soviet Union's extraordinary transformation from a backward regime to a space-age industrial and military giant, he never doubted the eventual triumph of communism. At the same time, as Tompson (Political Science/Univ. of Texas, San Antonio) makes clear, Khrushchev recognized the inherent problems faced by the Soviet Union in its attempt to fashion a truly communist society. Tompson has written a political biography that traces Khrushchev's career in a clear pattern of advances and occasional setbacks. In the story of how Khrushchev navigated the uncertain waters of Soviet politics, we see the intricate, labyrinthine workings of the Kremlin: the constant maneuvering for position, favors, and alliances; the secrecy, betrayal, and treachery. For Tompson, Khrushchev's most important act was his ``secret speech'' before the Twentieth Party Congress in February of 1956, in which he criticized the ``cult of personality'' that had enveloped Stalin, although the leader was not disinclined to allow a less demonic cult of his own. In foreign policy, Khrushchev was known more for his missteps, such as the 1956 invasion of Hungary, the Cuban missile crisis, the deterioration of relations with China, and banging his shoe at the UN. Yet in the wake of Gorbachev, readers must acknowledge the enormous burden Khrushchev placed on himself to reform the USSR after Stalin. A sympathetic biography that acknowledges Khrushchev's many flaws and ultimately renders a positive judgment of the peasant- ruler of the Soviet Union.