Summary and book reviews of 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

K Blows Top
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2009,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2010,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

Khrushchev's 1959 trip across America was one of the strangest exercises in international diplomacy ever conducted - "a surreal extravaganza," as historian John Lewis Gaddis called it. Khrushchev told jokes, threw tantrums, sparked a riot in a San Francisco supermarket, wowed the coeds in a home economics class in Iowa, and ogled Shirley MacLaine as she filmed a dance scene in Can-Can. He befriended and offended a cast of characters including Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe.

Published for the fiftieth anniversary of the trip, K Blows Top is a work of history that reads like a Vonnegut novel. This cantankerous communist's road trip took place against the backdrop of the fifties in capitalist America, with the shadow of the hydrogen bomb hanging over his visit like the Sword of Damocles. As Khrushchev kept reminding people, he was a hot-tempered man who possessed the power to incinerate America.

Excerpt
K Blows Top

Khrushchev’s first meal in America was a sumptuous lunch at Blair House, the official presidential guest residence—fillet of beef with truffles, potatoes, string beans, and a Charlotte Russe praline with raspberry sauce. He was just finishing when he received his first visitor—Henry Cabot Lodge, the American ambassador to the United Nations and the man Ike had selected to be Khrushchev’s tour guide on his odyssey across America.

Few men on earth had less in common: Khrushchev was a short, pudgy, uneducated Russian peasant who’d climbed to power by tenacity and brutality; Lodge was a tall, thin, Harvard-educated Boston Brahmin who’d been born into America’s aristocracy, scion of one of the families immortalized in an old New England toast:

Here’s to good old Boston,
Home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells speak only to the Cabots
And the Cabots speak only to God.


Lodge’s ancestors included...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

All in all, this is a well-executed, pleasant piece of historical reportage about a crucial and colorful slice of the twentieth century.   (Reviewed by Micah Gell-Redman).

Full Review Members Only (738 words).

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Daniel Schorr
This book recreates in vivid detail one of the most astonishing figures in our recent history. The Communist leader's storming of America can be enjoyed by everyone, but especially those with memories of that singular episode in the winding down of the Cold War.

Publishers Weekly

Hilarious … In Carlson’s hands the cold war is a surprisingly laughing matter.

Kirkus Reviews

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

Booklist

Starred Review. The book is consistently informative and funny, but there are episodes that are strangely surreal… a fine example of popular history at its most engaging - anecdotal but informative and written with great feeling for the comedic side of current events.

Library Journal

Starred Review. For anyone interested in this remarkable moment in the long history of U.S.-Soviet relations, Carlson's book is a treat!

The Boston Globe

I plan to dedicate the second half of my life to a new cause: books that are fun to read... K Blows Top fits the bill.

The Washington Post - Jacob Heilbrunn

Carlson seems to have sought and discovered every piece of arcana associated with the Soviet leader's American sojourn. A deft and amusing writer, Carlson does a marvelous job of recounting it.

Reader Reviews
Thomas Riley

Fun and frothy history
Great read! Even tho' I'm not old enough to remember Kruschchev and much of the cold war, I enjoyed these history of Nikita's visit to US in 1959. Surprisingly funny. Great background info on how foreign dignitaries are handled or, in K's instance...   Read More

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Beyond the Book


Vice president Richard Nixon spars with Nikita Khrushchev during the former's visit to Moscow.

On the set of the film Can-Can, Shirley MacLaine and Frank Sinatra gave the communist dictator a taste of good old fashioned American titillation.

K and wife Nina pose with the family of Iowa corn farmer Robert Garst whose deft salesmanship influenced the development of Soviet agriculture.

Khrushchev embraces the victorious Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro in New York city during a meeting of the United Nations. An explosive alliance between the Caribbean nation and the Soviet Union would soon solidify and send the world to the brink of Armageddon.

more images from K's tour

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