Excerpt from K Blows Top by Peter Carlson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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K Blows Top

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

by Peter Carlson

K Blows Top by Peter Carlson
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2009, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2010, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Micah Gell-Redman

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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 six U.S. senators, a secretary of state, a Civil War general, and a governor of Massachusetts. His grandfather and namesake, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, was the dour Republican famous for leading the forces that crushed Woodrow Wilson’s hopes that the United States would join the newly formed League of Nations after World War I.

Growing up, Lodge picked mulberries in Henry James’s garden, rode horses with George Patton, and visited Edith Wharton’s house in France, where he lived with his family for two years, studying French. In the 1920s, he worked as a newsman, writing for the Boston Transcript and the New York Herald-Tribune. In 1936, after a brief stint in the Massachusetts legislature, he was elected to his grandfather’s old seat in the U.S. Senate. Witty, friendly, and popular, Lodge was a liberal Republican who supported many of FDR’s New Deal programs. During the war, he resigned from the Senate, to serve in the Army in Europe. After the war, he won reelection to the Senate, but he was defeated in 1952 by a rich, handsome young war hero named John F. Kennedy. In 1953, Eisenhower appointed Lodge ambassador to the United Nations, which was, ironically, the successor to the League of Nations that his grandfather had fought so fiercely.

When Ike picked Lodge instead of Nixon to serve as Khrushchev’s guide, pundits speculated that the president was indicating his choice of a successor. Actually, Ike’s reasoning was far less Machiavellian. He simply figured that the diplomatic Lodge was less likely than Nixon to get into any eye-gouging, ear-biting brawls with Khrushchev.

When Lodge arrived at Blair House, he introduced himself to his future traveling companion and asked if there was anything he could do. Khrushchev looked up at Lodge—who at six feet four inches stood a foot higher than the Russian—and smiled. “Before coming over here, I read your speeches,” Khrushchev said. “And after I read them, I thought I would be scared of you, but now that I have been with you, talked with you, and seen what a nice man you are, I don’t feel scared any more.”

That was baloney, of course—any man who’d endured Stalin’s murderous whims would hardly be frightened by Lodge’s U.N. oratory—but at least it was good-natured, friendly baloney.

“Mr. Lodge, I want you to understand one thing,” Khrushchev continued, still smiling playfully. “I have not come to the United States to learn anything about America. We know all we need to know about America and we learn it through our Marxist instruction.”

Now it was Lodge’s turn to smile “Thank you for telling me, Mr. Chairman,” he said. “We will do our utmost to comply with your wishes.”

Excerpted from K Blows Top, by Peter Carlson, available now from PublicAffairs (www.publicaffairsbooks.com), a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2009.

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