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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You delivered an anti - American speech before my arrival in Moscow, Nixon said.

My speech was not nearly as provocative as yours, Khrushchev replied. It was just like old times: Nixon and Khrushchev squabbling again. Eisenhower must have felt like a kindergarten teacher trapped with a couple of bickering brats.

You read the speeches,” Khrushchev told Ike. “You be the judge.”

Years later, Eisenhower was still amused at that. “To add to the snowballing comedy of the situation,” he wrote, “Mr. Khrushchev suggested that I be the referee as to which speeches were more provocative.”

Eisenhower led Khrushchev outside to the South Lawn, where two Marine helicopters squatted like big green dragonflies. Ike loved helicopters and he was eager to take Khrushchev on a ride over Washington at rush hour. It was an ideal way to show off America’s economic power by pointing out the long lines of workers driving their private cars to their private homes in the suburbs. Ike had suggested the ride in his press conference a month earlier and Murphy repeated the suggestion to Menshikov countless times. But Smiling Mike always rejected it, claiming that Khrushchev had no desire to waste time on helicopter rides. But the president persisted. On the ride in from the airport, Ike told Khrushchev that he hoped the premier would join him for a helicopter ride over the city.

“Oh,” Khrushchev replied, “if you’re going to be in the same helicopter, of course, I will go.”

Instantly Ike realized what the problem had been. Khrushchev feared that the helicopter ride might be a trick, that the chopper would suffer some sort of nonaccidental “accident.” But of course that wouldn’t happen if Eisenhower was aboard. It reminded Ike of another incident, this one back in 1945, shortly after the end of the war. He’d offered his friend Georgi Zhukov, the Soviet general, the use of an American plane. Zhukov hesitated, then asked, “May your son go as my aide?” Ike agreed and Zhukov smiled. “With your plane and your son going with me, I know I shall be quite safe.”

Such was the paranoia inspired by working for Josef Stalin.

Once inside one of the choppers, Eisenhower offered Khrushchev a window seat and spread a map of Washington across the premier’s lap. The chopper’s rotors whirled and it slowly rose into the sky. Khrushchev grinned and waved his homburg for the photographers. As the helicopter lifted off, Chalmers Roberts, the Washington Post’s White House correspondent, called his wife, Lois, at their home overlooking the Potomac River. Roberts figured the chopper would fly over the river as it headed toward the Maryland suburbs. He knew something that he suspected the Secret Service might not realize. For days, workers building a fish ladder in the Potomac had been blasting rock out of the riverbed with dynamite.

“Go out and have a look,” he told his wife.

She hustled outside and saw the helicopter carrying the two most powerful men on the planet pass over the river, flying north. A few moments later, as she watched in horror, an explosion in the river blasted large chunks of rock into the sky. Fortunately, none of them hit the chopper, which passed overhead and rumbled safely into Maryland. Ike pointed out the cars on the roads below—their red brake lights flashing on and off in the stop - and - go traffic. Soon the helicopter flew over a big green meadow, one of Ike’s favorite places—the golf course at the Burning Tree Country Club.

The president asked the chairman if he played golf. Khrushchev said he knew nothing about it. Eager to show the premier his favorite sport, Ike told the pilot to drop a little lower. The chopper swooped down over the sixteenth green, where the noise and wind of the rotors caused a golfer to muff an easy four - inch putt.

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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