Thursday, November 12, 2009

on Khrushchev: the man and his era

After reading through Deutscher's Trotsky Prophet series, any biography would seem like a disappointment, particularly one whose subject matter was so similar. This was certainly a thorough treatment, but I found myself having to slog through it quite a bit.

I felt that the book suffered from a lack of economic or social theory, something which can only partly be laid at the feet of the biographer, as Khrushchev contribute basically nothing in that regard. Taubman's Khrushchev is perhaps not as boorish or loutish as I had believed before reading, but it was a sort of animal instinct and cunning that allowed him to succeed, not any sort of true intellect.

Khrushchev's rule seems sort of aimless, and I had a hard time figuring out what (beyond perfunctory references to a future communist utopia) his life and leadership really had to do with socialism.

I suppose I think that Khrushchev is most interesting when playing a supporting role, in describing Khrushchev's part of Stalin's court intrigue, the cognitive dissonance he was forced to take on during the 20th party congress, and in his struggles for power against Molotov and Beria, the book is fascinating.

When Khrushchev stands alone, like in his early life and his autonomy when running the party in Ukraine, or even atop the largest country in the world, the narrative seems to fall flat.

All in all, it is an excellent biography, as far as such things go, but something less than an excellent book.

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