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Kalb, M: The Year I Was Peter the Great

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A chronicle of the year that changed Soviet Russia—and molded the future path of one of America's pre-eminent diplomatic correspondents The year 1956 was an extraordinary one in modern Russian history. It was called “the year of the thaw”—a time when Stalin’s dark legacy of dictatorship seemingly died in February only to be reborn later in the year after Soviet troops crushed the Hungarian Revolution. This historic arc from rising hope to overwhelming despair opened with a speech by Nikita Khrushchev, then the unpredictable leader of the Soviet Union. He astounded everyone by denouncing the one figure who, up to that time, had been hailed as a “genius,” a wizard of communism—Joseph Stalin himself. Now, suddenly, this once unassailable god was portrayed as a “madman,” whose idiosyncratic rule had seriously undermined communism and endangered the Soviet state. This amazing switch in Stalin’s image—from hero to villain—lifted a heavy overcoat of fear from the backs of ordinary Russians. It also quickly led to anti-communist rebellions in Eastern Europe, none more bloody and challenging than the one in Hungary. Marvin Kalb, then a young diplomatic attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, observed this tumultuous year, which foreshadowed the surprising collapse of Soviet communism three decades later. Fluent in Russian, a doctoral candidate at Harvard, he went where few other foreigners would dare go, traveling from one end of a changing country to the other, listening to Russian students secretly attack communism and threaten rebellion against the Soviet system, and, thanks to his diplomatic position, meeting and talking with Khrushchev, who playfully nicknamed him Peter the Great. Kalb writes a compelling eyewitness account of a superpower in upheaval and of a people yearning for an end to dictatorship in this, his fifteenth book, based on a diary he kept in Moscow. Along the way he tells the story of his own early life, which led him from New York to Harvard to Moscow, and ultimately to a meeting with the legendary Edward R. Murrow that launched him on his career in journalism.
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