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Book Review July 10, 2003
 
No Respect, No Respect at All
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
Page 3 of 3
 
If Khrushchev had simply weaseled his way to the top of Stalin's state, he wouldn't be worth understanding. But he used that state to destroy the memory of its creator, and in the process set in motion the destruction of the USSR.

And in doing so this little round clown was true to his comic muse. Even the shocking and solemn removal of Stalin's corpse from the Lenin Mausoleum, as ordered by Khrushchev, followed the Rodney-Dangerfield narrative logic Taubman traces in all Khrushchev's deeds. At Khrushchev's urging, the Party Congress votes to order Stalin's corpse removed "...after an old woman who had joined the Party in 1902 cried out that she had 'asked Ilyich [Lenin] for advice and it was as if he stood before me alive and said, 'I do not like lying next to Stalin, who brought so much misfortune to our party.'"

You don't expect Soviet Party Congresses to turn on the visions of a mad crone, but that was the sort of delightful madness Khrushchev brought to the USSR. Taubman describes his attitude to Khrushchev in his preface, mentioning that his Russian student friends "reserved both a special affection and a special disdain for Khrushchev, a combination I can't help feeling myself as I finish writing his biography."

Of all literary genres, the "serious" biography is the scariest. A single mistake in a date or a quotation or even the weather on a given day in Moscow 1934 is enough to send a pack of insane, envious pedants to their keyboards to denounce you. To produce this sort of massive narrative, every detail of which must be verified, is a self-imposed servitude I can't even imagine accepting. And to do it so lightly, entertainingly and memorably, as Taubman has, is a truly great achievement.
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