1956 was an extraordinary year in modern Russian history. It was called “the year of the thaw”—a time when Stalin’s dark legacy of dictatorship died in February only to be reborn later that December. This historic arc from rising hope to crushing 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—Josef Stalin himself. Suddenly, this once unassailable god was being portrayed as a “madman” whose idiosyncratic rule had seriously undermined communism and endangered the Soviet state.
In 1956, Marvin Kalb was a young American diplomatic attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow who would go on to become an award-winning diplomatic correspondent. He recalls this tumultuous year, and the years that brought him there, in a new memoir: “The Year I Was Peter the Great: 1956—Khrushchev, Stalin’s Ghost, and a Young American in Russia.”
On November 9, the Brookings Book Club hosted Kalb in discussion with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.