February 15, 2011 by markstani
This may be my least sexy blog post ever. Nikita Khrushhev wasn’t a sexy man. He sure wasn’t the guy Elton John had in mind when he wrote that song. But you kind of have to admire him. I’m reading William Taubman’s superb biography. For starters, he grew up in a village so poor it was practically made of mud huts. His father pulled him out of school to work in the fields. Khrushchev said: “After a year or two of school, I had learnt to count up to thirty and my father decided that was enough of schooling. He said all that I needed was to be able to count money, and I would never have more than thirty rubles to count anyway.” His father himself had grown up in an era when a local education directive had warned: “Teachers must not get carried away with a desire to share with children all the knowledge they have about a given subject.”
This was a guy who went on to take the world to the brink of nuclear war. He served as Stalin’s right-hand man, surviving his frequent purges by playing up his country bumpkin image, including letting Stalin tap out his fag-ash over his bare forehead. He went on to denounce Stalin’s reign (okay, so Stalin was dead by then), then went to the United Nations in New York and repeatedly interrupted speeches by banging one of his shoes on the desk (“a loafer/sandal, according to his son, because he couldn’t stand tying laces”).
Overall, not half bad for a guy whose old man didn’t reckon on him seeing more than thirty rubles in his lifetime.
Khrushchev by William Taubman (The Free Press, 2003)