Former Fellow William Taubman Honored with National Book Critics Circle Award

Mar 05, 2004

William S. Taubman, a Wilson Center fellow in 1999-2000, was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography-autobography for the book he worked on while in residence at the Center, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era. Taubman is also the chairman of the Advisory Commmittee of the Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project.

About the Book

The Wilson Center hosted the book launch in 2003. At this event, Taubman described his book as having three main foci. The first pertained to Khrushchev as a leader in the 1950s and his reform policies. Taubman compared Khrushchev's reforms to those of Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s. He cited the "Secret Speech" Khrushchev delivered shortly after Stalin's death in 1953 as a prime example. The book's second focus, following the idea of Khrushchev the reformer, related to the ways in which he set the stage for those who followed him. Taubman mentioned that Gorbachev and others were finishing the reforms that Khrushchev began, and if Khrushchev had not been CPSU First Secretary, reforms may have come slower. The final focus related to Khrushchev's early years, primarily the 1930s. These years, Taubman believes, were the most important for Khrushchev. Khrushchev slowly climbed the ladder of power in the 1930s and along the way was shaped by the events he witnessed and took part in.

William Taubman went on to explain that he had recently been asked to provide a publisher in England with ten revelations on Khrushchev that he had discovered. After considering for a period (and being asked three times in true Russian fashion) he came up with ten revelations. He chose to share three at the panel. First, Professor Taubman explained that Khrushchev had actually been a Trotskyite for a brief period of time in the 1920s. Secondly, while it has been generally accepted that Khrushchev was married twice, Taubman discovered that he actually had three wives. Lastly, when the attempted 1957 coup occurred, Khrushchev for a short period of time believed he had lost and become so despondent that aides found him weeping in a Kremlin hallway.

Describing Khrushchev's personality, Taubman painted a picture of a somewhat primitive man, with little education, but very ambitious and yearning to accomplish great things. Taubman added that Khrushchev could be shrewd, cunning, and despite his lack of education, very intelligent. He also added that Khrushchev had purposely played up his image as a simpleton, at times almost a court jester. However, he added that this always seemed to pain Khrushchev, because he so admired refinement and intelligence.

The National Book Critics Circle, founded in 1974, is a not-for-profit organization of about 750 book editors and critics. The NBCC awards are prestigious, if not profitable, offering no cash prizes.

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