When Marvin Kalb first travelled to Russia, he was not yet a legendary journalist, but a Harvard doctoral student who had been given less than two weeks to prepare for his new life as a diplomatic attaché in Moscow. The year was 1956—a year that Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former premier, calls “the first step in a historic transition that continues to this day—from Khrushchev to Putin.” Stalin was dead, and the future of the Soviet Union was uncertain.
Kalb chronicles his experiences during this tumultuous year in his new book, “The Year I Was Peter the Great,” available now through Brookings Institution Press. In it, he speaks about everything from intrigue to ice-cream diplomacy, documenting the unpredictable nature of the Soviet Union under Khrushchev.
“[Kalb] conveys a feel for Russian life with all the contradictory features that have puzzled and entranced foreign visitors to Russia through the ages” says Jack Matlock, former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union.
The 1956 trip to Moscow would the first of many in a career that would span the next half century and beyond. Kalb, senior advisor to the Pulitzer Center; a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute; and a professor emeritus at Harvard, went on to become NBC’s Moscow Bureau chief and the host of Meet the Press.
Kalb has written extensively on Russia for many publications including recent work in PBS NewsHour, Time, The Washington Post, and Foreign Policy. His last book, “Imperial Gamble,” explores Russian-Ukrainian relations and the implications of Putin’s incursion into Crimea.
“The Year I Was Peter the Great” is Kalb’s 15th book, but his first memoir. While the book documents his own life and experiences, he aims to draw attention towards the issues and away from himself:
“Journalists, I would argue, do not write memoirs; they write ‘the first draft of history,’ the stories they cover. . . . I would write a more professional memoir, focusing on my coverage of the major moments of the Cold War, of the leaders I met and the decisions they made.”
Kalb’s memoir has already drawn praise from media giants Chuck Todd, Meet the Press moderator; and Jake Tapper, CNN Chief Washington Correspondent. You can read an excerpt in The Washington Post here and purchase it here.