During the height of the cold war Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev spent two madcap weeks exploring 1959 America--kissing babies, hobnobbing with Hollywood stars, touring factories, and setting off riotous media stampedes in an Iowa cornfield and a San Francisco Quality Foods supermarket. Fortunately, Peter Carlson chronicles the whole ridiculous but revealing episode in K Blows Top, a window into the world as it was not so long ago. Khrushchev was alternately charismatic, infuriating, hot-headed, warm-hearted, wily and artless, and Americans were mesmerized in spite of themselves, fascinated, frightened and charmed. While this is one of the funniest books I’ve read for a while, Carlson doesn’t neglect the serious side of the story. Whatever goodwill was generated by Khrushchev’s visit was lost when the Soviets shot down an American U-2 spy plane in a mission that President Eisenhower only reluctantly approved. Both sides were angered and went into face-saving mode, ruining a multi-leader summit hosted by France’s wryly frustrated Charles De Gaulle and leading to Khrushchev’s UN shoe banging tantrum and the Cuban missile crisis. As Carlson presents him, Khrushchev is a temperamental conundrum who nevertheless brought real reform to the Soviet government after the bloody excesses of Stalin, a truth ironically proved by Khrushchev’s own bloodless 1964 ousting by Leonid Brezhnev.