AMONG STALIN'S MARSHALS, Georgi Zhukov had more success than his rivals in claiming to be the architect of the Red Army's victory at the end of the Second World War. Unlike his colleagues, he dared to harbour political ambitions. He was lucky to be demoted, rather than shot, by Stalin. In 1953 and 1956, he miscalculated: he helped Khrushchev's coups d'Etat, the first by arresting Lavrenti Beria and squaring the other generals, and the second by supporting Khrushchev's exile of Molotov and Malenkov. Instead of gaining political power Zhukov was relegated, as a potential Bonaparte, to obscurity. He was also responsible for crushing the 1956 Hungarian rebellion and murdering Imre Nagy, the Hungarian Communist- turned-nationalist and the last of Beria's agents in power.
Zhukov deserves a biography that goes beyond his own self-serving memoirs. But he is hard to like. He was an exemplary father (but so were Molotov and Vyshinsky); he was heroically brave (but so were all the Red Army officers who had survived the