Moscow Nights REVFinalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award

A Boston Globe Best Book of 2016

New York Post Must-read Book

In 1958, a twenty-three-year-old piano prodigy from Texas named Van Cliburn traveled to Moscow to compete in the First International Tchaikovsky Competition. The Soviets had no intention of bestowing their coveted prize on an unknown American; a Soviet pianist had already been chosen to win. Yet when the gangly Texan with the shy grin took the stage and began to play, he instantly captivated an entire nation. Nigel Cliff recreates the drama and tension of the Cold War era, and brings into focus the gifted musician and deeply compelling figure whose music would temporarily bridge the divide between two dangerously hostile powers.

“A beautifully done biography of one of the Cold War’s most famous and unlikely characters.” — Boston Globe

“Cliburn in Russia offers a fascinating perspective on a decade of nuclear tests, espionage schemes and efforts to close the missile gap. This story is to the Cold War what ping-pong diplomacy was to President Nixon’s opening to China. It is both entertaining and illuminating, and Cliff tells it beautifully.” — Wall Street Journal

“With his gold-medal performance in Moscow, Van Cliburn added a human face to the Cold War…A nuanced account.” — New York Times Book Review

“Nigel Cliff… has written a freshly sourced account of these momentous Moscow nights. He places them aptly at the heart of the nuclear conflict and poignantly in the personal odyssey of a lanky, gay pianist from a small prairie town who never wanted to do much except play Russian music.” — The Economist

“The newest biography on the life of Van Cliburn is a masterpiece … As an account of the political climate and cultural events that the genius musician found himself in as a young man, MOSCOW NIGHTS may long stand as an enthralling resource for historians, audiophiles, and the general public alike.” — Fort Worth Weekly

“This biography of the Texan pianist Van Cliburn is also a cultural history of the event that made his name: his win at the Tchaikovsky Competition, in Moscow, in 1958, after the launch of the first Sputnik set off the space race. Cliff portrays Cliburn as a musical savant, full of contradictions—gay, staunchly religious, a lifelong Republican and Russophile. He was adored both in Russia and in the U.S., where his following rivalled Elvis Presley’s. Being a cultural emblem ultimately took a toll: audiences wanted endless rehashes of the pieces he was famous for, and he lacked the opportunity and the curiosity to take on new challenges. Cliff tracks this artistic decline sympathetically, and successfully evokes Cliburn’s intuitive musicianship.” — The New Yorker

“An elegant, insightful and ultimately definitive account of one of the 20th century’s most compelling events, and the extraordinary artist and person at the heart of it.” — Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Houston Chronicle

“Entertaining…delightful…Cliff does a magnificent job of setting things in historical context…Cliff has a great eye for entertaining stories and lively anecdotes (all footnoted within an inch of their lives)…” – Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune

“Nigel Cliff’s fascinating biography of American classical pianist Van Cliburn makes for compelling reading: it is an enduring study of the power of music and how it managed to unite two warring superpowers… Cliff’s vivid retelling of the dramatic story and its aftermath will have reachers perched on the edge of their seats… A captivating story that will transfix the reader. – The Lady

“Absorbing…Cliff is at home in Texan, American, Russian, political and piano cultures. . . . a solid history of a most remarkable young man caught at a most remarkable time. — Dallas Morning News

“Astonishing… an engaging, richly detailed account of a remarkable man.” — Christian Science Monitor

“In this superbly-written book, Nigel Cliff has uncovered one of the great personal stories of the Cold War… Cliff weaves into Cliburn’s life a wonderful tapestry of music, history, politics – and the Russian soul. The author’s descriptions are as breathtaking as Cliburn’s playing.” — Stephen Dalziel, Russian Art + Culture

“Gripping, fast-moving, novel-like… a narrative that is by turns tense and tender.” — Mojo

“Nigel Cliff…blends Cold War history and biography. Vivid details are his forte… How [Cliburn] ended up winning makes for a great story about Moscow machinations… [Cliff’s] hero is enchanting…”  — The Atlantic

“Brings to life Van Cliburn’s unexpected triumph and its continuing implications for Soviet-American relations through the end of the Cold War… an engaging account of an extraordinary historical moment.” — Shelf Awareness

“Part musical biography, part nostalgic look at the hula-hoop era and part Cold War history, MOSCOW NIGHTS strikes the right chord in all respects.” — BookPage

“Essential reading for anyone interested in Cliburn-or in the cultural history of the Cold War.” — Terry Teachout, Commentary

“Excellent and elegant…a terrific and very comprehensive look at one of the wonders of the 20th Century… incredibly fascinating… a totally compelling read – I could not put it down for more than 5 minutes at a time… In my opinion this book should be on the short list for a Pulitzer Prize in whatever year it might be eligible.” – Luxury Reading

“Nigel Cliff effectively veers back and forth between the American and Soviet consciousness… MOSCOW NIGHTS, at its height, interprets how the arts and humanities are a valid means of bringing people together. — Bookreporter

“Cliff brilliantly weaves together the politics, personalities, and pianism…A well-researched, fascinating look at a special relationship between Van Cliburn and the U.S.S.R.”
Publishers Weekly, *Starred Review*

“A sympathetic yet rounded portrait of the pianist…Highly recommended for readers interested in music (especially classical music and the piano) and the history of the Cold War.”
Library Journal, *Starred Review*

“A thrilling delight…compulsively readable…It’s Vanya all the way in a biography for music lovers, Cold War devotees, and all readers seeking a true feel-great story.”
Booklist, *Starred Review*

“A rousing, well-researched biography… Throughout the author vividly reprises major historical events…Sweeping history combines with a sensitive rendering of Cliburn’s extraordinary passion.”
Kirkus Reviews, *Starred Review*

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