" .. he (Menon) dreamt of flooding the market with cheap paperback editions of quality titles. He discussed the idea with a colleague at Bodley Head and Allen Lane jumped at it. In 1935, they quit Bodley Head and with 100 Pounds capital, set up office in the crypt of St Pancras Borough Church. Thus was born Penguin Books."
Menon was born at Thiruvangad Thalassery and later moved to Panniyankara in Kozhikode, Kerala, in the Vengalil family of Malabar. His father Vakil [Advocate] Komath Krishna Kurup, Ayancheri, Vatakara, the son of Orlathiri Udayavarma, Raja of Kadathanadu and Komath Sreedevi Kettilamma Kurup, was a wealthy and influential Lawyer. His mother was the granddaughter of Raman Menon who had been the Dewan of Travancore between 1815 and 1817, serving Gowri Parvati Bayi. Menon had his early education at the Zamorin's College, Kozhikode. In 1918 he graduated from Presidency College, Chennai, with a B.A. in History and Economics.
Menon became a passionate proponent of India's independence, working as a Journalist and as secretary of the India League from 1929 to 1947, and a close friend of fellow Indian nationalist leader and Future Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as such political and intellectual figures as Bertrand Russell, J.B.S. Haldane, Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan, and E.M. Forster, whose A Passage to India he secured the publication of, according to Shashi Tharoor. Menon's legendary relationship with Nehru would later be analogised by Sir Isaiah Berlin as like that of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. In 1932 he inspired a fact-finding delegation headed by Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson to visit India, and edited its report entitled "Conditions in India", obtaining a preface from his friend Bertrand Russell. Menon also worked assiduously to ensure that Nehru would succeed Mahatma Gandhi as the moral leader and executive of the Indian independence movement, and to clear the way for Nehru's eventual accession as the first Prime Minister of an independent India. As Secretary, he built the India League into the most influential Indian lobby in the British Parliament, and actively turned British popular sentiment towards the cause of Indian independence.
After joining the Labour Party he was elected borough councillor of St Pancras, London. St. Pancras later conferred on him the Freedom of the Borough, the only other person so honoured being George Bernard Shaw. The Labour Party began preparations to nominate him as its candidate from the Dundee Parliamentary constituency in 1939 but that fell through because of his perceived connections with the Communist Party. He resigned (or was expelled, according to other sources) from the Labour Party in protest but rejoined in 1944.
After India gained independence in 1947, Menon was appointed high commissioner to the United Kingdom, a post in which he remained until 1952. Menon's intense distrust of the West extended to the United Kingdom itself, and his frequent thwarting of British political manoeuvres eventually led MI5 to deem him a "serious menace to security". From 1929 onwards Menon had been kept under surveillance, with a warrant to intercept his correspondence being issued in December 1933, identifying him as an "important worker in the Indian revolutionary movement". Clandestine surveillance intensified following Menon's 1946 meeting in Paris with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, and Indian independence. In 2007, hundreds of pages of MI5 files documenting their coverage of Menon were released, including transcripts of phone conversations and intercepted correspondences with other statesmen and Nehru himself.
The jeep scandal case in 1948 was the first major corruption case in independent India. Menon, then Indian high commissioner to Britain, ignored protocols and signed a Rs 8 million contract for the purchase of army jeeps with a foreign firm. While most of the money was paid upfront and 155 jeeps landed, the then Prime Minister Nehru forced the government to accept them.
In 1949, Menon accepted the command of the Indian delegation to the United Nations, a position he would hold until 1962. He earned a reputation for brilliance in the UN, frequently engineering elegant solutions to complex international political issues, including a peace plan for Korea, a ceasefire in Indo-China, the deadlocked disarmament talks, and the French withdrawal from the UN over Algeria.
Menon was a passionate opponent of nuclear weapons, and partnered with many in his quest against their proliferation. Throughout the 1950s, Menon liaised with Bertrand Russell, with whom he had previously collaborated in the India League.
During this period, Menon pioneered a novel foreign policy for India, which he dubbed non-alignment in 1952, charting a third course between the USA and the Soviet Union. Menon was particularly critical of the United States, and frequently expressed sympathies with Soviet policies, earning the ire of many Indians by voting against a UN resolution calling for the USSR to withdraw troops from Hungary, although he reversed his stance three weeks later under pressure from New Delhi.
Menon was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1953 from Madras which subsequently became a seat from Kerala following the States Reorganisation Act of 1956.
Menon also supported the admission of China to the United Nations, which earned him the enmity of many American statesmen, including Senator william F. Knowland. In 1955, Menon intervened in the case of several American airmen who had been held by China, meeting with Chinese premier Zhou En-Lai before flying to Washington to confer with and counsel American President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, at the request of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden.
In 1957, Menon sought a seat in the Lok Sabha, contesting a constituency from North Mumbai. Widely viewed as a hero for his defence of India's sovereignty in Kashmir on the world stage, Menon was met with rapturous receptions on the campaign trail, and ultimately won in a straight contest against PSP candidate Alvares Peter Augustus by 47,741 votes (171,708 to 123,967).
In October 1961, Menon, the sitting Defence Minister, was challenged by the 74-year-old Acharya Kripalani, a previous President of the Indian National Congress and close associate of the deceased Mohandas Gandhi. The race soon became the highest-profile in India, with the Sunday Standard remarking that "no political campaign in India has ever been so bitter or so remarkable for the nuances it produced". The race, which witnessed the direct intervention of Jawaharlal Nehru, was widely viewed as of tremendous importance due to the personas and influence of the two candidates, who were seen as avatars for two distinct ideologies. Having previously endorsed Menon's foreign policies, Kripalani relentlessly attacked Menon's persona, seeking to avoid direct confrontation with the prestige of Nehru and the Congress Party. Ultimately, Menon won in a landslide, nearly doubling the vote total of Kripalani, and winning outright majorities in all six of North Mumbai's districts. The electoral results established Menon as second only to Nehru in Indian politics.
In 1962 China attacked India, leading to the brief Sino-Indian War, and a temporary Reversal in India's non-aligned foreign policy. Menon was heavily criticised both inside and outside parliament for ineffectiveness and poorly handling of defence matters. The Indian government's analysis, the Henderson Brooks–Bhagat Report remains Classified. Some suggest that aspiring to become a world leader, Menon undermined the intelligence reports dating back to 1955 about Chinese preparations to defend its land claim on disputed areas. A chagrined Menon was responsible for India's lack of military readiness and was forced to tender his resignation on Oct-31-1962 as Minister of Defence in spite of Nehru protecting him by first making him Minister of Defence Production and then minister without portfolio.
In 1969, Menon contested a seat in the Lok Sabha from the Bengal constituency of Midnapore, running as an independent in a by-election, and defeating his Congress rival by a margin of 106,767 votes in May of that year.
In 1971, Menon contested as an independent candidate and was elected to the Lok Sabha from Trivandrum, in his home state of Kerala.
Menon died at the age of 78 on 6 October 1974, whereupon Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi remarked that "a volcano is extinct". At a 1984 memorial lecture for Menon, K.R. Narayanan extolled that "India has been fortunate to have had not only a glorious heritage of culture and civilisation but a succession of great men from the Buddha to Gandhi, from Ashoka to Nehru, from Kautilya to Krishna Menon."
The V. K. Krishna Menon Institute was established in 2006 to commemorate and facilitate the life, times and achievements of Menon. One of the Institute's objectives include awarding people from India and diaspora from Asia for their significant accomplishments in the fields of science, literature, economics, politics, diplomacy and human rights.
A blue plaque commemorating Menon was placed at 30 Langdon Park Road, in Highgate, London by English Heritage in 2013.
Paul Simon's song "A Simple Desultory Philippic" mentions Krishna Menon in the line "I’ve been Walt Disneyed, Diz Disleyed / John Lennoned, Krishna Menoned".