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Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 Paperback – 6 Sep 2010

85 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; Export ed edition (6 Sept. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781408812198
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408812198
  • ASIN: 1408812193
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,086,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

'The most authoritative and comprehensive study of the biggest and most lethal famine in history. A must-read' Jung Chang 'Mao's Great Famine' is a gripping and masterful portrait of the brutal court of Mao, based on new research but also written with great narrative verve, that tells the gripping story of the manmade famine that killed 45 million people from the dictator and his henchmen down to the villages of rural China' Simon Sebag Montefiore

Book Description

An unprecedented, groundbreaking history of China's Great Famine

Winner of the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize 2011 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Andy on 5 Feb. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
In terms of shock and impression that it leaves you, very few books compare. This has to be one of the books which has left me utterly shocked and has really opened my eyes to the brutality of Mao's regime. Being born in a former cummunist country that was also a staunch supporter of Mao (Albania), I thought that I'd be able to draw parallels of people's lives in both countries. How wrong I was. The book details page after page sheer human suffering all in the name of mad schemes created by the politburo and in many cases by Mao himself.

I want to say that I enjoyed this book, but in saying such a word would imply a sort of entertainment or satisfaction from the book. Enjoyment is the wrong word. I found this book to be profoundly humbling and being the sensitive type, most of the time, I found myself being absolutely repulsed by the idiocy and lunacy of the authorities and the great human loss that resulted. It takes a great writer for a book to have such an effect on the reader. And kudos to him! Dikotter is truly an amazing writer and his research into Mao's China is painstaking and second to none. He writes with a sense of compassion for the people caught in this tragedy but does not however mince his words.

I'd certainly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about China or who wants to be left humbled about how lucky they truly are!
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By O. G. M. Morgan on 18 Mar. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book contains a devastating shock on just about every page - I promise you that, for every page without a shock, there will be eleven pages with plenty of shocks to spare.

I have read extensively about the Holocaust, the terror-famine in Ukraine, Stalin's Gulag, North Korea. Those books make me weep, rightly so, but they, even collectively, describe a destruction of human life which just doesn't compare with what happened in China and Tibet from 1958 to 1962. I'm pretty sure that the author is being extremely conservative, when he gives an estimate of about 45 million deaths from the so-called "Great Leap Forward".

China, in the fifties, was supposed to surpass Britain's industrial output. That meant abandoning silly old agriculture (why would the world's most populous country need copious amounts of food, after all?). It required the export of huge amounts of rice and maize, grains which were essential for the survival of Chinese farmers, to pay for dodgy industrial hardware from Russia, East Germany and even rather better functioning machinery from parts of the capitalist world, such as West Germany and the United States. China simply couldn't meet the payments. It carried on exporting agricultural produce, much of it completely inedible, by the time it reached its destination, while its own farmers starved to death, in numbers which the human brain (mine, anyway) is just not up to imagining.

This disaster (1958-1961) coincided with an implementation of collectivisation which was even more catastrophic than the the soviet version in the twenties and thirties, the Romanian edition in the late eighties, even worse than the Ethiopian disaster of the mid-eighties.

They tore down straw huts (people's actual houses), to make fertiliser.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By C. Morley on 11 May 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm a bit of a Sinophile and have an entire library of books on China. This book is the most authoritative, in-depth and detailed book on the Great Leap Forward that you will find and provides a real insight into some of the shocking aspects of this traumatic time in the history of modern China.

If you are looking for something which looks at Chinese history more widely and covers aspects of the Great Leap Forward then try Jonathan Spence's "In Search for Modern China",
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Edgar Wagner on 5 April 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is about the great leap "forward" and what it really meant to the Chinese. It is a superb book. Very definitely worth reading. I, personally, have no criticisms of this book. In fact, Frank Dikötter left me wanting to read more about China, and, in particular, the next great disaster, the Cultural Revolution.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By CamAL on 3 Nov. 2012
Format: Paperback
I read Mao's Great Famine last year, and returned to it recently to check some details. Once again it drew me into the history. It is thoroughly researched, well-constructed, insghtful, very well written and very involving for the reader.

I am puzzled though by the one star reviews here. They are way off beam, and seem to be part of a concerted 'holocaust denying' type of mindset. Seriously, ignore them.

The author is very clear and meticulous about identifying the sources - mostly official records to which he was allowed access in the People's Republic. And, as a good historian, he interrogates the records for their reliability. He is also suitably cautious about scaling up to an overall level of casualties from the regional figures.

But to me the point isn't about a big figure total of casualties. People who argue the detail on this are clearly missing the human dimension: the levels of suffering, cruelty and coercion that blighted the lives of so many people. And the mixture of blindly-driven ideology, stumbling incompetence and ignorance, and desire or pressure to conform that caused so much harm and set the economy of China back by 50 years.

Very highly recommended.
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