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Date of Publication: 2003
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Description: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall 0374117403 Very nice copy of this study of this important theatre of war in World War 2, inadequately covered so far.. 371 pps not inscribed or price-clipped. True first edition with full number string present
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The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II Hardcover – Oct 2003


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  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; 1st edition (Oct. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374117403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374117405
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.2 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,679,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 24 Jan. 2006
Format: Paperback
David Roy's review is gushing in the extreme, and this is certainly a good book, at least from a very blinkered American perspective. Yet Americans formed only 3 per cent of ground combat forces in Burma, and to suggest that it is the definitive account from the British, or any other perspective, is absolute nonsense.
This account is of the American involvement only, and the full background to the Burma campaign, indeed most of the campaign, is skipped over in merest passing. The only British forces that get any coverage are the Chindits, who while undoubtedly famous, played a strictly limited role. There was an entire war going on while 'Vinegar' Joe was pursuing his personal agenda, defying his own commanders, and Mr Webster ignores this completely. It was the British and Indian Armies, the latter including many British as well as Indian units, that drove the Japanese from Burma. Any account of the campaign must cover them and the battles they fought - the Admin Box, Imphal, Kohima, Arakan - if it is to claim to be complete. Readers should see Jon Latimer's Burma: The Forgotten War for the complete story, and to see Stilwell in his proper perspective rather than through this distorting lens. And Mr Roy, being Canadian, may also like to see Latimer's book for details of the Canadian contribution to the campaign, something else that eludes Mr Webster.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on 21 Sept. 2007
Format: Paperback
This book bills itself as one about the China-Burma-India theatre as a whole. Had it billed itself as simply the story of the American contribution to that theatre, or as General Stilwell's contribution, some of the criticism that follows would be less warranted. Jon Latimer points out, in his account, "Burma - The Forgotten War", that Americans made up only 1 per cent of combat strength here, with around 12,000 troops by April 1945, set alongside 72,000 Chinese and around 600,000 from the British Commonwealth. Any balanced treatment of the topic would therefore have to take this into account. Unfortunately Webster tends to overstress the American contribution and underplay the Anglo-Indian contribution to such a degree that one would have thought the balance was the other way around. Webster seems confused about the chain of command, and often grants powers to Stilwell that he did not actually possess, with misleading phrases such as "Stilwell gave the signal for Wingate's men to be dropped" at a time when "Wingate's men" were not actually under Stilwell's command. Is this a sign that the American tendency to distort history is now spreading from Hollywood movies into print?

The Americans played an important part in this theatre, particularly in the air. But the decisive victories against Japan in Burma were fought by the Anglo-Indian Fourteenth Army, and while these battles at Imphal and Kohima are mentioned here, they aren't given the significance that they warrant. Perhaps with an American audience in mind, Webster has done an "Errol Flynn" with this story.

Unfortunately that isn't the only problem, however. The book is also riddled with mistakes.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Appia on 25 Mar. 2007
Format: Hardcover
I fully agree with the previous reviewer. This is a one-sided American view of the Burma campaign that does not do justice to the overwhelming British and Indian contributions to the defeat of Japan. I cannot judge whether the author has done his Asian research well or not, but there are two inaccuracies on this side of the Atlantic. The Channel Islands are given as being "off the British coast" whereas of course they are off the French coast, and Lord Mountbatten of Burma is said to be a cousin of George IV: in that case he was a bit too old to be fighting in the Second World War as he would have been about 150 at the time. Maybe Mr. Webster means George VI?
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David Roy on 7 Jun. 2004
Format: Hardcover
When most people think of World War II, they think of the fight against Nazism in Europe. Even if they do consider the fight against Japan, most think of the US Marines jumping from one bloody island to another on their long march north. Largely forgotten by many, there was a war in Asia as well. Japan invaded China in 1937, starting 8 years of combat ranging from mountains of China to the jungles of Burma and other southeast Asian countries. It wasn't a pretty campaign, but it was very important.
Donovan Webster has written a definitive account of this war from an American and British perspective. The Burma Road covers the war from the American entrance into the war until its Japan's final collapse. A large part of the book is focused on General Joseph Stillwell, or "Vinegar Joe" as his men called him, but Webster does cover almost every aspect of it. While the war in China is neglected for a long period of time, The Burma Road effectively shows us the blood, sweat and disease that dominated this campaign. It's a fascinating book.
There is a bit of a framing story around the book, with Webster trying to walk the full length of the Burma Road, a road from Burma to China that was supposed to supply the Chinese and keep them in the war. A large portion of northeast India is still restricted, especially from journalists, and Webster is unsuccessful in the beginning of his journey. He then segues into the beginning of Stillwell's story, giving a brief summary of his career up until he gets assigned to the Southeast Asian sector of the war. Notoriously under-supplied and undermanned, Stillwell is forced to make do with what he can to keep the Japanese out of India at all costs.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 57 reviews
65 of 71 people found the following review helpful
A new authentic voice 7 Nov. 2003
By Kevin Green - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Finally, a new authentic voice.
Ledo, Shaduzup, Shingbwiyang, Myitkyina, Bhamo...I knew these names by heart before I was 10.
Stilwell, Pick, Seagrave, .... legendary names circulating around our dinner table, their stories, great and small, told and retold. I grew up with their photographs looking down at me from on the sunroom wall. A penetrating statement by Stillwell became our family motto, hammered home, to my chagrin, again and again to me by my father over the years.
I can still clearly see myself as a child of seven sitting on General Pick's knee in our living room. There he would sit talking with my father, Col. Joe Green, the Road Engineer, Pick's right hand man. They visited often back then in the early 1950's, Pick and my father. Often, amidst the pressing concerns of the day and the Cold War, they talked of Burma and the Road and the men who built it, who fought and who died.
I grew up hearing a uniquely authentic and unvarnished story of the CBI, the very good, the very bad, the very funny and the very ugly. The stories and history came from men who were profoundly changed by that experience. These men were faced with almost insurmountable obstacles; the Burmese jungles, rivers and mountains and a deadly and implacable foe. Men, who in spite of every hardship, got the `Road That Couldn't Be Built' done in record time with a major pipeline, and a myriad of airstrips thrown in to boot.
None of the men from the CBI that I have known over the years considered themselves heroes. When I would ask my father how he felt about being the road engineer on one of the great engineering feats of any century, he would reply " It was just a job of work, son. We all just wanted to do our best, stay alive and get home as quickly as possible." He refused to consider the possibility of writing a book. With the passing of these modest, brave and dedicated builder/warriors the authentic voice has muted and faded, until now.
I bought the book by Donovan Webster primarily because in his Prologue he talked about walking the Road. Imagine, I said to myself, a writer who actually took the time to visit what he was writing about, I couldn't resist. Not expecting much I began to read. Suddenly I realized I was captivated. I was reading this history book like it was a novel. Then it stuck me, even though this was very much an overview of a theater of operations, this guy GOT IT. He had somehow managed to capture and retell the stories in that same authentic voice that I had heard over the years from the men who were there. All of this was the result of many interviews and hundreds of hours spent on the Road and off.
One thing I can assure any reader is that Webster has correctly assessed, at least the way I first heard it, Chang, (difficult and self-seeking) Stillwell, (a soldier's soldier) Slim, (reliable) Wingate,(gifted and mad) Sun, (the best of a bad lot) the tribal Nagas (ferocious) and Kachins,(delightful and terrifying), the Merrill's Marauders, (unequaled courage and skill) Raiders,(mad English with a real talent for mayhem) engineers, black and white, (the best men, 24/7 worked their hearts out) and the rest. All crafted to fit together in a coherent and highly readable book as the story of real people in a deadly situation.
It is a relief to hear the `voice' again from the men who were there. This book has the ring of truth, a palpable sense of the sweat, the smell, the bugs, rats, mud, monsoon, fear, tragedy, death and ultimate triumph. It is all there. It is true that there is much more to tell. It would be unfair to criticize this work for being superficial. Is an overview. The story is truly vast and this book could easily have been a thousand pages or more. The official (and dry) U.S. Army history is a multi-volume set.
One thing that really impressed me about this book was Webster's style and editorial judgment in dealing with the people and events. He didn't write it like it was a PhD thesis or a technical study. He managed to capture that "golden thread", the story, the theme of the conflict in this theater of war; viz, No matter what, Build the Road, Keep China in the war. He accomplishes this in a real time fashion by the use of narrative without playing the games of revisionist history. When the Road was built nobody knew about the atom bomb. In early 1945 the men in Burma, including my father, were looking at another 18 months of war, either on the Japanese home islands or fighting the bulk of the Japanese army in China. Their greatest fear was that the Imperial Army would fight to the last man as they had on Saipan. They had witnessed the savagery and slaughter of Myitkyina, Imphal and Kohima. Upon completion many looked to, as their reward, being transferred to the far Pacific to follow Stilwell to Okinawa. As far as they knew or believed convoys would be traveling the Road to China for months if not years to come.

Chang's threat to make a separate peace with Japan was taken very seriously. The Road had to be built. Mr. Webster captured the importance of Joe Stillwell in this scheme as the central driving force of the Burma Campaign. His will, example and leadership galvanized everybody and the entire effort. He kept the perspective that existed in 1944, the Road was the reason for everything in Burma. All was focused on one goal, build the Road, and keep China in the war.
If you don't read another book about the CBI read this one. It's the real deal. Dad would have loved it.
Kevin O'C. Green
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
A good read but lacking so much 31 Jan. 2004
By Jon Latimer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Having read the other reviews it seems rather churlish to pour a dose of cold water on them. But I feel I must take odds with some of the more gushing phrases ladled out, and whatever else it may be, it is most definitely NOT 'the definitive account from the American and British perspective' as claimed by David Roy above. Certainly Mr Webster's book is very readable and well written, but to say that it is the full story of China-Burma-India is another matter altogether. It completely ignores the dominant Anglo-Indian nature of the the Burma campaign of 1942-45 to concentrate on the 'Ledo' or 'Stilwell Road'. The Burma Road ran from Rangoon to Lashio and was used to send American lend-lease materials through British-run Burma to Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist regime in China in the period 1937-41. When the Japanese invaded Burma in 1942 they cut this important lifeline and General 'Vinegar Joe' Stilwell, as commander of American forces in theatre and Chief of Staff to the Chinese Army, persuaded the American government - which was desperate to keep China in the war - to build a road from Ledo in Assam through to link up with the old Burma Road.
Mr Webster completely fails to explain the political background to this decision or the problems it caused. These were threefold. Firstly, British and American strategic objectives diverged entirely: while the Americans were desperate to aid China, the British were reluctant to support a land campaign through Burma since prime minster Winston Churchill's focus was on the seaborne recapture of Singapore, in an effort to restore British imperial prestige. Second, north-east India was hopelessly undeveloped and the logistical task of moving resources even as far as Ledo seemed insuperable to the British High Command in India, which had other priorities and other problems. Finally there was another American force already operating in the form of the airlift over 'the Hump', and subsequently Claire Chennault's Fourteenth Air Force in China itself. Chennault believed air power alone was necessary to support China and defeat the Japanese, and he and Stilwell remained at loggerheads over the relative merits of land and air supply to the end. More fundamental than any of these points, however, is the simple fact that Stilwell was a minor cog in a much, much bigger wheel. American forces in theatre never amounted to more than fifteen per cent and of these, combat forces were less than one per cent.
If this were indeed the story of the China-Burma-India Theater, and not merely the Stilwell Road, Mr Webster would not have reduced the 600,000 men of the Anglo-Indian Fourteenth Army to mere bit-part players in another example of 'how America won the war', while Wingate and the Chindits were nothing like as important strategically as XV Corps and its operations in opening up Arakan to provide air support to Fourteenth Army's reconquest. Nor would Mr Webster have consigned the role of the engineers, signallers, medics and transportation corps troops, which included a majority of African-Americans, to the background - it is their story more than anyone's; and while everyone has heard of Merrill's Marauders, how many people have heard of the 464th Anti-Aircraft Battalion who were, in fact, the first American combat troops to enter Burma? Yet their history is not even in the rather thin bibliography. Thus the dichotomy between the title and the book's contents is very disappointing. Nathan N. Prefer's 'Vinegar Joe's War' is more useful as history, even within the limited terms of the Stilwell Road.
As for the Stilwell Road itself, within months of its opening it was completely redundant as the original Burma Road was reopened in May 1945 following the Anglo-Indian recapture of Rangoon. The book is only a start point to the subject, certainly not the last word on it.
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Fabulous Book 9 Oct. 2003
By Weegee - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I feel so privledged to be the first to write a review. I some how ended up with a preview copy via a friend.
Being a WWII buff, I've spent most of my reading focus on the European theatre. Several months ago I entered the Pacific side of things by reading "Ghost Soldiers." I learned of the Japanese Bushido code, the inhumane and cruel tactics of Japanese soliders (even to their own troops), and their never say die approach to war. Not to mention the incredible will of the US soldier.
"The Burma Road" furthered my knowledge of the Japanese war machine, but more importantly introduced me to many new characters, battles, and "fun" little tales about the war (i.e. air dropping fried chicken on top of starving allied troops trapped defending a hill).
WWII buffs will find the book fascinating and general history buffs will walk away feeling enlightened as well. This book more than any other that I've read on war really touches upon the politics of war. It really is a perfect mix of politics, strategy, battlefied stories, characters and various foreign cultures.
After reading this book, I can't believe I didn't know more about this campaign. It truly is fascinating and there are many side stories to keep you entertained.
The writing is excellent. It begins with the author trying to visit the actual road and being stopped by a sentry. I was a little worried that the author would include himself in the story, but quickly after the intro, he focuses on the CBI campaign using very friendly historical narrative and not his bumbling adventures through the bush.
Add it to your must read list.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
I've got my machete and my gun... 21 Mar. 2004
By David Roy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
When most people think of World War II, they think of the fight against Nazism in Europe. Even if they do consider the fight against Japan, most think of the US Marines jumping from one bloody island to another on their long march north. Largely forgotten by many, there was a war in Asia as well. Japan invaded China in 1937, starting 8 years of combat ranging from mountains of China to the jungles of Burma and other southeast Asian countries. It wasn't a pretty campaign, but it was very important.
Donovan Webster has written a definitive account of this war from an American and British perspective. The Burma Road covers the war from the American entrance into the war until its Japan's final collapse. A large part of the book is focused on General Joseph Stillwell, or "Vinegar Joe" as his men called him, but Webster does cover almost every aspect of it. While the war in China is neglected for a long period of time, The Burma Road effectively shows us the blood, sweat and disease that dominated this campaign. It's a fascinating book.
There is a bit of a framing story around the book, with Webster trying to walk the full length of the Burma Road, a road from Burma to China that was supposed to supply the Chinese and keep them in the war. A large portion of northeast India is still restricted, especially from journalists, and Webster is unsuccessful in the beginning of his journey. He then segues into the beginning of Stillwell's story, giving a brief summary of his career up until he gets assigned to the Southeast Asian sector of the war. Notoriously under-supplied and undermanned, Stillwell is forced to make do with what he can to keep the Japanese out of India at all costs. While Japan successfully invades Thailand and Burma and Stillwell is forced to slog through the jungles to escape, he manages to keep them from their ultimate goal. He is less successful with the Chinese, however, forever clashing with China's leader, Chiang Kai-shek. After three years of fighting both the Japanese and his own allies, Stillwell is finally relieved of command, despite his many successes.
While a large portion of the book is told through Stillwell's point of view, other areas are not neglected. We hear a lot about the British army, especially the Chindit special forces (one whole chapter on their beginning plus numerous chapters when they are fighting alongside Stillwell's men) as well as the beginning of the world-famous "Flying Tigers," a group of American pilots who had resigned their commissions so they could fight for China before the United States entered the war. Their leader, Claire Chennault, later became a real thorn in Stillwell's side, siding with Kai-Shek in all of the battles between the two leaders.
The book follows a semi-chronological format, taking us from the beginning of Stillwell's involvement in the Asian theater of operations to the end of the war, but it does jump around a bit when it moves on to another subject. It gets to a certain point in Stillwell's career and then backtracks to tell the beginning of Chindit operations, for example. It also pauses to give brief biographies of major characters, such as the British General Orde Wingate. This back and forth style does make it confusing at times, and there was one time reference that I swore didn't add up until I realized that Webster was talking about something else. However, it does make the book feel even more comprehensive, as it seems to cover every conceivable angle of the war.
The one aspect of this where The Burma Road fails, however, regards China. The constant lend-lease supply of goods to the Chinese is covered, the Chinese contribution to Stillwell's campaign is documented beautifully, and Chennault's Flying Tigers are represented. On the other hand, other than a brief chapter near the end of the book and a few mentions in between, none of the fighting in China is actually discussed. Webster spends a brief time discussing the decision to finally bring the Chinese Communists into the war, and makes a few small references to their savagery in fighting the Japanese. Given the depth of the rest of the book, however, it feels very small.
That being said, though, The Burma Road is a very valuable resource for anybody wanting a general history of the Asian campaign in World War II. It corrects some myths that have been fostered about the war. One chapter takes special aim at the book and movie The Bridge Over the River Kwai. It calls the book fictional with the movie being even worse. Webster gives the real details behind the building of that bridge, and the railway in general. He tells us how the Japanese mistreated not only the prisoners, but also their own men.
That's where The Burma Road excels: the details. Webster doesn't pull any punches, telling us of the disease, leeches, poisoned water, the condition of the corpses, and other hardships that the valiant men who fought in this theater went through. He even interviewed some of the Japanese soldiers who managed to survive the conflict, showcasing the ordeals they had to go through. They were chronically under-supplied and often subsisted on nothing but small quantities of rice and bad water. Webster gives us so much detail that you may not want to read this book over lunch.
I haven't read a better book on this subject, and I'm very glad I picked this up. I couldn't put it down. If you're a military history fan, I don't think you'll be able to either. It's a book that the men who fought and died in the jungles deserve to have written about them. It especially does old Vinegar Joe justice.
David Roy
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Burma Road is worthy of a movie! 22 Oct. 2003
By Chico Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Snakes made me read Burma Road. A herpetologist friend urged me to visit Burma but he died of a snakebite, in Burma, before I ever made the journey. Since then I have devoured anything Burma in anticipation of a future trip. Hideyuki Takano's "The Shore beyond Good and Evil, a report inside Burma's opium kingdom" and Alan Rabinowitzs' "Beyond the Last Village: a journey of discovery in Asia's forbidden wilderness" have proven to be insightful reads. I heard that Donovan Webster had hiked the entire Burma road twice and was writing a book about it; so I pre-ordered it sight unseen.
"Burma Road", as it turned out had nothing to do with Webster's ramblings but was a world war two documentary instead. I am NOT a war buff and nearly returned the book unread. Luckily I started thumbing the pages and became thoroughly engrossed not only with Webster's wonderful ability to turn a phrase but the incredible story that unfolded before me.
Inch by inch, foot by miserable foot, Allied forces eek a supply road eastward to free a starving China caught in a Japanese stranglehold. Fighting disease, snakes, snipers and the relentless jungle itself these heroic figures resolutely power onward. Meanwhile, equally valiant warriors wing over "the hump" to drop supplies over the Chinese border. During the course of the war over six hundred planes perished in the airlift.
"Burma Road" is a story of tremendous courage, indomitable spirit, and powerful men. At times it is uplifting and at others equally depressing. Humor and good spirits somehow rise to the surface. Webster has given a face to the faceless and a voice to those silenced on the Burma Road. Only someone who actually walked the Burma Road could write in such a convincing style. Tom Clancy buffs will be enthralled by this better than fiction tale.
It was such an entirely wonderful read that I just ordered Webster's first book, "Aftermath". "Burma Road" is a story worth being told and a book worthy of being a movie.
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