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This review is from: Mao: The Unknown Story (Hardcover)
Of all the ten or so books on Mao and his role in China's history that I have read, I have never been so disappointed as I was with this book. Heavily hyped, voluminous, with copious references, this book looks like it should be a serious scholarly work and a fascinating read. Not only that but the author is a well-known "expert" on Chinese affairs with a wealth of first-hand experience of the excesses of Mao's China. This should be the book's biggest strength but is also its biggest weakness. It is clear that the authors had an agenda from the outset; that they were not going to admit that Mao had any redeeming features at all. In doing so they have produced a polemic that drips with bile, bitterness and ever worse, that is contradictory and undermines its central theme.
According to the authors Mao is, by turns, lazy but hyperactive and overly industrious; polically naive but able to worm his way to the top of first the Nationalists then the Communist Party; contemptuous of the pesantry but in the space of four months leader of a pesant army. At one memorable point the authors castigate Mao for his indifference to the plight of the workers, but half a paragraph later they are taking him to task for "abandoning" his second wife (did I mention they had Mao down as deeply unattractive to all human being but fail to explain his four marriages) while she was giving birth to their first child, as he was "away negotiating on behalf of the builder's union". Even more bizzarely, the authors seek to paint Mao as ineffectual, uninspiring, uncharismatic and a poor organiser, but in the next breath blame him for being directly responsible for practically everything that went wrong in China from the 1930's onwards. He is naive, insensitive and stupid, but a few pages later he is underhand and cunning enoughg to upstage Nixon,
Mao was a terrible tyrant. His violence, treachery (the Hundred Flowers Campaign and The Anti-Rightist Campaign) and misguided policies (Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution) cost tens of millions of innocent lives and brought misery to millions more. The statistics speak for themselves and a book laying bare the bald truth of these horrors would have been far more damning. Unfortunately, the author have let their blind hatred of their subject cloud their objectivity and in so doing they undermine their central thesis.
History is rarely simple and people even less so. The Mao of this book is a one-dimensional evil phantom with no positive personal qualities. This kind of pantomime villan would never have succeeded in becoming the international figure (for good or evil) that he ultimately was.
After saying this it seems almost churlish to point out that the prose is as ham-fisted and amateurish as the treatment of the subject (average sentence length 10 words). There are much, much better books on Mao than this. They are better written, more balanced and cheaper.