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Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the China He Lost Paperback – 7 Mar 2005

4.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK; New Ed edition (7 Mar. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743231457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743231459
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 3.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 409,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


'A magisterial account of the brave and unfulfilled life of the man who lost China to Communism' -- HISTORY TODAY

'Fenby has a gripping story, and tells it with great verve and insight' -- SPECTATOR

'Highly readable ... It is an epic tale and Fenby tells it with panache' -- SUNDAY TIMES

‘Astute, unusually well-written . . . the author rises fully to placing the Generalissimo’s political career into long-term perspective’ -- WALL STREET JOURNAL

‘Excellent biography . . . highly readable . . . Mr Fenby gives full range to an amazing cast of grotesques’ -- The ECONOMIST

From the Inside Flap

For more than two decades, Chiang Kai-shek, the Generalissimo of China, stood at the centre of a uniquely turbulent period in the modern history of the world’s most heavily populated nation. The son of a village salt-seller, he rose to personify his vast country in the period between the fall of the Manchu Empire in 1911 and the Communist victory in 1949. Grabbing the mantle of the Nationalist revolution and gaining control of the Kuomintang party, he led its army on the greatest campaign on earth between the two world wars in an attempt to defeat great warlords and propel the country towards unification, only to be confronted by the twin challenges of the Communists and the invading Japanese -- challenges which ultimately proved too great for even this most ambitious of men.

This is the first full biography of Chiang in English for twenty-five years. Focusing on his extraordinary life up to and including the defeat by Mao Zedong in 1949, it draws on a wealth of sources in China and the West, many of which have never been used in any previous book for the general reader. Highly dramatic and colourful, with an amazing cast of characters, GENERALISSIMO explores Chiang’s military and political career as well as revealing his equally complex private life. And while Chiang is the central figure, the book also presents a riveting history of pre-Communist China: a period of almost four decades during which tens of millions died in civil wars, floods, famines, and the fourteen-year conflict with Japan. It was an era when the Middle Kingdom flirted with the modern world, a time that ended in moral, political, economic and military decline which helped the Communists triumph, and a period during which the Generalissimo danced an intricate minuet with Japan!
, Stalin, Roosevelt and Truman that left deep scars in Western politics and policies.

Since his death in 1975, Chiang has been relegated to the shadows by the towering figure of his successor, Mao. This extraordinarily rich and gripping biography brings the Generalissimo centre-stage again, setting him in the context of a crucial period for China and the world and revealing the tide of events by which a third of humanity came to live the way it does today. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book tells an extraordinary story of one of the main figures of the last century who has been largely forgotten today but should not be. He wasn't a nice man - few big rulers are. But he and his times were fascinating. As well as Chiang, who came from nothing to rule China, the book tells of the huge wars and struggles that marked China before the Communist victory that settled the fate of 500 million people. Alongside the wars and politics (both very well described for the layman) the book is full of characters who could step straight out of a novel - warlords who controlled territory the size of a big European country and rode into battle sitting in coffins with their mistresses, the wide open city of Shanghai with its gangsters, tycoons and wild night life, and the strange inland city where Chiang fought his long war with Japan surrounded by a great collection of characters from the West as well as from his own country. I was afraid the book might be rather too heavy and expert for a non-specialist, but I found it a compelling read from the opening episode where Chiang is kidnapped one Christmas by one of his generals. The parallels for teh United States of what it did in China in the war with japan and what it is doing today in Iraq is interesting. to say the least. Then there was the bitter civil war which ended with Chiang's defeat and his exile to the island of Taiwan - what I hadn't tealised befroe reading this book is how near he came to wiping out the Communists.
Then there is Madame Chiang who died just the other week at an incredibly advanced age - she wooed American politicians and barged into a summit conference with Churchill and Roosevelt in a way that no other leader's wife would have dared to do. Not being a specialist on China I can't judge the academic sourecs in the book but they seem to be pretty complete. As a general reader, I thoroughly recommend this as a tremednous read which really told me something about modern history.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a great look at China in the early part of the 20th century. We look at Chiang from his birth to the defeat of the Nationalists by the Communists and them fleeing to Taiwan, which has an impact still to this day. Chiang lived through and eventually had an impact on an extremely interesting period of Chinese and Far Eastern history, from the fall of the Imperial Dynasty of China, the Warlord period, the brief period of stability as China was supposedly unified under a Nationalist government to the Japanese Invasions and the long struggle against them and then the final defeat by the Communists under Mao. Any one of these events could be a book in themselves, yet the author gives them, on the whole justice here.

This book generally follows a linear narrative into Chiang's life, except for the first chapter, where Chiang was captured by some of his own troops, led by one of the former Warlords and forced to cancel the planned attack against the Communists and focus on the Japanese instead (a truly pivotal moment indeed, who knows where we would be if the Communists had been defeated then). We get information about all the major palyers during this period and insights into Chiang's life, sparing no details and not hiding any aspect of Chiang 9his time in Shanghai was very enlightening)

The only real complaint that I had was that the final struggle with the Communists was rushed and Chiang's life in Taiwan was not covered at all really. Otherwise this is an excellent biography and look at this most interesting time of CHina
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Format: Hardcover
Having spent a number of years in Taiwan and Hong Kong its pretty easy to think one knows a bit about the general area....however reading this book makes you realize how little you really understand, even can understand, about this enigmatic region and its recent and incredibly tumultuous and brutal history. A history that to a lesser or greater extent has shaped the world we all live in. I have found most histories of China far from easy reading, however Fenby's book breaks the mold. From the opening attempted kidnapping in Xian, through the chronology of the rise to almost totalitarian power of this most unlikely of dictators; to the almost blase descriptions of unimaginable losses of life of both soldiers and innocents at the hands of warlords, Nationalists, Japanese and Communists alike, the book grippingly holds the attention. The geo-political manouverings of the great powers, the colourful and mostly unsavoury characters that are painted, the shameful exploitation of the common man, all add spice, flavour and context. Most interesting are some of the "what-ifs" that Fenby explores in the latter pages. The world could have been a different place if Chiang had been a more decisive less complex character. It leaves the reader, this one at least, in some way sensing that for all his shortcomings, for all the wrath indirectly unleashed as a result of his leadership, that maybe Chiang's rule was the less bad of a number of possible alternatives for the future of a country that is now beginning to take its place at the forefront of the modern economic and political world order. Sad it had to be that way.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is colourful... the description, the soul of Chiang's life, leak from the pages as you read. Fenby not only writes as biographer but he writes as a historian. It helped me greatly with my coursework, but also allowed me to visualise the murky streets of Shanghai, the intrigues of the Green Gang, the fascinating, differing personalities of the Soong sisters and the man himself, Chiang Kai Shek in a completely new and exciting way.
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