Top critical review
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Ground Breaking Research doesnt necessary equate to a Gret Read
on 11 October 2011
I studied History to a MA level, I only start this way to give some context; I am used to, and comfortable sifting through 'dense' history books.
However personally I draw a distinction between historical books published primarily as academic texts for academics to read and research from, and historical books published as non-fiction books for members of the general public with an interest in history to read.
I belive this books fall somewhere in between, and if anything leans towards being an academic text rather than a non-fiction book, and that is not how the book was presented or advertised to me, and not what I bought it for.My review focuses on how the book reads, I will leave the historical accuarcy to the professionals.
If I was writing an essay on the Famine, the GLF or China during this period then I would find this book a huge help, if not indispensable to my research. There is a wealth of imformation and thorough research and interpreations of sources I will never have the chanec to examine first hand.
Howver as a non-fiction book I found this book slightly wanting, and quite frankly hard work. A lot of this is no doubt down to the subject matter, so perhaps little fault can be laid at the author's feet for that. It was always going to be hard work reading a book about such a tragic and horrific event. However despite the 'impressive' cataloguing of human misery and suffering the book, for me, fails to present sufficent empathy, humanity and personality to the events and people. To often it becomes a roll-coll of disasters, as we are bludgeoned by almost continous statistics of horror. I feel statistics are slightly overused in general thoughout the book (perhaps this is unavoidable, but that doesnt make reading it any less tedious). The nature and industry chapters in particular are just long lits of figures that after a while become almots meaningless. They often lack context, I am always appreciative for the few times when he compare the almount of waste/damage to something I can picture; i.e. 18 footabll pitches. It justs helps to have a powerful visual image and easy cross-reference.
I really enjoyed the first part of the book, as it had a more linear feel and it described and analyzed the Party's and Mao's motives and the ideology and devlopment of the GLF. Once it got more into the famine, for me, it was too much like reeling of a list about whatever the chapeter happened to be about. Once again Im not sure how avoidable this is, but I think the book really suffred from breaking into subject chapters. it made the information provided too 'samey' one tragedy, horror, injustice, crime, idiocy after an other until they lost a lot of the shock a dpotency they should have had as they began to run together a little.
Personally I feel a better approach would have been to have taken a look at the whole GLF year by year or even county by county rather than a whole chapter for elderly,nature, diesease etc. I feel that would have maintained the poigancy of events sand helped paint a better picture of what was happening where and when, by breaking into subject chapters it is hard to follow the overall development and ebb and flow of the GLF at times.
Still I'm glad I bought and read it, as it has definietly increased my knowledge and understanding of a very important period in the history of the world. However, and it shames me to say this about a topic so tragic, I found the book boring in large parts. Depsite learning a lot I didnt find it terribly intersting, and it is an interesting topic so I think that is definitely a result of the authors style (or lack of).