Philip Short Mao: A Life

ISBN 13: 9780805066388

Mao: A Life

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9780805066388: Mao: A Life
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When the Nationalists routed a ragtag Red Army on the Xiang River during the Long March, an earthy Chinese peasant with a brilliant mind moved to a position of power. Eight years after his military success, Mao Tse-tung had won out over more sophisticated rivals to become party chairman, his title for life. Isolated by his eminence, he lived like a feudal emperor for much of his reign after blood purge and agricultural failures took more lives than those killed by either Stalin or Hitler. His virtual quarantine resulted in an ideological/political divide and a devastating reign of terror that became known as the Cultural Revolution. One cannot understand today's China without first understanding Mao, and Philip Short's masterly assessment -- informed by a wealth of new sources -- allows the reader to understand this colossal figure whose shadow will dominate the twenty-first century.

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Review:

Of the three great tyrants of the 20th century--Hitler, Stalin, and Mao--the West generally knows the least about the latter. What we do know is that he was every bit as genocidal in his policies as either of the other two great villains of the age. In fact, in purely statistical terms, Mao might have been responsible for the deaths of more people than Hitler and Stalin combined. However, Philip Short's immense but immensely readable and impressively researched biography of the man goes far deeper than this. Yes, he acknowledges, Mao was a tyrant, but then China always has been run by tyrants; it never has had a tradition of democracy. And Mao was also an idealist: the deaths of millions was, as he saw it, the price that his country had to pay for being dragged from a state of medieval servitude--perpetually on the brink of famine--to that of a modern, industrialized, self-sufficient nation, in the space of a single lifetime. Short also humanizes Mao, and shows a man who had a profound and sincere interest in Chinese philosophy and poetry, and a surprisingly sharp sense of humor. None of this can exonerate Mao from the charge of inhumanity on an epic scale. But it does make for a much more rounded and complex portrait of the figure who, as the 21st century unfolds, might be shown to have had more influence on world history than either Hitler or Stalin. --Christopher Hart, Amazon.co.uk

About the Author:

Philip Short has been a foreign correspondent for The Times (London), The Economist, and BBC in Uganda, Moscow, China, and Washington, D.C. He lived in China for seven years; he now resides in Paris.

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