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Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  747 Ratings  ·  106 Reviews
A gripping and definitive portrait of the man who headed one of the most enigmatic and terrifying regimes of modern times

In the three and a half years of Pol Pot's rule, more than a million Cambodians, a fifth of the country's population, were executed or died from hunger. An idealistic and reclusive figure, Pol Pot sought to instill in his people values of moral purity an
ebook, 560 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published September 5th 2000)
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(showing 1-30 of 747)
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Paul Bryant
Dec 20, 2012 Paul Bryant rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: utopians
Rewritten in honour of the Mayan Calendar and it being the final day of the entire world and all that.

So this book is a history of the way the world really did end in one particular country.

I imagine at some point in the early 70s Saloth Sar, later to be cutely renamed as Pol Pot, was listening to the radio and on came that well known utopian anthem Imagine :

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in pea
Whenever a new friend is perusing my bookshelves, I always find myself mentally cringing when they reach a certain point awaiting the persistent judgment-laced query: "why do you have so many biographies on dictators and mass murderers?" It's a hard question to answer, if only because it means I have to unpack nearly a decade's worth of my own jumbled thoughts on idealism, social upheaval, human fallibility, and the inevitability of revolution; a task which often leaves the questioner glassy-eye ...more
I feel this book is sort of misleadingly packaged: it's not much of a biography, presumably because there's not a lot known about Pol Pot the man. Or maybe it is known but there's still just not that much to say: Short does dutifully record biographical details, but they never seem to add up to any fleshed-out understanding of a human being... And maybe that's the point. Maybe the dark emptiness at the root of the Khmer Rouge's ideology and actions is exactly that: a lack not just of humanity, b ...more
Nancy Oakes
Apr 16, 2015 Nancy Oakes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
like a 3.8.

When I started reading this book, I had absolutely no idea just how timely my choice of books was. While starting the section about the 1975 evacuation of Phnom Penh, I did a google search to find photos and discovered that tomorrow, April 17, marks the 40th anniversary of this event, which also marked "Day One" of the new regime headed by Pol Pot under the Khmer Rouge. It also marked day one of roughly three and a half years of starvation, disease, and executions that in total took t
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
It is not often that biographies or autobiographies do not have photos inserted in the middle of the book. Here, there are a good number of them. One shows smiling soldiers, walking, rifles slung on their shoulders. In their hands are decapitated heads of their victims, supposedly communists.

I wonder how it feels to grab by my hands the hair of these freshly cut heads, carrying them like chickens. Will I be able to smile like these soldiers? Maybe not for the first time. I'd probably be grim-fac
Gene Smith
Dont Buy Philip Shorts Books Read why and what you are funding.

>>>Philip Short has writen Books mostly upon reading other peoples books like
David Chandler. Philip short takes several books sorts them out, gathers
pictures. Philip makes his own theory about culture. I see many men and women
challange him in colleges. Although Philip Short has the right idea's because
how could he not, he read the books of David Chandler. Mr Short makes false
claims. No one can back up his storys. Philip Shor
Babak Fakhamzadeh
Who hasn't seen The Killing Fields, the Hollywood hit about atrocities in Cambodia under Khmer Rouge rule.
In the book's introduction, Short shows that Cambodia's killings is not only comparable to Rwanda's or Germany's, but maybe even worse, in a way, as the killings were directed at the, ethnically, same people who perpetrated the killings. The fact that, technically, therefore, the killings were not a genocide also makes them different from comparable atrocities in recent history. Pop Pot and
Meharo Bettison
Aug 13, 2013 Meharo Bettison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Totalitarian movements fascinate me. Whether they be on the right or the left, I am intrigued by their ideologies and how they are able to rise from obscurity into positions of political power. The Khmer Rouge are no exception.

Pol Pot and many of his cohorts came from upper-middle class backgrounds, an interesting fact considering the Khmer Rouge's affinity for the poorest of peasants. It was interesting reading about Pol's early life in French Cambodia. The author Philip Short asserts Vichy Fra
Czarny Pies
Sep 29, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian-history
Philip Short's Pol Pot is an outstanding biography of one of the greatest monsters of the twentieth century as well as a first rate political history of Cambodia from 1920 to 1998 the year Pol Pot finally died.

Having already written a biography of Mao Tse Tung, Short began this project with a solid background in the politics of South-East Asia and the methods of communist insurgents operating in the area.

"Pol Pot" was the nom de guerre for Saloth Sar the son of a Cambodian rice farmer born in 1
May 12, 2012 Patrick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just started this massive tome, which should be very awful and depressing, right? I mean, savage insane dictator convinces everybody in the country to go nuts and die.

Yet I find humor here, which says more about me than about life in Cambodia in the 1930s.

Or does it?

"For the young, Phnom Penh in the 1930s was a place of wonderment...each spring crowds gathered to wtach the Royal Oxen plough the Sacred Furrow..." (p.26 in the hard cover)

Not too long after that tidbit we get into the concubine
Jun 26, 2008 kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
way way too much information for me. excellent pics of people in black pyjamas.
Antonio Nunez
Jul 12, 2013 Antonio Nunez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Philip Short refers to his book on Mao in his preface to "Pol Pot:Anatomy to a Massacre" and, while acknowledging Mao's extraordinary beastliness (the man was probably responsible for over 50 million deaths) he highlights Mao's pretentions to greatness not unlike Napoleon's or Alexander's. That is not the case with Pol Pot. He did not fight an honorable war against a brutal invader, like Mao did with the Japanese. Instead, he led to his Cambodia's occupation by the hated Vietnamese, who had been ...more
Bro_Pair أعرف
An admirably solid book about one of the most bewildering stories of the twentieth century. I was never a fan of Lewis Carroll as a kid; "Alice in Wonderland" always scared me. This books inspired the same fear in me. I don't think I've ever been through a looking glass and found myself in a place as brutish and, well - insane as the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge. Short is a good writer; his former career as a BBC journalist is apparent, in his unadorned prose, mistrust of simple narratives, ...more
Jedi Kitty
This book it isn't a Pol Pot biography. Its scope is the communist revolution in Cambodia from its origins to final throes-and it encompasses all players on the domestic and international stages. It is a political history. It is a detailed chronology, with some analysis, and not much pathos. The author writes in a level-headed, impartial manner, often putting the Cambodian tragedy into perspective by comparison to other revolutions. It is unexpectedly dull, zoomed-out reading for the topic. Howe ...more
Jul 02, 2007 david-baptiste rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent biography (most books on Pol Pot only focus on the years in power of the Khmer Rouge, not on the man's whole life, which is a truly strange one)--

Pol Pot, like Ho Chi Minh, General Giap and man other leaders of Southeast Asian revolutions, was educated in France--at the Sorbonne. (His favorite poet was Paul Verlaine.) He developed one of the trangest and most extremes revoltuions of modern times--a combination of Marxist/Maoist rhtoric with traditioanl Cambodian Buddhism and the inv
Sep 20, 2011 Sheri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I should probably stop reading books as informative and depressing as this one. I had started this biography of Pol Pot about a month ago and it has been my bedside companion since then, to be read about 10 pages at a time if I wake up at night & have trouble falling back to sleep quickly. When I was about 2/3 of the way through it, I read Samantha Power's book (A Problem From Hell: American And The Age Of Genocide) on my Kindle, one chapter of which addressed the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cam ...more
Oct 18, 2009 Alan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Short's history/biography combines an engaging narrative flow with a good amount of detail. I am still not sure I understand how Pol Pot evolved from the mediocre student, Saloth Sar, and budding Marxist into the leader of a (briefly) successful revolutionary movement. Short does mention his later charisma, but if he possessed such an appeal in his early days, the book did not really show it. It did, however, do a brilliant job of showing how Cambodian culture, psyche and worldview were more imp ...more
Ashley Clark
Feb 09, 2016 Ashley Clark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an amazing work by a clearly talented historian. The access he had to leaders and documents is insane, or maybe he was just patient enough to go through them all. What I loved most about this book was that the way the author put things into context (for example, he compared the killings in Phnom Penh immediately after the invasion to French reprisal killings after WWII to show that they did not differ by % that much), but also did not excuse individual actors. Instead of pointing to one or ...more
Mar 08, 2013 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whew! I am finally finished with this tome! I'm not much of a history buff, but I'm trying to remedy that. If you are very interested in Cambodia during the time of Pol Pot, read this book! Philip Short really helped me understand the vastly different mindset of the Cambodian people and how this atrocity happened. It still seems incomprehensible to me. Good book with lots and lots of information (450 pages)!
Michael Gerald
Jan 04, 2012 Michael Gerald rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought a hardcover copy of this book at a bargain bookstore in my home city of Quezon in the Philippines for just the equivalent of just 4 dollars. This is a sad book, as it narrates the inhumanity of the Khmer Rouge, probably the most inhumane of the communists in history. Under Pol Pot, Cambodia became a slave state and a huge killing field, like North Korea today. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are at par with Mao, Stalin, and the Kims of North Korea. I hope they are all burning in hell.
I found this surprisingly dry and disjointed. Not nearly as good as Short's Mao book, which is really excellent.
Radek Gabinek
Apr 01, 2016 Radek Gabinek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Smutne- i niewygodne - jest to, że zło nie jest odrębnym uwarunkowaniem, które można wyizolować i odseparować. Jest częścią ciągłej skali wartości, negatywnym odpowiednikiem dobra, z ogromną szarą strefą pomiędzy nimi"

Przyznam szczerze, że mechanizmy rządzące złem są już od dłuższego czasu przedmiotem moich zainteresowań. Geneza zła, jego uwarunkowania i umiejętność ludzi w określonych okolicznościach w poddaniu się mu jest tyle przerażająca co jednocześnie intrygująca, a jednocześnie fascynują
Scott Holstad
Apr 20, 2016 Scott Holstad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book very engaging. While it is not a “true” biography of Pol Pot, in that this isn’t what the entire book is about, the book is instead a study on twentieth century Cambodia, its politics, culture, international manipulations, military struggles, and yet, to a certain degree, one Saloth Sar, aka Pol Pot.

I have read a number of biographies of Pol Pot now, as well as studies on 1970s Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge and just what happened between 1975 and early 1979, and I am currently r
Earl Grey Tea
Oct 03, 2016 Earl Grey Tea rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
To me, Pol Pot had always been one of the brutal leaders in history that I vaguely knew about. Cambodia. Khmer Rogue. Genocide. Just the general overview. On my way out of South Korea, I had a few dollars of credit left at the used book store and decided to pick this book up to help enlighten me about this figure in modern history.

You may notice that this book took me a long time to complete. There were two major factors that prevented me from finishing it in a timely manner, the foremost being
Debjit Sengupta
Nov 18, 2015 Debjit Sengupta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cambodia was a French Colony. The French occupy the upper strata of the society and hold top administrative posts. The clerical jobs were used to be performed by the Vietnamese as there weren’t quality Cambodian people who could do that job. Trading community was dominated by the ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese. Peasants were mostly local Cambodian.

This was followed by the rule of charismatic Prince Shinoak who had an excellent goodwill at world forum. Though a monarch, Prince Shinoak government w
Philip Short's work on the life of Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1970's Cambodia, is expansive and meticulous without being overbearing or too dense. Short has the ability to construct a compelling and interesting narrative from the life of this giant historical figure, as the best biographers do. While I might not recommend it for the reader with no knowledge of SE Asia in the 1960s/70s, I have found it to be an integral addition to my collection of books on the Khmer Rouge p ...more
Jul 22, 2008 Valerie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those committted to the details
I’ve yet to conclude this grim book, but several sets of ideas already stand out in Short’s excellent, exhaustive account.

One: Sar (Pol Pot) was not a particularly brilliant man, merely a dedicated one. Early on, he demonstrated an ease with living a dual life (important for his underground political activities and for concealing his identity as the Baddest brother); he was an undistinguished scholar (indeed, he barely degreed); he was deeply old-fashioned (revealed through the details of his ma
Eric Huynh
As some reviews mentioned it before mine, this book is more about the "anatomy of a nightmare" than about Pol Pot itself, even though, Pol Pot broadly embodied the khmer rouge movement, that did not survive to his death anyway. So, you should not expect too much details on Pol Pot's life, somehow the title of Short's work is misleading.

This book is way more about the foundation of the khmers rouges, from their distant ancestors like "the Issaraks" who were fighting the french protectorate and t
Aug 06, 2014 Kelly rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I have always promised myself, that, if I were to ever "quit" a book, that I would at least read 2/3 of it before throwing in the towel. I read a little over 2/3 before I gave up, but I felt at that point like I was wasting my time.

I should have read the reviews first- it appears that many of them have the same feelings towards how this book was written as I do. On a positive note- Short does present a LOT of information. It is clear that he worked hard to research the info in this book.

Dec 31, 2012 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Looking for a book to read on the terrors of the Khmer Rouge while I was in Indochina over the past three weeks on holidays, I was fortunate enough to come across GR chum Paul Bryant's excellent review of this book - and based upon the things he had to say, I purchased it and began reading immediately.

I was in Cambodia for the longest part of the vacation, and speaking with survivors of the KR horror while reading this book was almost surreal. But there was something very disturbing about what I
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