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Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  588 ratings  ·  84 reviews
Observing Pol Pot at close quarters during the one and only official visit he ever made abroad, to China in 1975, Philip Short was struck by the Cambodian leader's charm and charisma. Yet Pol Pot's utopian experiments in social engineering would result in the death of one in every five Cambodians--more than a million people.
How did an idealistic dream of justice and pros
Paperback, 560 pages
Published January 10th 2006 by Holt Paperbacks (first published September 5th 2000)
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Paul Bryant
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
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
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
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
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
I found this surprisingly dry and disjointed. Not nearly as good as Short's Mao book, which is really excellent.
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
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
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
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.

way way too much information for me. excellent pics of people in black pyjamas.
Czarny Pies
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
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
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
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
This book claims to be a biography of Pol Pot, but because of the secretiveness of the Cambodian communist régime thee, it could better be described as a history of Cambodia told through the eyes of Pol Pot and his régime.

There are days when I wonder why I read books like this. When I read biographies, I like to read about people I respect, admire, aspire to be like, or achieved something. This book doesn't really cover any of these things, and when I read it, I found myself becoming ever more c
Antonio Nunez
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
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
JoséMaría BlancoWhite

Mr. Short's book describes very well the general picture/scenery of Cambodia's history. Pol Pot is described rather as an important piece in the whole story rather than the subject itself, the story of his country, in which he played such a nightmarish role. It's horror just to think such a despicable person, a murderer of this calibre can walk free around and rule the lives and deaths of millions of people.

The author is trustworthy and objective in his analysis, calm a
Michael Gerald Dealino
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.
Mike Wigal
Solid work. Well researched. Probably goes as close to the mind of Pol Pot as any. The life sentences just handed down for the remaining two Khmer Rouge minions are small change for crimes against humanity of this magnitude. Philip Short tries to parse out what in the Cambodian cultural makeup allowed the scourge to occur. But, that seems an impossible task and prone to simplification. It's like trying to figure how Germany went over to the dark side; too many factors hitting at the right moment ...more
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
If you are looking for a biography of Pol Pot, The History of a Nightmare may disappoint. But this is not because the books isn't good, its just that Short has not set out to write the story of an individual (and considering what a secretive, impenetrable individual Pol Pot was, this choice is prudent) but instead he uses the person of Pol Pot as a focal point for the history of the Khmer Rouge.

The bulk of the work deals with matters before 1975, outlining in detail both the recent political and
Jul 22, 2008 Valerie rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Oct 12, 2013 Catherine marked it as to-read
Shelves: nonfiction, history
One of my best friends as a child is Cambodian. My mother still loves to laugh at the story. I came home from First Grade exclaiming my excitement regarding a exotic new classmate. "Mom, there's a girl in my class from Canada!" She feigns interest, I guess because she thinks Canadians aren't that interesting. Then at the next PTO meeting I grab her hand and pull her behind me to meet my new exotic friend. Not Canadian, Cambodian. Oh my mother loves to laugh about that. I think she even told my f ...more
Patrick McCoy

Philip Short's book, Pol Pot: Anatomy Of A Nightmare (2004) is not a conventional biography. Rather it is more of a short history of the political events in Cambodia from about 1951 to present day, which explain how the Khmer Rouge came into power. Short has done an excellent job of putting together sources and explaining what happened to Cambodia during that era. This begins with trying to chase the French out. It continued with fighting the Viet Cong and being bombed into the stone age by the
Pol Pot is one of the great evil villains of the 20th Century. His leadership of the Khmer Rouge and its reign of terror during the "killing fields" era of mid-1970s Cambodia (Kampuchea) is well documented and explained in Short's excellent work.

I learned a lot from reading this book, and was reminded of things I had forgotten over the last 35+ years. Included here would be the China-U.S.-Thailand support of Pol Pot's regime as a counterweight to the USSR-Vietnam alliance, the idiosyncratic natu
Despite the title, this is more of a history of the Khmer Rouge (and mid to late 20th century Cambodia in general) than a proper biography of Saloth Sar. I was hoping to gain more insight into Pol's psychology and motivations, but there is very little of that provided in these pages. In fact, I came away from this narrative knowing much more about Norodom Sihanouk, Khieu Samphan, and Ieng Sary than "Brother #1".
Also, Short spends a few too many pages discussing the Cercle Marxiste and Pol's year
Every couple of years, I feel inspired to pick up a big, heavy tome of a history book. I think to myself: “YES. History! I love history! History helps us to understand ourselves. It’s so important to read history books.”

Then, almost invariably, I make it through 100 pages of said heavy tome and it just defeats me. This always makes me feel slightly worthless, but in my defence, most history books are (1) really badly written and (2) far too minutely detailed to interest a casual reader.

Pol Pot h
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