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3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  6,057 ratings  ·  552 reviews
In the epilogue to her biography of Mao Tse-tung, Jung Chang and her husband and cowriter Jon Halliday lament that, "Today, Mao's portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital." For Chang, author of Wild Swans, this fact is an affront, not just to history, but to decency. Mao: The Unknown Story does not contain a formal dedicat ...more
Published (first published September 1st 2002)
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Feb 03, 2012 Natasha rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
I was very much looking forward to this highly touted book, as it's widely considered to be the most thorough and in depth study of Mao ever done. It's true, actually. The amount of detail is pretty incredible.

The thing that has been turning me off of this book is that it falls victim a little too much to the author's personal feelings for Mao. I understand that a lot of what he did was atrocious. I just wish that I didn't feel like I was being force fed the author's point of view quite so blata
Nov 13, 2014 Caroline marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Mikey B.
Okay, I put my hands up...this book has me defeated. At page 228 I am giving up. It is just too dense, and too filled with battle and political strategy to be my cup of tea.

I have however gleaned some interesting points from what I have read. (view spoiler)
How do I review a book like this? I don't know, because I have decidedly mixed feelings about Mao myself. Jung Chang wrote the amazing "Wild Swans" biography/autobiography, but her voice there falls far short of the voice here. I'll be honest. It's very, very biased. She presents the work as *factual* when it's not actually quite that factual. Much of her interpretation and statements are based off of things like, "a dear friend of Mao's said..." and yet, the friend is *not* named or referenced. ...more
Andrew Macneil
Aug 18, 2007 Andrew Macneil rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in modern history
This is a comprehensive hatchet job on the Western myth of Mao's "making of modern China". It should be read by everyone who grew up in the post-war years, with the recurrent fascination our society had with the internal convulsions of the "People's Republic" and its growing influence on its neighbours.

It is well written - I noticed a few repetitions, but nothing annoying, and it kept my interest throughout.

I'm sure the passion that comes through the book's relentless examination of Mao's beha
Sep 15, 2015 Jessica is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I can't decide whether to keep going with this book, which is one of the most annoying biographies I've ever read. The tabloidish whiff of the subtitle -- The Unknown Story! -- is misleading: this book should have been called Mao: What a DICK! Its tone is bizarrely vitriolic and hysterical, as the authors take every single conceivable opportunity to spell out after each example that, see, look, Mao was a real DICK.

Here's the thing: we already know that Mao was a dick! And if we somehow didn't, s
James Murphy
This isn't balanced biography. This is more like character assassination. It reminded me of the harsh biographical treatment Albert Goldman gave Elvis Presley some years ago. Whatever detail of Mao's life Chang writes about, the negative aspects are emphasized. The facts of his marriages are glued together with the ways he crippled them and damaged the wives. Writing about his children, the author underlines the ways he mistreated them. Every lash of the whip is here: not writing to his children ...more
Just like when I read Wild Swans byt Jung Chang, there were times when my eyes almost crossed when she is writing of politics and military maneuvers. However, I felt that anyone interested in 20th Century China should read both. There has been some controversy about the accuracy of some of the information, but overall, from what I have read, there is some new information that has been verified (Russia's involvement in Chinese politics during the civil war, for example).

Sometimes, I think Jung C
Jeff Chappell
May 03, 2011 Jeff Chappell rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Shelves: nonfiction
I'm going to have to come back to this; it's an exhaustive read. I will say this: I would have given it five stars but for the fact that the writing itself is extremely textbookish. At times, reading it was a chore that ranks up there with getting through John Galt's 60-page speech in Atlas Shrugged. But Mao is so well researched and such an interesting topic, covering a fascinating period in Chinese history ...

Update: If you really are a glutton for punishment and want to read what I really thi
Man, this was a 2 1/2 month project to slog through. That's not to say it isn't a good book, I just had a hard time in the first half when we just have example after example of Mao killing thousands of his own men because he's either scared of losing power, scared of Stalin, scared of Chiang Kai-Shek, or greedy for something or other. It actually gets sort of redundant.

The book really picks up in the second half when things get considerably more interesting with the Russians and when, little by
This book is anti-Mao, for sure, but from what I've read in other books, that seems to be justified. Mao is responsible for the worst man-made famine in all of history--30 million people died. He caused the deaths of more people than Hitler and Stalin put together. A lot of people don't know that because it isn't part of Western history, but it is true. My only problem with the book was the exhaustive detail. Sometimes it was just too much. But I found it well-researched and informative.
Mikey B.

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”
Quote of Mao Tse-tung

“Long Live Chairman Mao”

“Chairman Mao Tse-tung is the Saviour of the Chinese People”

During the 1960’s and ‘70’s Mao was a much revered world leader – particularly adored by the college crowd (I know I was one of them) who put Mao on a pedestal. He was placed among the great leaders of the 20th century like Gandhi. His stature in Western society was likely similar to that of Stalin who was also glorified during the 1930’s and
A minutely researched story of how Mao came-to and stayed-in power, with a lot of behind the scenes information, detailed accounts from diplomatic meetings and interviews of people who came into contact with him.

Is it well written? It’s good, but not outstanding, and it feels biased. There is a wealth of interesting information on how his regime functioned, but Mao as a person doesn’t come fully through. There are some repetitions, some things are unclear, some information seems willfully omitte
At first, I was put off by the heavily polemical style and constant sneers at Mao. But I pushed on, and I'm glad that I did. Read the book, not as academic history or as a scientific investigation, but more as a bill of indictment. Chang and Halliday spent ten years digging up an extraordinary wealth of material, and I doubt anyone will ever match what they have done. They had access to Russian archival material and various aging eye-witnesses in China that have not been available to previous hi ...more
Wow. I bet Batman would write a less biased hate filled book about his parents killers then what Changs got here. But both do deserve to be in a pulpy comic book world due to the sensationalism and over the top delivery they'd contain. This book doesn't stray too far away from Mao's life, but it does often take a break from history and dive off the deep end into hate fueled digression. Does Mao deserve such ferocious posthumous honors? You'll certainly think so after spending time with him in th ...more
It is very peculiar that a book could be written of such length and full of such needling and petty detail while touching its subject so shallowly. The authors seem to view their job as to ascribe all evil to Mao, but it is not enough to say he was evil- what drove him?

The book reaches a hilarious level of propaganda language. No opportunity for universal hyperbole is missed; no closing statement of doom is left unsaid. Some of them made me laugh out loud, probably not the authors intention but
Jung Chang wrote a beautiful story in Wild Swans, the biograpy of her own family through the Mao era, but this biography she has written of Mao Zedong is flawed in that she clearly lets her overwhelming hatred for what her family went through keep her from being an objective biographer. Chang paints Mao as a monster. He did fail as a leader, but he also did many good things for China. A historian--the role Chang is attempting to assume here--needs to look at all sides of these issues of power an ...more
Czarny Pies
Sep 27, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Modern China
Recommended to Czarny by: I read it in spite of all the negative reviews. No one recommended it.
Shelves: asian-history
I am giving this book four stars for two reasons. The first is that the research effort by Ms. Chang was extraordinary. The second is that her husband conducted exhaustive research in the Russian archives something that I suspect no other Western academic following China would have been able to do. The result is a book which is rich in detail on Mao and which presents the best description of Mao's relations with the Russians thus providing the best explanation of how the communists were able to ...more
Jeffrey Mollerup
I once owned a t-shirt that I bought while vacationing in China that had a picture of Mao that is identical to the one on the cover of this book. Had I known how narcissistic, evil, diabolical, cruel and ruthless this man really was, I would have torn the shirt to shreds. I thought Hitler was evil...Mao Ze Dong was responsible for at least 10 times the number of deaths that Hitler was. In the tradition of the cruel emperors of China's past, Mao set himself up to be a god who required unquestioni ...more
Nov 26, 2012 Alexander rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Modern Asian Historic Studies
Recommended to Alexander by: Nodoby
I knew this little man was bad and corrupt to a point, and I expected to be taken for a ride through his life and times, politics, effects on his countrymen and so on. I had no idea that this guy was an inspiration for the types of Pol Pot. Other realisations: I didn't know that ...

- sitting on a pile of newspapers, some of which may have included a picture of Mao, was a *capital* offence. You'd never sit anywhere again if you survived the initial 'blast'.
- during the war, he decided that it wa
Right, this is not an unbiased and objective look at the life of Mao. This is the necessary counterpoint so that there might one day be an unbiased and objective account of the life of Mao. This opened my eyes to just how ignorant I am about a lot of the history of that region and the role of Mao especially. The book opens with Chang positing that Mao killed more than 60 million of his own people, more than any other dictator during peace time. He deliberated starved his own people, taking the h ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Chang, who was born in China in 1952 and left for Britain in 1978, recounted her family's suffering under Mao in her award-winning Wild Swans (1991). With husband-historian Halliday, she has written a shocking, authoritative account of Mao's life. The authors present evidence that refutes almost every aspect of the Chinese Communist Party's account, from the claim that the Party fought the Japanese to Mao's role in the Long March. Having gleaned indicting information from newly available Chinese

Steven Peterson
This is a long, detailed biography of Mao Zedong--coming in at 617 pages. It is hard hitting and very critical of its subject. And their rendering of the Long March is very different than the view of Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine. On the other hand Pantsov and Levine also have a critical take on Mao--although not as unrestrained as Chang and Halliday. Both volumes speak to his marital infidelity and his ceaseless struggle to gain power.

This book takes a chronological view of Mao, wit
Stephen Meserve
I hated this book. The author felt like the least objective person in the world, which was crazy, because her source material is one of the nastiest people to walk the face of the earth. All she really had to do was present her copious research to the reader and then let the reader fill in the blanks on how despicable Mao was. Instead, it was endless speculative leaps and questionable conclusions.
Here is a man with NO redeeming qualities. Like, stood by when his own sons died and then seduced their wives kinda bad (never mind 70 million murdered). Pretty much the nicest thing about him that I found was: he would have have his bodyguards break in his shoes for him because he didn't like new clothes. I know, it's weak.

Shocking, traumatizing, depressing, text-bookish but brilliant. This is the sequal to Jung Chang's first international best seller, "Wild Swans - Three Daughters of China".

It was not an easy read and certainly a challenge to empathize with Jung Chang's anger and open contempt for Mao. Her intense personal feelings established this book as a personal journey of discovery which took her ten years of intense research. Although most of the facts can be verified, there are others, supplied by peo

this book presents an overblown and out of proportion account of a very evil man. Mao screwed up through most of his rule, leaving only one lasting positive achievement (united, warlord free China) after causing the death of so many innocents due to his increasing paranoia and screwups. At times, you learn something interesting and there are many rare gems most western readers wouldn't know about China's historical figures, most who weren't saints but practical men who had agendas to satisfy and
Jung Chang and her husband are both respected university professors who attempt to present a biography over 20 years in the making. Every comment in their book is also extensively sourced with a bibliography at the end that illuminates they extensive span of their work. The problem is readership be it by academics or otherwise fails to differentiate that the book is not her opinion but rather a collection of other authors facts, many of them from unclassified documents in Russian KGB archives. U ...more
Feb 02, 2008 Debbie rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to understand who Mao was.
From purely a historical viewpoint, I would give this four and a half stars. As an enjoyable read, I would give this no more than 2 stars. For those of you who believe this is extremely biased, I suggest you read, "Mao's Last Dancer". I guarantee it is a great read, written by someone who lived in China, during Mao's rule, and loved Mao as one loves a "God".
Robin Webster
I have read two previous books by Jung Chang (Wild Swans and Empress Dowager Cixi) and enjoyed them both immensely, but unfortunately I don’t feel the same about this book. Her previous work about the ‘Empress Dowager’ for example was balanced with a detailed account of her rise to power which appealed to those with a basic understanding of that period of Chinese history. However, in my view the writing in this book is overburdened with unnecessary details which just interrupt the flow of the bo ...more
Ryan Milbrath
Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s monumental work on Mao Zedong was the result of a decade’s worth of collecting research and interviewing. The significance of the 2005 work is in its attack on several myths of Mao’s creation of “Red China.” Chang and Halliday reveal source information that discredits the idealized versions of Mao’s early life, the Long March, Opium production in China, the securing of Mao’s power, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the Superpower Program.

At just o
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A Tough Read, but worth it 11 50 Jun 24, 2008 07:10PM  
  • The Private Life of Chairman Mao
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  • Mao's Great Famine: The History Of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62
  • Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present
  • Chiang Kai Shek: China's Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost
  • Lenin: A Biography
  • Out of Mao's Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China
  • From Emperor To Citizen: The Autobiography Of Aisin Gioro Pu Yi
  • Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine
  • China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation
  • The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China
  • The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth
  • Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War
  • Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962
  • Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare
Jon Halliday is an Irish historian specialising in modern Asia and was a former Senior Visiting Research Fellow at King's College London.

Halliday authored a biography of filmmaker Douglas Sirk and has written and edited seven other books. He and his wife, Jung Chang, live in Notting Hill, West London. Together they researched and wrote the biography of Mao Zedong, Mao: the Unknown Story which rece
More about Jon Halliday...

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