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Mao Zedong

3.37  ·  Rating Details ·  609 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
An intimate history of one of the most formidable and elusive rulers in modern history

From humble origins in the provinces, Mao Zedong rose to absolute power, unifying with an iron fist a vast country torn apart by years of weak leadership, colonialism, and war. This sharply drawn and insightful account brings to life this modern-day emperor and the tumultuous era that h
Audio Cassette, 0 pages
Published February 2nd 2000 by Books on Tape, Inc. (first published 1999)
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Oct 24, 2010 Hobbes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was no deep look into the trivial doings of Mao, but rather a synopsis of his life. I found it to be absolutely perfect for what it was. The details all seemed to be on the same plane: no sudden dips down into minutia, unmatched elsewhere. Likewise, no skipping over the surface to cover great gulfs of time in only a few pages. No doubt the end lacked depth but the author certainly made a good case for they why: Mao's personal journey having been mostly completed and no events were happening ...more
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History is not really my favorite subject but finally I finished read this one. The brief biography of Mao Ze Dong tells the overview of his life and what happening in the China at that period. The book provides detail about Mao’s earlier life. Mao had struggle so often against the autocratic nature of his father, hated and despised the shackles of bourgeois marriage and had found joy in a free-love relationship, detest schools and would rather go to the libraries to seek classical and historian ...more
Hock Tjoa
Feb 07, 2011 Hock Tjoa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brief and not at all sensational account of Chairman Mao. Meaning, it does not address any of the sensational aspects of Mao's personality (such as Mao's physician did) or dwell on the disasters of the Cultural Revolution of of the Great Leap Forward or get into the whys and wherefores of Mao's (manipulative) relationship with Lin Biao, Liu Shao Qi or Zhou Enlai. Instead, it is a "straight up" account of Mao's life and succeeds I think in communicating the essentials of these without getting i ...more
Yves Gounin
La biographie eut longtemps mauvaise presse dans la science historique. Elle y voyait un exercice racoleur – qui rencontrait d’ailleurs souvent le succès dans le grand public – plus soucieux de multiplier les anecdotes croustillantes que d’étudier la « longue durée ». Avec le renouveau de l’histoire politique, la biographie a fait son retour dans les années 80. Il s’agissait d’ailleurs moins souvent de présenter un personnage individuel dans sa singularité que de traiter l’histoire collective à ...more
May 09, 2014 Jimmy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I actually used an old audio tape while driving. Shows you the kind of stuff I listen to.

A fair, even-handed biography. Very thorough. What a catastrophic failure Maoism was. How does it happen? Part of it is losing touch with reality. Part of it is a fear of being overthrown. Part of it is believing so much in a philosophy that all discussion goes out the door. He was willing to destroy all of the historical buildings in Beijing and would rather have had all smokestacks. So he nixed a plan to
David Redman
May 25, 2016 David Redman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For those looking for a short introduction into the life of Chairman Mao Zedong, this is a perfect book. Although it is true that others have gone more in depth, for a person who is just reading for a simple understanding of his life it gives the information that helps you understand the revolution leading to the current state of The People's Republic of China, changing from their empire to their Nationalist Government to the communist government today. Spence describes his life from his beginni ...more
Nov 25, 2016 Cian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A concise and historically punctual overview of Mao Zedong and the development of his 'Thought' within (but beginning much outside) the global narrative of Communist insurgence, particularly where similarities with the Soviet Union could be drawn.

Although perhaps a little vague, especially where the later years of the boy born in the obscurity of the periphery within the sprawling realms of China - a country humiliated by foreign imperial bureaucracies, and the ineffectiveness of the late-decad
John Pistelli
I like the old Penguin Lives series of brief biographies; they were published between 1999 and 2002 and then abruptly discontinued. I used to read or peruse them back then—I remember reading the one on Woolf in full and maybe Austen too, as well as looking through the Joyce and Melville. So I decided to revisit the series with this volume on Chairman Mao by the distinguished historian Jonathan Spence. It has convinced me that the brief biography format works better for writers than for politicia ...more
Derek Ide
Worth reading, especially for the early/formative years of Mao's life. Spence traces his intellectual and political trajectory well, that is right up until Mao assumes power. After that Spence's writing becomes sloppy, heavy-handed, and often opaque. It's not entirely clear why Mao did anything he did, other than the tacit suggestion that Mao was simply a power-hungry megalomaniac. Good primer, worth pursuing other writers (especially more sympathetic accounts) alongside it.
Brianna Osborne
Interesting look at the life of the communist dictator of China. His policies are not analyzed in detail, which is fine for the length of this book. I'd like to learn more about the Cultural Revolution that is only briefly described at the end of the book.
May 13, 2013 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china
Jonathan Spence's biography of Mao is concise yet revealing and detailed at the same time. Spence uses social, political, intellectual, and cultural history to provide good background information to Mao's life and also to explain the impacts of his policies. Spence is a fine historian. He admits when we simply lack enough documented evidence to support a claim or not. When we don't know enough about why Mao made a certain decision or not, Spence mentions this lack of evidence, fair and square. A ...more
Jonathan Spence's Mao Zedong is an effective biography that covers much content in few pages. That's quite an accomplishment. The text covers all of Mao's life from birth to death, and for the most part treats each stage of his life as worthy of equal attention. Spence takes special care to keep Mao's personal life, his friends and family, always close at hand. Mao Zedong seems well-researched and is thoughtfully written.

The book is hamstrung by its format though. For example, although the autho
Apr 26, 2010 Matt rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While the book provided an adequate overview of Mao's life, I was ultimately a little disappointed. As someone who knew some but not a lot of the historical backdrop against which Mao lived, I found the book somewhat unsatisfying. The early chapters were the most insightful and included a useful look into Mao's upbringing and early associations with the communist movement in China. Once Mao rose to dominance in the Communist Party, the book seemed to falter a bit and gave only a rough sketch of ...more
Elliot Ratzman
It’s Chairman Mao’s birthday (12/26) so I read this small biography since I know nothing about Chinese history. From humble rural origins, Mao advanced through education instigated by Japanese or Western-trained teachers who promoted cultural and political reforms. Mao works in a university library in Beijing, runs his own book lending business back in Hunan province before he is recruited to the newly formed Chinese Communist Party. After a series of assignments, he ends up living in a cave, a ...more
Alex Lee
Apr 14, 2016 Alex Lee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio, history, 2016
Perhaps because I read the other Mao biography Mao: The Real Story in close timing, this book which is 1/4 the size, seems pretty much the same in content. Spencer keeps some of the character judgement of Mao at bay though, which is nice. He still paints a picture of a man who appears to care more about himself than those around him. Spencer frames the story as a kind carnivalisque in the manner of the Cultural Revolution, which is interesting although that does nothing more than provide a narra ...more
Jul 26, 2011 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This short biography of Mao reaches for his intellectual formation and life, though does not find much there. It provides a solid overview of his accomplishments, but there is so much to wonder about Mao's rise to power and his maintenance of that power. The book also cannot provide a complete background to understand China in the early 20th century. Spence begins critically - "He was one of the toughest and strangest in China's long tradition of formidable rulers who wielded extraordinary powe ...more
Apr 28, 2014 Micah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first half of this book contained few details I found interesting or useful. Second half was much better, but it leaves out a discussion of even some of the most basic questions one would have in reading about his life, like how it was possible for such a cult of personality to develop around him. The way Spence tells this part of the story, one day Mao is critical of the cult of personality around Stalin; the next, Chinese Communism is identified entirely with Mao's thought. And there are a ...more
Brandon Byrd
I gave this book 3 stars because it was interesting, but this guy was way too easy on Mao. Why is it that Hitler murders millions and he's obviously evil, but Mao murders millions and he's "enigmatic" or "paradoxical"? The book sort of glossed over the bad stuff and made it seem like it just sort of happened. I can appreciate that this was intended as an impartial academic pursuit, but you need to recognize the context of what your talking about. I feel David McCullough writes excellent biograph ...more
Aug 01, 2012 Kimfu rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What a disappointment this book was! I was hoping to learn many new details about Mao's personality and his life that could help me understand him and the horrific effect he had on China. But all I got was a simple overview of his life. This book wasn't much more than "Mao was born in 1893, became the leader of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and died in 1976." There was little commentary about why he did what he did and how the events of 20th century China influenced his life. It was al ...more
Michael Nash
Jan 15, 2013 Michael Nash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A concise and lucid history of one of the twentieth century's most fascinating figures. I had problems with the failure to go into depth on some issues, the over reliance on first-hand Mao sources, general lack of citation (though this MAY be the fault of an audiobook reader who simply doesn't mention footnotes), but ultimately these are issues caused by the constraints of the format; i.e. the fact that it is a short biography. It seems like Spence could have advanced a bit more learned opinion ...more
Oct 26, 2007 Jamie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learned that Mao fathered at least 10 children with 3 different women, while only 4 of them survived to see adulthood. I also learned that while Mao did not have a formal education past middle school, he had an incredible thirst for knowledge and power. Although he rejected many Soviet ideas, he encompassed the ones he learned through theoretical inspection. Mao did what many could not by pushing forward in a nation in great need of united institutional rule. Unfortunately, his decline lies in ...more
Jul 14, 2009 Jonathan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book describes the man who helped transform China into what it is today. It goes into great detail about his early life. It then briefly skims over what he did when he made it big. To better know Mao Zedong, it should have gone into more detail about the Chinese famine of 1960-61 and the Cultural Revolution that killed millions a few years later. Mao Zedong's rise to power was important, but his ruling period better defined him. This book mainly just says that he became secluded and lost co ...more
May 15, 2011 Joseph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good and concise biography of Mao Zedong though you need to have read other Chinese Communist history to understand this book better from Mao's perspective. Major policies set by Mao and the failings of them like 'the great leap forward' & 'the cultural revolution' were significant events mentioned in this book without detailed elaboration to truly grasp their fallibility. Nonetheless, Jonathan Spence is a renowned Chinese historian and this book is deliberately kept brief for a non-spe ...more
Jan 21, 2015 no rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A little bigger than The Little Red Book but not as thick. A useful primer on some key dates, characters, and events in the life of Mao with little condemnation (thankfully) and little depth (expected). Any interest in the effect of Mao elsewhere in the world will need sating elsewhere. Spence has barely any interest in places bordering China, none in France or Africa.

"'I think that, generally speaking, people like me sound like a lot of big cannons.'"
Dec 11, 2012 Dick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. I didn't know that about Mao. He's a monster and a savior simultaneously. A complicated figure and many times not a good one. I read this whole book on my flights from Denver to Beijing (and back). Now I may read Philip Short's longer biography.

I loves Spence's "Search for Modern China." However, this book is not as well written. There wer many typo's.

I still plan to read other Spence books, though.
Aizat Mokhtar
A condense and brief autobiography of Mao Zedong, this book will take you through the life of a man that changed the course of history in China and the world. Starting to his humble years as a normal student, to his increasing influence in the communist party, to his successful long march fighting Kuomintang and Japanese forces, the victory of red army's revolution, raising up as the ultimate Leader of China, up until his demise and the legacy of turmoils after the Cultural Revolution.
Oct 11, 2009 Rob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In his later years, Mao was divorced from reality and a bit of a nut. This book teaches you that his early life was quite the opposite. He is like of many of my own friends today: passionate, eager to learn, adventurous, and trying to find a better way to live. This book also convinced me to buy Jonathan Spence's 700+ page book on modern chinese history. He is known for being one of the best American historians on China.
Tony Gualtieri
Jul 05, 2015 Tony Gualtieri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A somewhat unbalanced biography: It opens with an abundance of personal detail during Mao's youth, gives a too brief account his rise to leadership during of the Long March, and then distances itself from its subject during the long years of Mao's chairmanship. It's a decent way of getting an outline of Mao's life, but it is too brief to give a complete portrait.
Aug 17, 2009 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice look at Mao, but I think it could be a little more detailed-but that's what I get for wanting a book that wasn't 1000 pages long. Too heavy to carry around! Still, a nicely written overview of Mao and his life-especially leading up to his taking over the chairmanship of the Chinese Communist party.
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Mao : An Intellectual Restlessness? 2 10 Mar 05, 2011 09:58PM  
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Jonathan D. Spence is a historian specializing in Chinese history. His self-selected Chinese name is Shǐ Jǐngqiān (simplified Chinese: 史景迁; traditional Chinese: 史景遷), which roughly translates to "A historian who admires Sima Qian."

He has been Sterling Professor of History at Yale University since 1993. His most famous book is The Search for Modern China, which has become one of the standard texts
More about Jonathan D. Spence...

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