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Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  961 ratings  ·  122 reviews
"Between 1958 and 1962, China descended into hell. Mao Zedong threw his country into a frenzy with the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to catch up to and overtake Britain in less than 15 years The experiment ended in the greatest catastrophe the country had ever known, destroying tens of millions of lives." So opens Frank Dikötter's riveting, magnificently detailed chronicl ...more
Hardcover, 348 pages
Published September 28th 2010 by Walker & Company (first published 2010)
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This is one of those occasions when I almost wish the God i believed in was the vicious judgemental harsh one that some fundamentalists of all flavours seem to look to. This was brilliantly written but a really difficult wading through the horror and disgusting callousness of the Chinese regime at the time of the Great Leap Forward.

As I type this I went and found my copy of Billy Bragg's album 'Workers' playtime ' cos I wanted to check and yep lo and behold he has the image of happy communist c
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
In a recent blog on Liberia I alluded in passing to Joseph Conrad, specifically having his novella Heart of Darkness in mind. Have you read it? If you have you will recall the final words of Kurtz in his moment of epiphany shortly before his death - The horror! The horror!

Let me take you to another heart of darkness; let me take you to China in the middle of the twentieth century, to the time of the so-called Great Leap Forward. I’ve been reading Mao’s Great Famine by Frank Dikötter, a new stud
This is goddamn terrifying.

The short narrative of the Great Leap Forward is that Mao enacted a series of policies from 1958-1962 which fostered crash industrial development on the Stalinist model. This led to communal farms, sale of all agricultural products, importing heavy machinery, and increasingly farfetched schemes such as 'backyard furnaces' to increase steel output, a 'pest-hunting campaign' which led millions of citizens chasing sparrows instead of planting crops, and the close-planting
Huma Rashid
A very informative, well researched book about the effects of the disastrous Great Leap Forward, a supposed revolution in industry and agriculture dreamt up by the fuckwit known as Mao Zedong.

It's long and dense, but a valuable, compelling read. The author focuses way more on the politics and political hierarchy of the times, at the expense of more personal stories from on-the-ground, in-the-trenches, but attempts to make up for that in the last part of the book.

It's well written enough, but suf
One man’s utopia is another man’s dystopia. Utopia is a dream we aspire; an equilibrium that dignifies all human survival. When faultless notions embrace immorality and audacious obstinacy emitted from one solitary individual, an illusionary veil is fashioned camouflaging tyranny, torment and nightmarish endurance. On every occasion of my understanding Mao and his political explosion, I cannot help but to refer to my old frayed copy of Orwell’s 1984 blaring the ubiquitous caption:-"BIG BROTHER I ...more
Been from China myself, this books is a masterpiece. It told me stories that was never been told to me when I was a student in China back in the 80s and 90s. All the characters described in the book such as Deng, Zhu, and Peng were described to us as heroes in Chinese schools. I truly believed it when Frank Dikotter said that in recent interviews, people who survived the great famine still blamed the Soviet Union for the whole disaster, it was what had been told to me in Chinese school. Even now ...more
3.5 rating. Well written, interesting, and worth the read. However, it struck me as an expanded magazine article - it could have been much shorter without losing much. Or, perhaps better said, I think it could/should have had both more breadth and depth. E.g., it seems lacking in comparison to other books recently read - Clark's Iron Kingdom (re the history of Prussia) and The Emperor of All Maladies (a "biography" of cancer), both of which are, admittedly, superb.
There is a great deal to commend in Dikötter's chronicle of The Great Leap Forward. The work undertaken in sifting through what must have been mountains of (often misleading) statistics and reports to produce a damning indictment on the madness which savaged a population, stands as a testament to the author's academic excellence. One would expect it to take a place as one of the key works on the period, to be used by academics in the seemingly futile attempt to comprehend the scale of suffering ...more
Wild Swans made me curious. This book made me furious.
Like most of my reviews, this is a personal response.

Despite the fact that the author uses admittedly "soft" sources (341) (due to the difficulty in accessing state archives that are not available to the public) it is a chilling account of what happened during this time.

Being a young mother, it was particularly difficult to read about the effects on the children, the women, and the elderly. The fact that women were forced out of the home and forced to leave their children in state run child car
Ik geef het 4 sterretjes omwille van de immense tijd en opzoekwerk dat er aan dit boek besteed is en omdat het mij echt een goed en volledig beeld heeft gegeven van wat er tijdens die periode van 1958-1962 gebeurd is.

Na mijn reis naar China wou ik meer weten over Mao en de geschiedenis van China's grootste drama (zoals ook de ondertitel van Frank Dikötters boek luidt). De Mao die op vele plaatsen in China nog trots aan de muren van vele gezinnen en openbare gebouwen prijkt.

Door de nieuwe archie
Eric Li
While the book itself was okay, I'm really glad I read this book because it really makes me want to talk to my parents more about their experiences during this time period (I haven't had a chance yet but I'll be seeing them in a few days). So thank you Dikotter for that.

Onto the book itself, it feels a little too much like an academic writing. There are tons of numbers thrown in there and he explains how he got these numbers and addresses some of the possible biases for the numbers which honestl
Steve Mclellan
This book represents an overview of one the most shocking man-made cataclysms in world history. In this book we see how one autocratic leader took the idea of the 'Great Leap Forward' in order to propel onward his ambition for China to be a major industrial nation. In the process of trying to realize his dream, Mao instigated the destruction of forty-five million people's lives. The way in which the history in this book has been researched, its attention to detail gives new life to all the incre ...more
Wai Chim
I read this...and want to puke. But because the contents of this books are so enlightening and powerful and the story of this tragic time is so gripping. It's a non-fiction book but the way it's presented you feel like you've been thrown into a real story. And all you can do is ask "why?"

I'm so glad that this books has finally been made possible. It's fresh and recent but because of the intense secretness of the official archives, the whole tragedy risks being erased from modern memory.

Nick Lincoln
I'll keep this brief. When cuddly old Uncle "Wedgie" Benn dies and the eulogies pour forth, remember him as an life-long apologist for Mao, the biggest of the socialist mass-murderers of the 20th century.

Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot et al pale by comparison to Mao. Read this book and try to comprehend what this moron did to 45 million of his own people.

Given the grim subject matter it's a "good" read - depressing but never grinding. It's essential for anyone interested in the evils of the big state a
Claudia Moscovici
Mao’s Communist experiments, the “Great Leap Forward” (1958-62) and the so-called “Cultural Revolution” (1966-1972) created a disaster of unprecedented proportions in China. In Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962, Frank Dikotter documents that between 30-32 million people starved to death as a result of the Great Leap Forward. (New York: Walker and Company, 2011)
In an ill-hatched attempt to catch up quickly with the economy of the Soviet Union and t
This was my first time reading about this period of China's history so I can't say how good this book is when compared to others that cover the same topic. However, I can say that this book truly changed the way I view the world and China. It also made me very aware of how much censorship there still exists about the period. I did not realize how much information was still clutched in secrecy, despite knowing that there was a huge taboo on discussing the famine when it was happening, until I got ...more
Lucy Shiels
The Great Leap Forward is the worst man made disaster in China with Frank Dikotter arguing that the number of deaths amounted to an astonishing 45million. Frank Dikotter through oral testimony and some access to official files has written a stomach turning account of the waste and destruction perpetuated by Mao and his desire for China to advance industrially and agriculturally at the same time. Dikotter is very blunt with the atrocities committed in the Chinese countryside and it is not a read ...more
Unfortunately, this is a totally confusing ramble about statistics. The information would better be presented in tables and graphs rather than in prose. The other part of the book is about quotes or not by far too many people. Again, we get lost, especially those of us who only know a couple of the names in Chinese politics of the time. I stopped reading it more or less halfway through. I'm sure I caught most of the gist of the story, but spared myself endless tons of rice and other produce.
A well-researched book, even considering how difficult it still is to get information about this famine out of China. It very clearly describes the workings of Mao's inner circle in the first half of the book and the second half details the results of the failed communal experience. If you ever wondered why Communism doesn't work, read this fascinating, heartbreaking book. It should be required reading in colleges. (which will never happen.)
The introduction to this is one of the most scathing indictments of a government that I've read in a long time. It's also the most engaging part of the book.

The bulk of the book itself reads much like a drawn out proof of that original introduction. The sheer scale of what happened to (primarily) Chinese peasants during the Great Leap Forward is laid out in detail, documented and footnoted extensively.

The trade-off of that writing is that the bulk of the book loses much of the emotional impact o

Dikotter did a lot of research for this book. He gets 5 stars for that. But the presentation of the material thematically makes it difficult to follow. If I were looking for a GENERAL indictment of communism or Maoism, I could think of no better collection of facts than this book (although he often devolves into sadomasochistic descriptions of the various atrocities that humans are capable of inflicting on each other). However, that's not what I was expecting from this book. I alre
Ginny Jagla
Devastating......unimaginable....the book unfolds the events and facts in an engaging and compelling way....definitely recommend
Russell Jones
For somebody who isn't fully au fait with Modern Chinese history some of the analysis provided by this book can be a little overwhelming as well as removed from the everyday tragedies of the Great Leap Forward, as it concentrates heavily on economic data and statistics during the first half of the book. However, as the saga of the Great Leap Forward is further expanded on, and Dikotter begins to include more anecdotal evidence from eye witnesses to the horrors of the Great Leap Forward it is far ...more
John Scott
It is hard to exaggerate the sheer chilling effect this book by Frank Dikötter can have. It has made me realise that the statement by Gordon Kerr in his primer A Short History Of China that the death tolls in China throughout its documented 4000 years of history are ........"often staggering, demonstrating not only a disdain for human life" and with that also providing a "vast and inexhaustible supply of manpower". In the end this book brings the disdain and inexhaustible supply into focus.

The b
Simon Dobson
A hard book to read, detailing the effects of the Great Leap Forward on the people of China, especially in the countryside. The parallels with other Communist states are striking: the bureaucracy, the persistent raising of production targets, and the ubiquitous lying as to how those targets have been exceeded everywhere despite the obvious facts on the ground. But there are unique features too. Two stand out in particular. Firstly, the use of particular countries as targets to exceed in particul ...more
Matt Willden
A painful read, but highly recommended. I knew very little of the Great Leap Forward era in Chinese history, nor of Chairman Mao who espoused it. This is a mind-boggling tale of the absolutely treacherous road one takes when marching down the path of socialist collectivization when productivity metrics are the only indicators used to demonstrate success. As any organizational scholar knows, what gets measured gets managed, and this is the ultimate cautionary tale of the terrible cost that can be ...more
Not sure where I read about this book. I'm assuming NY Times. The subtitle" The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe 1958-1962. Estimate from 25 - 45 million people died! OVERWHELMING. Why? Called the Great Leap Forward - to catch up with Britain in less than 15 years. Goals of production - outlandish numbers that could not be attained. So, instead of moving forward, millions of people suffered and died. Also, one-third of all housing was turned into rubble. A recommended read, but ha ...more
This is a book you won't find in Chinese libraries - it destroys the image of Mao Zedong as the benevolant leader of Communist China. It is a book full of tragedy, the so-called Great Leap Forward which took the lives of approximately 30 million Chinese people (some estimates even consider a death toll of 45 million) during the great famine which was caused.

The Great Leap Forward starts with the bidding between China and Russia. Kruschchev boosts that Russia will overtake the United States in 15
Mary Ann
It’s difficult to rate this book with 4 stars with the meaning “I really liked it” given the subject of the book, however, I believe it rates 4 stars because of the remarkable scholarship and clear writing which brings facts to life. Finally, after more than 50 years, the story and impact of China’s Great Leap Forward is being told. For those of you, who like myself, studied the Great Leap Forward and other events in modern China separated by geography and culture, and only a few years after the ...more
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Dikotter is dishonest about Mao 1 5 Feb 18, 2014 06:20PM  
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Frank Dikötter is the author of Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe published by Bloomsbury and Walker Books. The book was selected as one of the Books of the Year in 2010 by The Economist, The Independent, the Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard (selected twice), The Telegraph, the New Statesman and the BBC History Magazine, and is on the longlist for the ...more
More about Frank Dikötter...
The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 The Age of Openness: China before Mao The Discourse of Race in Modern China Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China Sex, Culture and Modernity in China: Medical Science and the Construction of Sexual Identities in the Early Republican Period

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