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

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,244 Ratings  ·  148 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
Paperback, 448 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by Walker Books (first published 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mark
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
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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
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Hadrian
Jan 02, 2013 Hadrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Praj
Nov 19, 2010 Praj rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Daisy
Aug 23, 2011 Daisy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Huma Rashid
Jul 19, 2012 Huma Rashid rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Chip
Jan 02, 2012 Chip rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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.
Skedatt
Jun 29, 2011 Skedatt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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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
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Alberto
Disappointing.

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
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Richard
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
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
...more
Steve Cunningham
Gruesome, horrifying, meticulously researched and eminently readable. Stalin is often (mis?)quoted as saying that "a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic"; his disciple Mao Zedong may have taken this literally, presiding over a bureaucratic regime so wholly, shockingly, wilfully corrupt and incompetent that the margin for error of those who died in the great Chinese famine is in the region of 15 million people (between roughly 30 and 45 million deaths). As a work of histori ...more
Steve Mclellan
Feb 25, 2013 Steve Mclellan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 16, 2013 Wai Chim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

Everyone
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Magnuslu
Aug 03, 2013 Magnuslu rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Carolyn
Jul 16, 2011 Carolyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.)
Todd Wright
A very thorough, maybe too thorough, review of the economic and environmental cost of Mao’s failed plan to modernize China. It is almost unbelievable the human tragedy China suffered during the first sixty years of the 20th century. Too many statistics to be a great book but overall very good.
Judith
Jul 12, 2011 Judith rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wild Swans made me curious. This book made me furious.
Mary Ann
Jul 08, 2011 Mary Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Katleen
Nov 04, 2012 Katleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fictie
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
...more
Huw Evans
Jan 18, 2012 Huw Evans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about the effects of slavery at all levels of a totalitarian regime. In 1958 Chairman Mao effectively fell out with Stalin and determined that the People's Republic of China would become self sufficient, no matter what the cost. He became a slave to the idea that the population would take the Great Leap Forward willingly. He was aware that there would be suffering but felt that it would be worth the human cost.

The entire population were enslaved into the GLF resulting in the displ
...more
Chris
Jun 19, 2014 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia
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
...more
Josh Steimle
Sep 29, 2015 Josh Steimle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Holy...

This is not a good book to read if you're in need of cheering up. Also not good reading for when you're training for a 70K trail run, or doing anything physical, as you'll find your performance dragged down significantly.

If you need evidence of the pain and suffering a small group of people can do when given a monopoly on violence, or in other words, the power of government, this is a stark example.
Keith
Jul 28, 2015 Keith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chinese
Basically a horror story. Pleasant to read, easy to spot all the exaggerations. I'm tempted to put it under "toilet book" category.
Mimansa Bairathi
This is a well researched narrative on a somewhat laconic part of world history- the years of The Great Leap Forward under the stewardship of Chairman Mao. Mao Zedong of the Communist Party of China in his quest to make China the frontrunner of the Communist world after the death of Stalin came up with the ill-conceived idea of The Great Leap Forward in order to propel China to the heights reached by Britain. The book goes on to explain in great detail the emergence of the campaign, its implemen ...more
Allen
Apr 16, 2015 Allen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Using access to recently opened provincial and county archives, the author is able to paint a picture of China's decent into madness known as the Great Leap Forward. He weaves together individual stories with events and statistics from the village, commune, county and provincial level. One is not overwhelmed by numbers but by horror.

The new data allowed estimates of the death toll to be revised upwards to 45 million people, 50% higher than previously thought. People died of beatings, torture, li
...more
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
...more
Brenda
May 13, 2014 Brenda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 12, 2014 Lucy Shiels rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Dikotter is dishonest about Mao 1 9 Feb 18, 2014 06:20PM  
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Frank Dikötter is the Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong and Professor of the Modern History of China on leave from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Born in the Netherlands in 1961, he was educated in Switzerland and graduated from the University of Geneva with a Double Major in History and Russian. After two years in the People's Republic
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