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When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution, Revised Edition

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  305 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
The definitive book on the Cambodian revolution (Los Angeles Times Book Review) and winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, now with an extensive new chapter on today's Cambodia
ebook, 632 pages
Published November 1st 1998 by PublicAffairs (first published October 1986)
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Jul 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This must be the deepest, most document- and interview-rich study of the origins and operations of the Khmer Rouge regime that's out there. Becker manages to keep her evil subject at a distance to intellectually examine it, and she does that brilliantly. Her account of her 1978 Pol Pot interview is a let-down, and her too detailed history of the reasons for Vietnam's 1979 invasion and 10-year occupation was slow-going and a bit long, but always learned and never truly dull.

This is a 600 page tom
Aug 31, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dan Wiencek
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beyond the atrocities shown in The Killing Fields is a story that stretches back to at least the 1950s, when the French relinquished control of Cambodia after nearly a century of colonial rule. Elizabeth Becker paints a picture of a society perennially looking back to a glorious past (the Khmer Empire, builders of Angkor Wat) while mired in day-to-day corruption and threatened by its larger, more determined neighbor: Vietnam. She explains why the Cambodian Communists led by Saloth Sar (later to ...more
Jul 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I have read numerous books about the Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia, and studied the history and politics of Southeast Asia in the 1950'-70's, and found Becker's work in this text to be one of the definitive volumes of journalism and academic research ever written concerning this subject. As a correspondent for the Washington Post in the 70's, Becker closely followed the situation in SE Asia, becoming one of only two American journalists who visited Democratic Kampuchea immediately before it's f
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, cold-war, asia
It's hard to overstate how fascinating - and, at times, sickening - this book was. The author gives a good overview of the origins of modern Cambodian nationalism, and ties that in to the origins of the Khmer Rouge. Then she shows how the Khmer Rouge isolated themselves and persuaded themselves into a self-destructive paranoid frenzy. And then we - the United States - supported the Khmer Rouge once they lost power, because China thought it was a good idea, and once you threw in a bunch of shitty ...more
Aug 22, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not only an excellent overview of Cambodian history, but a superb place to begin learning about the complex and interconnected histories and relations of all the nations of Southeast Asia. Becker's book stretches from geopolitics to personal stories to explain how the Khmer Rouge rose to power and how their reign affected the Cambodian people. Dense, but lucidly written, and a compelling read.
Jan 31, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not the best-written book I've read, I found some of the prose, especially early in the book, to be repetitive and/or awkward. The last third of the book is more about the diplomatic relations between Cambodia and other countries, while the first part of the book is about how the Khmer Rouge era impacted individuals. An important part of world history.
Nishikanta Verma
Read it three times. Never gets stale. Informative, moving, historical, personal, the narrative is spellbinding. Must read not just for Cambodia enthusiasts, this book is compulsory reading for all observers of human nature.
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a very well researched account of this period of Cambodia’s history, with some personal stories about her own experiences in the country thrown in. For someone so closely connected to the situation and people, the author was able to keep a journalistic distance in most of the book but in certain passages she was also able to bring things to a very personal level.

As a long-time resident of Southeast Asia, a frequent visitor to Cambodia and an avid reader about the region, I found th
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Outstanding. Everything you want to know about the Khmer Rouge is here -- up to 1985, that is. The book was published in 1986, so you are kind of left hanging. Nevertheless, it is a beautifully written, (almost) all-encompassing tome about what may be the most confounding and horrific political movement of the 20th century.
Jun 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I began reading this book the day I left Cambodia, and flew through it. The author tells this heartbreaking story in an authentic, haunting voice - I highly recommend especially if you've been or are planning to go to Cambodia.
Jun 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The information is soooo good. But the book is hard to get through. She uses ten words when one will do.
Mindy McAdams
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in Southeast Asia, esp. Vietnam & Cambodia
Awesome historical account of the rise and reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the subsequent reformation of that country, written by a veteran newspaper journalist who began covering the war in Cambodia in 1972 for The Washington Post. Since then she has also worked for NPR and The New York Times.

This book was first published in 1986. Then Becker revised it and added almost a whole other book for republication in 1998, covering the myriad events of the 12 years in between.

Many things are r
Nov 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a read for the faint hearted, it documents in great detail the context for the murderous Khmer Rouge communist genocide that left over a million Cambodians dead and took a country renowned for its culture and ancient civilisation back into the depths of hell and unspeakable suffering. Supported by the Communist Chinese regime and sheltered from real scrutiny by the refusal to confront its evil policies of forced redistribution, relocation and the destruction of learning amongst left- ...more
Aug 13, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cambodia
Monumental in scope and depth, Becker's comprehensive survey of recent Cambodian history ranges from astonishing in its analysis and intensely moving in its portrayal of victims and survivors, to numbingly dull in its meticulous coverage of documents, meetings and people involved in the evolution of communism in Cambodia. It is required reading for anyone who truly wants to understand the origins of the Khmer Rouge, though, and one of Becker's arguments is that the Khmer Rouge were not merely a ...more
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The quintessential book for anyone wanting an understanding of the historical geopolitics of the region. Becker takes you on a journey, by first setting the scene of Cambodia and it's people. She portrays how the Khmer Rouge movement grew from a grassroots organisation to having absolute power through the actions and misdeeds of key players like the French, Sihanouk, and Lon Nol in a remarkably objective fashion – unlike many others regional commentators. The Pol Pot Regime’s spiraling dissent d ...more
Jobi George
Jun 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(a comment, not review)
'Reconstruction' or 'Construction'? I don't know what is it to call whatever is needed when the destruction done is measured up to that of an uprooted big old withered tree. The sort of confusion I'm getting at? This book, for the major part, is all about what the title says: digging to find the seed, showing its growth, telling what delayed whatever yet to happen, journalising what happened and then looking at the piled up rubble that hide the sun. Many books came out on
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book in Phnom Penh, at the little gift store at the corner of the Tuol Sleng Genocide muzeum, and started reading while aboard a huge boat drifting gently down the Mekong river and did not stop until I was done.

Written by Elizabeth Becker, I can forgive anyone tourist or otherwise not a student of history and visiting Cambodia for the Wats, to not be interested in the book. It is after all a retelling of a very bleak and bloody past of a country's history.

I can say that not very ma
Jun 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-other
This book does an excellent job of detailing the events that occurred from a foreigner looking at the events of the Khmer Rouge. I don't think it should be used alone though. There are other books that do a better job of telling this story from the point of view of those who lived it, in the context of the opinions of the actual time.

One of the things that bothered me was the depiction of Tiananmen Square. This showed a lack of understanding of the 9 months that led to the actual event; and sug
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book covers the period from the First IndoChina War when Cambodia gained independence from France until 1979 when communist Vietnam's military invasion brought the Khmer Rouge regime to an end. The narrative is of a post-colonial nation, where the Cold War ideologies and interestes of USSR vs Mao's China vs US are played out in a bloody history.

The author describes in detail political maneuvers of the Khmer monarch's (Sihanouk) various alliances with the US, then neutrality, then with the
Apr 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the subtitle a little misleading. I expected more of an oral history told from the point of view of survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. There was some of this, but also a lot of background info on ancient and modern Cambodia, a long section on Vietnam from the fall of Saigon until the invasion of Cambodia, some material pulled from the records of the infamous Tuol Sleng Security Prison, and a personal account of the author's two week "Potemkin Village" style tour of "Democratic Kampuche ...more
karl levy
Jun 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best most easily read general histories of the Khmer Rouge, their rise to power and their hold over Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Elizebeth Becker was a Washington Post journalist who traveled to Democratic Kampuchea in late 1978 under Pol Pot's invitation with two other journalists. While there one was shot under his security. The suspects were the last four tortured inhabitants of S21 and found by invading Vietnamese troops. It is a solid book, comprehensive history interspersed with ...more
Czarny Pies
Sep 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone wanting to read a history of the Khmer Revolution
Recommended to Czarny by: Philip Short
Shelves: asian-history
When the War Was Over is the work a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who also spent a great deal of time in Cambodia. Given the rather extraordinary nature and destruction of the Khmer Revolution, there is no relevant material in the archives that will be one day be made available to academics so they can write a definitive history of the period. It is entirely possible that Ms. Becker's book is the best one that will ever be available on the period.

Pol Pot's biographer Philip Short thinks that
Jul 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having recently returned on a month-long trip to Cambodia, I was eager to devour as much information as I could to understand and grasp the psyche of this country. Becker's book is not only a plethora of journalistic figures and facts, but a deep guide on the culture and roots of this nation. I wish an updated version of this book, including Cambodia's transition to a democracy, would be written through Becker's voice so that we can all understand this most recent development in the hands of a s ...more
Lark of The Bookwyrm's Hoard
I find it impossible to rate this book on Goodreads' scale. Was it well-written? Very much so. But did I like it? I can't say that I did; this book was emotionally very difficult to read. Becker doesn't flinch from the brutality and horror perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge regime. The interviews in particular are heartrending and chilling. While I highly recommend When the War Was Over for researchers and scholars, and for those interested in how a society can be turned upside down almost overnight ...more
Sep 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, cambodia
4.5 stars rounded up.
Jun 07, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in cambodia's history
Shelves: non-fiction
Elizabeth Becker, as a correspondent for the Washington Post had spent a great deal of time in Cambodia before the Khymer Rouge came to power. This book is her fascinating history of the political machinations of their most public figures within the last century. The horrors of the Khymer Rouge regime are here as well with some personal stories of people Ms. Becker knew to add a human touch to a larger story.
Clay Bonnyman
Mar 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating reading for a Politics major. Becker's research of history is impeccable, her political understanding astute.

The tragedy is almost unfathomable, but Becker leads the reader to understand why and how it happened.
Jul 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cambodge
Really good, and covers EVERYTHING it seems. There are biases, pro Hun Sen for instance, but the writer moves easily between periods of history and reporting and telling her own bizarre visit to visit Pol Pot. Excellent and very thorough.
Apr 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

After traveling to Cambodia, I wanted to understand the genocide that occurred there and how after everything it could have happened. this is a great book if you are trying to understand man's inhumanity to man in a Cambodian context.
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