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Mao: The Real Story

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  218 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
This major new biography of Mao uses extensive Russian documents previously unavailable to biographers to reveal surprising details about Mao’s rise to power and leadership in China.

This major new biography of Mao uses extensive Russian documents previously unavailable to biographers to reveal surprising details about Mao’s rise to power and his leadership in China.

Mao Ze
Hardcover, 784 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by Simon Schuster
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New biography of Mao - reliant upon opened Soviet archives. The title seems to be a direct refutation of the 'cartoonishly evil' portrayal of Jung Chang's Mao: The Unknown Story, and instead they're aiming for a 'complex multifaceted titanic evil'.

Mao's early life is already covered in great detail by other biographies, and the book does a fair treatment of the whole process. Stern father, love of reading, education in the cities. The young Mao was well aware of the corruption and instability o
Carl Rollyson
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
This biography was first published in Russia in 2007 without benefit of subtitle hype. But no American publisher would settle for the sober announcement that Alexander V. Pantsov's access to the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History has resulted in a nuanced study of Mao Zedong (1893-1976) that supersedes previous biographies.

The evidence of Mao's faithfulness to Stalin right up to the Soviet dictator's death in 1953 is especially striking. Of course, there were tensions between
Apr 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
I was wondering whether to read one more book on Chairman Mao and his legacy and life. I had read Stuart Schram's book as well the more recent one by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday titled 'Mao:The Unknown Story'. However, the introduction to this book suggested that this one is written after new material has come to light once the Soviet and Chinese archives were opened for research by scholars. Also, the title 'Mao:the Real Story' seemed to suggest as if the ones before were somewhat 'less authent ...more
Dec 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
While the book is fascinating in the amount of detail that it recovered from the Soviet archives, I can't but help thinking that it was weighed too heavily on the Soviet influence in Mao's life and subsequently the development of modern communist China. Although Mao's youth was described in as much detail as I could have expected to have been recorded for someone with a modest family background, I felt that the book raced through the cultural revolution, the opening of China to the West, and Mao ...more
Eric Stone
Nov 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Fascinating biography with a lot of new information gathered from KGB and other Russian files that have previously not been available, as well as some significant new research from China. It gave me a very good sense of how he managed to become the ruler of China and stay in that position against tremendous opposition for a long time. It also was fascinating in the portrayal of the development of his ideas - he seemed like a typical, wild-eyed college kid who never grew out of a lot of the wacky ...more
Steven Peterson
Sep 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a well done biography of Mao Zedong. Just a few weeks earlier, I had completed reading the Chang and Halliday biography. The latter has great detail and chronicles Mao's negative side well. But it is a pretty one-sided view of "the Great Helmsman." This volume, although more "neutral" with its subject, also is clear eyed in its take on Mao. As such, I find it a preferable work to Chang and Halliday, even as I recognize the value of that work.

The book has much detail and provides a fine c
May 01, 2014 rated it liked it
I knew very little about this period in history when I picked up this (very long) book, which is why I was interested in reading it. In writing the book, the authors had access to documents and information previously unavailable to any Mao biographers before them. Because of this they must have felt required to include ALL the details and ALL the names/aliases they had. As a result, they spent forever on Mao's early years and ever. so. slow. rise to power within the CCP. The pace of the book pic ...more
Oct 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc-reviews
I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book through Goodreads.

I was very impressed by the amount of detailed research in this biography of Mao. Using the archives of the Soviet Communist party, Pantsov provides an amazing look into the life of Mao, the inner workings and creation of the Communist party in China, and an intimate look at Mao's beginnings and his methodical and sometimes terrifying rise to power.

Prior to this reading, I had only a vague idea of Mao's China, filtered through th
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
784 page biography drawing heavily off newly released Russian sources, contains blow-by-blow accounts of the party's early years. Focus is on minute changes of political climate and intra-party politics rather than the famous Mao's physician's accounts of underage girls or whatnot (this book limited to noting that for years at a time, Mao spent most of his time with 17 and 18 year old girls, which isn't really 'underage').

Book is not an absolute must read but it does flow competently, and the st
Barbara Barth
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
A better title would have been. " Mao: Real Boring." Well documented, yes....but it was like reading one big footnote. I was hoping for something more readable.
Jul 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Russian born and educated Alexander V. Pantsov joined with American born and Harvard educated Stevin I. Levine and together produced the well documented, academic biography, Mao; The Real Story. I cannot say that I believe this is all there is to the Great Helmsman. Gaps are huge and while it is clear that the authors have little sympathy for The Chairman, too much is unanswered. If you are used to the typically Communistic method of reading papers to signal the waxing or waning of various polit ...more
Maxwell Murphy
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a balanced account of Mao's life that is very dense and thorough, with all the good and bad that entails.

Mao's upbringing and the origins of the CCP are covered in great detail. The absolute bombardment of names, dates and facts probably won't stick with you, but it does a respectable job of explaining the dizzying changes in Chinese society during the interwar period. The author really strikes at the root of young Mao's character, showing us Mao at his best (courageous and fiercel
Danny Marcalo
Feb 14, 2017 rated it liked it
I don't know much about China's history so I figured this might be a good start. Mao's live story is interesting, although the man seemed to be all about no bullshit. His fondness of young girls, dancing and smoking, this book describes Chairman Mao as a robot, determined to have as much power as possible. Sometimes they overdo it, when giving about 20 different names of people who were present at such and such event, with footnotes about as to whom they married and when their children were born ...more
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Covers more of the private life of Mao rather than his ideology.. very good coverage and in-depth research that answers to where the cult worship of the Great Helmsman came from...
David Groves
Mar 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Mao is one of the top five major figures of the 20th century, and in reading about other historical topics--the Russian Revolution, the Korean War, Stalin, Western imperialism--I discovered that I couldn't understand it without immersing myself in Mao.

This book isn't a standard biography, because those have all been written. Instead, it approaches the subject by offering new insights from recently released Soviet documents. They cast new light on everything. Stalin was pulling the strings on the
Nov 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
THE DEFINITE biography of Mao Zedong

Having read a previous biography of Mao (the Unknown Story), this latest offering by Alexander Pantsov stands head and shoulders above Jung Chang’s offering, in scope, scale, informativity, objectivity, and, amazingly, readability.

       While Jung Chang’s book was a clear hatchet job, it was nonetheless highly readable, however, Pantsov’s work is a true page turner, even for a reader like myself who is already familiar with the subject matter.

       As Pantso
Dan Petegorsky
Dec 22, 2012 rated it liked it
The title and preface of Pantsov & Levine’s work set it up as a counter to Chang and Halliday’s relentlessly polemical biography (Mao: The Unknown Story), which systematically rips apart most of the carefully constructed myths about Mao. But they don’t actually challenge Halliday and Chang’s research and findings; the difference is primarily one of tone, with the unfortunate result that much of “The Real Story” is, especially for such a dynamic subject, tepid. Getting through it is a long ma ...more
Nov 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Mao: The Real Story / Alexander V. Pantsov, with Steven I. Levine. Levine was the translator and editor for the American edition. More importantly for me, he is a retired U. of M. professor and a MOLLI (lifelong learning) instructor, so I was prompted to read the 570+ page book I had purchased at an earlier signing on campus. It was not a difficult book, but it was a lot to read about Mao Zedong. And the Russian version was almost triple in length, I’m told! (Access to Russian archives is an imp ...more
Stanley Lee
Dec 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
very thorough on the upbringing and the actual politics itself
I won this book on Goodreads Giveaways. Thank you Goodreads!

A very detailed and exhaustive look at Mao's life. The focus was mostly on his years of revolutionary fighting against the Kuomintang and Japanese. It depicts Mao as a true child of Stalin - he started out with good intentions, but lost his humanity through the political games Stalin played pitting Chinese Communist Party members against each other. Mao was a great student of this style, and continued the tradition throughout his life.
Ken Klein
Aug 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Mao Zedong will forever loom as one of the 20th century's key figures. His life spans the rise of China--comprising one quarter of the world's population--from seemingly hopeless chaos to a united, purposeful nation-state. And his leadership was vital to this achievement. This biography provides much new detail about Mao's life, his tactics, mood swings, setbacks and triumphs. By no means do the authors gloss over the brutality or callousness of the man; the costs of his achievements were high a ...more
Jan 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, history
I won this book in a GoodReads Contest.

As a history major, this is an incredible amount of historical data. Pantsov & Levine did their research, in order to create a massive primer on the former dictator of China. As they addressed in the Introduction, they set out to give us substantial information on Mao; not necessarily to deify nor crucify him. I believe they succeeded in giving us a detailed account of Mao, as a man, leader, & his legacy. The footnotes, alone, make this an impressi
Oct 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads, asia
This is a fascinating book and well written. It is very rich on details and describes not only Mao's personal life but also the rise of the Communist Party in China, and Russia's control over the direction it should take, and that Russia's control was solely because the Chinese needed its money to survive. Many characters that we know from our history books (Chiang Kai-Shek, Zhou-Enlai) make their appearance. The book clearly shows Mao's lust for power and his skill in maneuvering his rivals in ...more
Alex Lee
Apr 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: bio, history, 2016
Obviously we can never know what happened for sure. But the way in which these biographers describe Mao have an obvious slant. They assume that at some point he discarded morality and humanity and friendship in favor of power.

It's great that they introduce plenty of information to highlight the social influences that surrounded Mao's behavior, but the judgements they made about his character are less dependent on his actions and more dependent on their feelings about the kind of man he must be -
Jordan Dorsett
Jan 13, 2014 rated it liked it
This is not a biography of the private person so much as the public figure, but that's understandable with a subject like Mao.

In this book, the enduring perception of Mao as a wise and powerful leader of the Chinese people is stripped down to reveal nothing more than Stalin's puppet in East Asia. This is telling of the staying power of international propaganda and the general ignorance of millennials such as myself when it comes to the Cold War era.
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
To some extent, this book fills the vacuum in my education on the subject of contemporary Chinese history, especially in the eyes of the leftists. I constantly think of my father during reading, about how he reacted, what he witnessed, what went into his mind, what made him what he is nowadays politically, and of course, what he had suffered through as a leftists yet as a victim of the frenzy and chaos under the Chinese ultraleftism, i.e., the Maoism.

Will write more later.
Matt Mundy
Apr 11, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: bios, history, china
Fairly comprehensive factual introduction to Mao (many of the reviews refer to it as "definitive" in that sense, though I am unable to comment on that), but terribly written and often difficult to follow. Further, while it is quite heavy with detail, it is less so with analysis, and accordingly I was left hoping that the authors would have spent more time in assessing Mao's impact and legacy.
Oct 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book was incredibly detailed and inclusive. It would be great to use as a reference for a research paper, but it made for very slow reading. The authors did a good job of making it more like a story than an encyclopedia entry, but there was just so much information that it was a bit overwhelming.
Nov 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Exhaustive, and exhausting. The point of choosing this over the others was for a story with (less) bias, which I felt I got. However, it was often too dry — a raw submission of facts in a coherent order, without enough of a compelling way to bind them all together.
Emily Boivin
Oct 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
this book brought history to life. no sugar coating of the facts of this mans rise to power. this is a must read for history buffs. i was taken aback by the atrocities of Mao.yet i was fasinated by the detail in between the covers of this book which made it impossible for me to put it down.
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