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Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  1,088 ratings  ·  127 reviews
Pol Pot was an idealistic, reclusive figure with great charisma and personal charm. He initiated a revolution whose radical egalitarianism exceeded any other in history. But in the process, Cambodia desended into madness and his name became a byword for oppression.

In the three-and-a-half years of his rule, more than a million people, a fifth of Cambodia's population, were
Kindle Edition, 560 pages
Published April 25th 2013 by John Murray (first published September 5th 2000)
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Paul Bryant
Nov 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: utopians
Shelves: communism
Rewritten in honour of the Mayan Calendar and it being the final day of the entire world and all that.

So this book is a history of the way the world really did end in one particular country.

I imagine at some point in the early 70s Saloth Sar, later to be cutely renamed as Pol Pot, was listening to the radio and on came that well known utopian anthem Imagine :

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in
Horace Derwent
He was the Prime Disciple of Mao, he once sharpened the blade of the Scythe...with warm blood of course, much blood...

Whenever I think of Communism Khmer Rouge, those mounds of yellowish, fragmentary and some punctured human skulls bring me a show of kaleidoscope...

Communism is a religion, it feeds on human blood, those pits of human corpses, rivers of rotten flesh and those skull mounds are its excrement

If you don't believe this, just go there have a looksee as you can, such place like Camp
Whenever a new friend is perusing my bookshelves, I always find myself mentally cringing when they reach a certain point awaiting the persistent judgment-laced query: "why do you have so many biographies on dictators and mass murderers?" It's a hard question to answer, if only because it means I have to unpack nearly a decade's worth of my own jumbled thoughts on idealism, social upheaval, human fallibility, and the inevitability of revolution; a task which often leaves the questioner ...more
I feel this book is sort of misleadingly packaged: it's not much of a biography, presumably because there's not a lot known about Pol Pot the man. Or maybe it is known but there's still just not that much to say: Short does dutifully record biographical details, but they never seem to add up to any fleshed-out understanding of a human being... And maybe that's the point. Maybe the dark emptiness at the root of the Khmer Rouge's ideology and actions is exactly that: a lack not just of humanity, ...more
Nancy Oakes
Mar 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
like a 3.8.

When I started reading this book, I had absolutely no idea just how timely my choice of books was. While starting the section about the 1975 evacuation of Phnom Penh, I did a google search to find photos and discovered that tomorrow, April 17, marks the 40th anniversary of this event, which also marked "Day One" of the new regime headed by Pol Pot under the Khmer Rouge. It also marked day one of roughly three and a half years of starvation, disease, and executions that in total took
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
It is not often that biographies or autobiographies do not have photos inserted in the middle of the book. Here, there are a good number of them. One shows smiling soldiers, walking, rifles slung on their shoulders. In their hands are decapitated heads of their victims, supposedly communists.

I wonder how it feels to grab by my hands the hair of these freshly cut heads, carrying them like chickens. Will I be able to smile like these soldiers? Maybe not for the first time. I'd probably be
Jeremy Maddux
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very dense and politically aware tome. It does a five star job of explaining Pol Pot's motivations from the early years of the revolution to his final days as a proud failure. The Afterword drags Mr. Short's work down a notch due to its clumsy, shoehorned message that America's activities on the international front are comparable to the Khmer Rouge's atrocities. It's like the most colorful balloon in the world being deflated in a few scant seconds. I also struggled with the amount of ...more
Dec 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Looking for a book to read on the terrors of the Khmer Rouge while I was in Indochina over the past three weeks on holidays, I was fortunate enough to come across GR chum Paul Bryant's excellent review of this book - and based upon the things he had to say, I purchased it and began reading immediately.

I was in Cambodia for the longest part of the vacation, and speaking with survivors of the KR horror while reading this book was almost surreal. But there was something very disturbing about what I
Sep 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just started this massive tome, which should be very awful and depressing, right? I mean, savage insane dictator convinces everybody in the country to go nuts and die.

Yet I find humor here, which says more about me than about life in Cambodia in the 1930s.

Or does it?

"For the young, Phnom Penh in the 1930s was a place of wonderment...each spring crowds gathered to wtach the Royal Oxen plough the Sacred Furrow..." (p.26 in the hard cover)

Not too long after that tidbit we get into the concubine
Czarny Pies
Sep 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian-history
Philip Short's Pol Pot is an outstanding biography of one of the greatest monsters of the twentieth century as well as a first rate political history of Cambodia from 1920 to 1998 the year Pol Pot finally died.

Having already written a biography of Mao Tse Tung, Short began this project with a solid background in the politics of South-East Asia and the methods of communist insurgents operating in the area.

"Pol Pot" was the nom de guerre for Saloth Sar the son of a Cambodian rice farmer born in
Michael Gerald
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought a hardcover copy of this book at a bargain bookstore in my home city of Quezon in the Philippines for just the equivalent of just 4 dollars. This is a sad book, as it narrates the inhumanity of the Khmer Rouge, probably the most inhumane of the communists in history. Under Pol Pot, Cambodia became a slave state and a huge killing field, like North Korea today. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are at par with Mao, Stalin, and the Kims of North Korea. I hope they are all burning in hell.
Gene Smith
Dont Buy Philip Shorts Books Read why and what you are funding.

>>>Philip Short has writen Books mostly upon reading other peoples books like
David Chandler. Philip short takes several books sorts them out, gathers
pictures. Philip makes his own theory about culture. I see many men and women
challange him in colleges. Although Philip Short has the right idea's because
how could he not, he read the books of David Chandler. Mr Short makes false
claims. No one can back up his storys. Philip
Bro_Pair أعرف
An admirably solid book about one of the most bewildering stories of the twentieth century. I was never a fan of Lewis Carroll as a kid; "Alice in Wonderland" always scared me. This books inspired the same fear in me. I don't think I've ever been through a looking glass and found myself in a place as brutish and, well - insane as the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge. Short is a good writer; his former career as a BBC journalist is apparent, in his unadorned prose, mistrust of simple narratives, ...more
Babak Fakhamzadeh
Dec 14, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, far-east
Who hasn't seen The Killing Fields, the Hollywood hit about atrocities in Cambodia under Khmer Rouge rule.
In the book's introduction, Short shows that Cambodia's killings is not only comparable to Rwanda's or Germany's, but maybe even worse, in a way, as the killings were directed at the, ethnically, same people who perpetrated the killings. The fact that, technically, therefore, the killings were not a genocide also makes them different from comparable atrocities in recent history. Pop Pot and
Meharo Bettison
Aug 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Totalitarian movements fascinate me. Whether they be on the right or the left, I am intrigued by their ideologies and how they are able to rise from obscurity into positions of political power. The Khmer Rouge are no exception.

Pol Pot and many of his cohorts came from upper-middle class backgrounds, an interesting fact considering the Khmer Rouge's affinity for the poorest of peasants. It was interesting reading about Pol's early life in French Cambodia. The author Philip Short asserts Vichy
I found this surprisingly dry and disjointed. Not nearly as good as Short's Mao book, which is really excellent.
Mar 24, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
way way too much information for me. excellent pics of people in black pyjamas.
Nick Black
Mar 20, 2019 marked it as gave-up-too-boring  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nick by: Paul Bryant
gave up on this one about 25% of the way through. vietnam was supporting some leftist rebels, the king had abdicated and was trying to get the support of the leftist rebels, there were some other rebels that didn't seem to like anyone and, while i know it makes me sound provincial, everyone's name sounded like a different type of cough. once fifty characters were involved, i'd lost all track, and we know how this story ends: the communists kill in the name of ideology, then the communists kill ...more
Stephen Douglas Rowland
The author seems to be striving consciously to alienate his audience. A pretentious bore.
Antonio Nunez
Jul 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Philip Short refers to his book on Mao in his preface to "Pol Pot:Anatomy to a Massacre" and, while acknowledging Mao's extraordinary beastliness (the man was probably responsible for over 50 million deaths) he highlights Mao's pretentions to greatness not unlike Napoleon's or Alexander's. That is not the case with Pol Pot. He did not fight an honorable war against a brutal invader, like Mao did with the Japanese. Instead, he led to his Cambodia's occupation by the hated Vietnamese, who had been ...more
Jedi Kitty
This book it isn't a Pol Pot biography. Its scope is the communist revolution in Cambodia from its origins to final throes-and it encompasses all players on the domestic and international stages. It is a political history. It is a detailed chronology, with some analysis, and not much pathos. The author writes in a level-headed, impartial manner, often putting the Cambodian tragedy into perspective by comparison to other revolutions. It is unexpectedly dull, zoomed-out reading for the topic. ...more
Jul 02, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent biography (most books on Pol Pot only focus on the years in power of the Khmer Rouge, not on the man's whole life, which is a truly strange one)--

Pol Pot, like Ho Chi Minh, General Giap and man other leaders of Southeast Asian revolutions, was educated in France--at the Sorbonne. (His favorite poet was Paul Verlaine.) He developed one of the trangest and most extremes revoltuions of modern times--a combination of Marxist/Maoist rhtoric with traditioanl Cambodian Buddhism and the
Mar 19, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, biography-etc
I've always been intrigued by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge ever since i saw the documentary 'Enemies of the People'. It follows Sambath, whose family was murdered by the regime, interviewing Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's number 2. He interviews him over a period of three years but doesn't reveal the fate of his parents. After gaining his trust Nuon Chea starts to open up and gives accounts of the massacres carried out by the regime. At the end of the documentary, just before Chea is arrested for his war ...more
Sep 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I should probably stop reading books as informative and depressing as this one. I had started this biography of Pol Pot about a month ago and it has been my bedside companion since then, to be read about 10 pages at a time if I wake up at night & have trouble falling back to sleep quickly. When I was about 2/3 of the way through it, I read Samantha Power's book (A Problem From Hell: American And The Age Of Genocide) on my Kindle, one chapter of which addressed the Khmer Rouge genocide in ...more
Timothy Dymond
‘Bright red Blood covers the towns and plains/ of Kampuchea, our Motherland/ Sublime Blood of the workers and peasants/ Sublime Blood of the revolutionary men and women fighters!/ The Blood changes into unrelenting hatred/ And resolute struggle,/ [Which] frees us from slavery.’ This was the national anthem of ‘Democratic Kampuchea’, the Cambodian state set up by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The lyrics were likely written by Pol himself, and they stand out in the annals of anthems by embracing ...more
Dec 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Short's history/biography combines an engaging narrative flow with a good amount of detail. I am still not sure I understand how Pol Pot evolved from the mediocre student, Saloth Sar, and budding Marxist into the leader of a (briefly) successful revolutionary movement. Short does mention his later charisma, but if he possessed such an appeal in his early days, the book did not really show it. It did, however, do a brilliant job of showing how Cambodian culture, psyche and worldview were more ...more
Ashley Clark
Feb 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an amazing work by a clearly talented historian. The access he had to leaders and documents is insane, or maybe he was just patient enough to go through them all. What I loved most about this book was that the way the author put things into context (for example, he compared the killings in Phnom Penh immediately after the invasion to French reprisal killings after WWII to show that they did not differ by % that much), but also did not excuse individual actors. Instead of pointing to one or ...more
Feb 26, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whew! I am finally finished with this tome! I'm not much of a history buff, but I'm trying to remedy that. If you are very interested in Cambodia during the time of Pol Pot, read this book! Philip Short really helped me understand the vastly different mindset of the Cambodian people and how this atrocity happened. It still seems incomprehensible to me. Good book with lots and lots of information (450 pages)!
Scott Holstad
I found this book very engaging. While it is not a “true” biography of Pol Pot, in that this isn’t what the entire book is about, the book is instead a study on twentieth century Cambodia, its politics, culture, international manipulations, military struggles, and yet, to a certain degree, one Saloth Sar, aka Pol Pot.

I have read a number of biographies of Pol Pot now, as well as studies on 1970s Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge and just what happened between 1975 and early 1979, and I am currently
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Khmer Rouge history
This is more of a biography of the Khmer Rouge than of Pol Pot. How fitting that I just finished this book a few days after Nuon Chea (Brother No. 2) had died.
This book also gives readers an excellent perspective of what it is to be Khmer, past, present, and future. Very well-researched - almost too well - at times a bit too granular and required me going back to the Dramatis Personae (in the back of the book) to keep up with so many characters. The author, Peter Short, is certainly a master in
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Philip Short is a British journalist and author specializing in biographies of historical dictators, he studied at Cambridge University, he worked as a journalist for the BBC for 25 years as a foreign correspondent(1972-97), a job that allowed him to travel widely and experience wildly different cultures, it would prove a great learning experience that still benefits him as an author.

After his
“For if there is one lesson worth retaining from the travails of the Cold War and the miseries it brought in its wake, it is the folly of seeking simple answers to complicated questions. It is a lesson which governments still show no sign of learning.” 3 likes
“When we contemplate what happened in Cambodia, we are looking not at some exotic horror story but into darkness, into the foul places of our own souls.” 2 likes
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