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When The War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution (Revised Edition)
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When The War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution (Revised Edition)

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  485 ratings  ·  62 reviews
Award-winning journalist Elizabeth Becker started covering Cambodia in 1973 for The Washington Post, when the country was perceived as little more than a footnote to the Vietnam War. Then, with the rise of the Khmer Rouge in 1975 came the closing of the border and a systematic reorganization of Cambodian society. Everyone was sent from the towns and cities to the countrysi ...more
Paperback, 632 pages
Published November 10th 1998 by PublicAffairs Books/Perseus Books Group (first published October 1986)
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Average rating 4.22  · 
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Orla Hegarty
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cambodia, sentbynlpl
As a recent Cambodian visitor I am grateful that this book exists. Not only selfishly because of the learning and perspective it gave me, but as a historical record that current and future generations can refer to and learn from.

I fell in love with Cambodia during my short stay of around two weeks there this past spring. Notably, my (heartbreaking) visits to the landmine museum outside Siem Reap and Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh made me want to understand more. This well researched and very readable
Jul 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a journey and a half. I knew very little about the Khmer Rouge revolution before opening this book save from what I’d learnt about the Vietnam war and from watching the Killing Fields in high school.

Elizabeth Becker’s narrative is by no means a short one. It is about 600 pages spanning over 20 years. Nevertheless, despite this and the minimal divisions made by chapter titles or themes, Becker weaves a highly readable story. This history had high potential to be extremely dry and drab b
Marco Etheridge
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Heart-Breaking history.
Jul 04, 2012 rated it really liked it

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
Aug 13, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Jun 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book is an incredible smooth and well-written journey. Becker's many personal accounts to her experience in Cambodia really add a flavour to an otherwise historical account to the recent history of Cambodia.
That being said, I read this book in the context of research on Vietnam's intervention in 1979 in Cambodia. Becker omits quite a lot of detail on the possible reasons why Vietnam intervened in Cambodia. Her reasoning is the cultural differences between the two communist states and doesn'
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: asia, history, cold-war
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
Czarny Pies
Sep 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Aug 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jan 31, 2008 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Nishikanta Verma
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Anne Charlotte
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cambodia
Incredible sum. Thorough in every sense of the word ! I'm glad I once stumbled upon the mention of Elizabeth Becker and the tragic death of Malcolm Caldwell, which I had never heard about before. That got me interested on who E. Becker is, and this book eventually.
What a tortuous history, with a terrifying psychological backdrop very well rendered by the author, of a whole people descending into hell, a hell that started way before the KR time in power. What is so striking is the paranoia and be
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is not a book for everyone, though I give it five stars. I have visited Tuol Sleng, the torture campus of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh, Cambodia twice now.

This book gives a most plausible account of how the madness that spread through Cambodia during that time came to be. It details the roles played by the Vietnamese communists, the French, the Chinese, the United States, and other major actors and players in supporting and even perpetuating the madness that was the Khmer Rouge rule of Ca
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is incredibly rich in information about the events that led to the Cambodian Revolution, both in Cambodia and elsewhere in SE Asia. After visiting Cambodia earlier this year, I grew more curious to learn about the Khmer Rouge and their motivations for what they did between 1975 and 1979. This book explains that and more, diving into the history of Cambodia and its relationships with other nations. It was also helpful to understand more of the context of what was happening in the rest o ...more
Matthew Diaz
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I needed a good place to start in wrapping my mind around the history of Cambodia and what lead to the genocide during the Khmer Rouge. This book gave me a very detailed account of the culture and people of Cambodia both hundreds of years before the Khmer Rouge, the events leading up to it and of course the aftermath. It reads well and has a lot of insight. If you want to understand a large part of the history of Southeast Asia over the past 100 years, the history of Cambodia is a good place to ...more
Andrew Tattersall
The third book about the rise and fall of the Khmer Rouge was improved by the author having been in Cambodia before, having interviewed Pol Pot during and continued on into the period after UNTAC. I learnt things I hadn't known and enjoyed the descriptions of places and people, something this author could do well, having been there and met lots of them. Wel worth reading for someone interested in the recent history of Cambodia and how it got to be like how it is now. ...more
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
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. ...more
Jun 21, 2017 rated it liked it
The information is soooo good. But the book is hard to get through. She uses ten words when one will do.
Daniel G Malato
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A terrific, in-depth look at the years proceeding, during, and following the reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Try Lee
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
They described during the Khmer rouge and when we found a way independent.
Cody Sanders
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A stunning portrayal of modern Cambodia, the genocide, and indochinese relations of the 20th century. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in Cambodian politics!
Panhavoan Ky
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
well, I really love to know about history especially Khmer history, and I think this book is going to tell me about the Khmer rouge revolution and how people survive in Cambodia during that period.
Félix Tremblay
Jun 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is very in-depth, the explanations and descriptions are clear, I loved it. Of course, it's still a history book, so you need to be into those. ...more
Jun 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
Pol Pot makes Hitler look like a small time player. Christ what a bloody nightmare.
The book is well written and easy to follow.
Mindy McAdams
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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Elizabeth Becker is a former New York Times correspondent and the author of When the War Was Over.

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