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The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

4.18  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,721 Ratings  ·  514 Reviews
"In a grand gesture of reclamation & remembrance, Mr Halberstam has brought the war back home."--NY Times
Halberstam's magisterial & thrilling The Best & the Brightest was a defining book about the Vietnam conflict. More than three decades later, he used his research & journalistic skills to shed light on another pivotal moment in our history: the Korean Wa
Hardcover, 733 pages
Published September 25th 2007 by Hyperion (NYC) (first published January 1st 2007)
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Dec 17, 2007 John rated it liked it
Any book that fills the void of our knowledge concerning the Korean War is a welcome addition to any library. There are too few available and on that basis I would recommend this one. It is well written, easy to read and for the general public disgorges a wealth of information, although to some critics, nothing new and therefore disappointing.

Essentially, Halberstam launches a scathing and deserved attack on MacArthur and Gen. Ned Almond. From the very first sentence of Part 1, he blames MacArt
Mar 25, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
In this epic piece, David Halberstam offers a thorough analysis of the Korean War and its effects on America. As is laid out in the introduction, there is little written or produced about the conflict, overshadowed by both the Second World War and Vietnam, bookends of opposing sentiment on America's military capabilities. However, as Halberstam elucidates, this was more than military incursion across the 38th Parallel. It stood to represent much in an era of new ideas, emerging politics, and wan ...more
Jul 30, 2012 Mike rated it really liked it
The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War gets a 4 Star rating in the end. I so wanted it to be 5 Stars but could not get there. Halberstam is one of my most admired authors but I had some problems with this book. This book covers the lead up to the start of the Korean War, the geopolitical arena and the US domestic situation impacting the war. This book ends with the firing of MacArthur with a short postscript on the consequences of that action. First the good stuff.

Halberstam really stand
Erik Graff
Jan 10, 2016 Erik Graff rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: US/Korean citizens
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Another excellent book by Halberstam and, sadly, his last. Although giving an overview of the Korean War 0f 1950-53, most of the text concerns the first months of the war, the violent back-and-forth between communist and U.N. forces. Although some mention is made of politics of Korea, its two dictators and two armies, much more attention is paid the real actors, the militaries of the U.S.A. and of People's China. In the background, of course, is General Douglas MacArthur, locked in his losing st ...more
Dave Gaston
Oct 19, 2010 Dave Gaston rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history, war, asia
For some time, “The Coldest Winter” sat cold on my shelf... winter after winter after winter. Sometimes a title will kill a good book. Finally by default, I was goaded into reading it. Like most middle-aged American’s, I knew next to nothing about the Korean War. Of course, Halberstam fixed all that. Thanks to his well told and well edited story, I now have a very good sense of this little, lost war. The Korean War is well worth our attention on several levels. It was the very first in a long, s ...more
Oct 10, 2013 Jerome rated it it was amazing
Although Halberstam’s insights are repetitive, the book is interesting and quite readable. He makes a lot of judgment calls that you may or may not agree with, but I found him pretty persuasive. And many of his insights into the motivations and objectives of all sides are penetrating and illuminating.

Halberstam provides an illuminating and insightful portrait of Douglas MacArthur, who doesn’t come off too well as the narrative progresses. MacArthur had an amazing capacity for deception and a hug
Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it liked it
Shelves: korean-war
I like the idea of David Halberstam more than his books. I liked the fact that a well-educated, erudite journalist with diverse interests lived in this world, writing big, messy, sprawling books about those interests, whether they be Vietnam, the Portland Trailblazers, or a single firehouse. Unfortunately, I've never really liked his books.

Halberstam is famous for his style, which really isn't a style at all. His writing has been called "workmanlike," which is to say it is skillful, but not tha
Robert French
Apr 23, 2016 Robert French rated it it was amazing
The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War is the first book I have read by David Halberstam. I was surprised by how much the book resonated with me, perhaps because many of important political and military players would be part of my life as I grew up. I kept remembering all those names: Harry Truman, Dean Acheson, Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall, Syngman Rhee, Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and many more. Perhaps I had particularly good social studies and his ...more
Jul 29, 2012 Sweetwilliam rated it it was amazing
This is a must read. I liked it so much that I bought it twice. The 2nd time I purchased Coldest Winter was after I left my first copy on a plane on a flight returning from Brazil. Watch out as it is liable to make you angry, however. Why? First, how could the US give so much money and support to China’s Chiang Ki Shek and get so little in return when it was obvious he was an incompetent thief? The end result was to supply Red China with all the equipment that Chang’s forces surrendered which we ...more
May 03, 2013 Dave rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Political Science people.
I picked up this book as the Korean War was something I'd never really taken the time to investigate, while my interest in history lay mainly in the Second World War and before that. I had seen on Goodreads that it had a great reputation, and came highly recommended, and I thought that it was a good introduction to the Korean War. I had never read any of Halberstam's other books, but that's not uncommon in non-fiction circles.

My main issue with the book was that it is a book of big things, of gr
Apr 24, 2015 James rated it really liked it
This was my very first Halberstam book, a thumping slab of a book that covers the Korean War. Halberstam is resolutely old school in his history. The book is an unabashed series of charcter studies and events that unfold across the conflict. In Halberstam`s telling the drivers were men seeking glory or men reacting to being put in dreadful situations. Wider economic and social trends are referred to but very much in terms of setting the stage for the various heroes, bad guys and collateral damea ...more
Steven Peterson
Oct 01, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it
This volume typifies the care with which the author develops his books. The start is the surprise appearance of Chinese troop at Unsam in October of 1950. Their vast numbers and surprise attack shredded American forces, which had advanced by then deep into North Korea. The discussion of the fighting is classic Halberstam, with a lot of veterans reporting their experiences here, with great detail to provide a sense of the confusion and chaos as the Chinese attacked. And, amazingly, General Dougla ...more
May 09, 2015 Christopher rated it it was amazing
Amazing! Absolutely amazing!!! It is rare for me to be surprised by a book on 20th century American history. Just when I think I know everything about a subject, a book comes along and sweeps the rug right out from under my feet. This is due in large part to my ignorance of the Korean War itself and Halberstam's incredible synthesis of interviews, personal accounts, history, politics, and multiple biogrpahies from the lowliest corporeal to the President himself. The first few parts on the geopol ...more
Aug 19, 2008 Tim rated it did not like it
I doubt I’ll finish this book. A lot of people seem to love Halberstam, and this book’s been much ballyhooed, but I’ve rarely enjoyed history written by journalists. This book reminds me why: it often reads like an extraordinarily drawn-out journalistic “lead” (730 pages!), it’s full of smarminess and jargon, action-packed soldier’s-eye perspective (i.e., the good guys), very little careful analysis or thoughtful reflection or genuine insight, and apparently little or no original research. I sup ...more
Simon Wood
Jan 09, 2014 Simon Wood rated it it was ok

I have a bad or good habit, judge as you will, of pretty much always finishing a book once I've started it. This was tested sorely to the limits with David Halberstams "The Coldest Winter" which I had borrowed from my local Library in the hope of filling in the ample gaps in my knowledge of the Korean War. Instead, within a few score pages, it became apparent that the book had immense and ultimately fatal problems. The fact that there are 650+ pages meant that my reading
Jan 28, 2008 Terry rated it it was amazing
If you're interested in the origins of the "Cold War," if you've never read anything about the Korean War, if you have little knowledge of the people who made the decisions that determined how the world got into the mess it's in in the latter half of the 20th Century you should probably read this book. It synthesizes much of what you would read in a whole bookshelf of political history. When North Korea's army crossed the 38th parallel in June 1950 the American Army that was supposed to be able ...more
Frederick Bingham
Jan 01, 2012 Frederick Bingham rated it really liked it
A lengthy and detailed history of the Korean War, told by a veteran war correspondent. It talks about all the players in the drama, MacArthur, Ridgway, Truman, Ned Almond (one of Macarthur's toadies), Mao, Kim Il Sung, etc. The author interviewed many Americans who had been troops on the ground and low-level commanders to see how they experienced various battles. The book includes a number of excellent maps, but, sadly, no photos. There are long descriptions of some of the most important battles ...more
Feb 01, 2012 Jonathan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: korean-war
Excellent book, I knew next to nothing about the Korean War and I picked this up at my local Habitat for Humanity and decided to rectify that situation. He expertly weaves the political backgrounds, the generals backgrounds, the strategic overviews, and the first hand accounts of the men on the ground into one flowing story. To understand the American politics behind the war he also presents the Russian, North Korean, and Chinese going ons as well. It is (as most books of this kind are) a sad re ...more
Frank Theising
Apr 22, 2016 Frank Theising rated it really liked it
The Korean War is often referred to as “The Forgotten War.” The number of books and movies on the Korean War pales in comparison to those on WWII or Vietnam. The Coldest Winter, David Halberstam’s final book, seeks to help fill that void in the literature. While the book did not reveal any new revelations about the war, I found it a masterful portrayal of the geopolitical and domestic politics that shaped the conflict. While the author does cover a few of the key battles, this book is more about ...more
Sainath Sunil
Mar 23, 2016 Sainath Sunil rated it really liked it
This is the first book I have read on the forgotten korean war and it is a wonderful account of both what was happening in washington as well as tokyo. This book details the individual characters of the people at work which included Truman, Dean Acheson, George Keenan, Mc Arthur...some very defining names in very recent history.
Reading this book is important for a couple of reasons, first it offers a sneak peek into what happened in the korean war, how stalin egged on Kim Sr to invade South kor
Feb 26, 2016 Kate rated it it was amazing
In a country where you have a democratic Republic much to the wisdom our Founding Fathers who created a system where the military was to remain under civilian rule, to be answerable to the citizenry, and Congress was given the task of declaring war and deciding whether or not to fund a war. Probably this one concept has kept us a free nation, for there are always in any society ideologues: politicians who believe all wars are simple and easily won, because we have industrial material might, and ...more
Jun 08, 2009 Tammy rated it liked it
David Halberstam
The Coldest Winter

“The Coldest Winter” is a summary of the Korean war – the politics and people that took center stage in this conflict.

We see Douglas MacArthur at his most brilliant and his most hubris-filled moments.

We see China’s Mao flexing his muscles at the beginning of his long reign.

We see General Matthew Ridgway’s brilliant intervention in the terrible leadership vacuum plaguing the war.

But most heart-rending is the story of common soldiers who died heroically despite c
Oct 08, 2012 Robert rated it it was amazing

Books about war don’t always rise to the level of compelling literary narrative, often because they are wedded to the intricacies of how specific battles are won and lost on specific pieces of terrain.

There’s some of that in The Coldest Winter, but Halberstam masterfully uses the crises for U.S./UN forces in Korea to support and drive his narrative--illustrating the brutal horror and folly that made this war one of the worst America ever fought.

He switches perspectives artfully: Sometimes he quo
Jan 22, 2009 Mike rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Halberstam is the consummate researcher. There are more facts in this book than in many encyclopedias. But don't let that scare you off reading it. There are so many aspects of this book that give it appeal to a wide range of people.

First let me give a synopsis. The book is about the first winter of the Korean War. The reason he only deals with six months of this war is that the rest of the conflict was not newsworthy. The first six months held all the surprises and contained all the real drama.
T Fool
May 25, 2009 T Fool rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed-books
No one captures the 50s as DH does. This time he's looped the immediate post-WWII years through the earliest period of the Korean War. Baby boomers are so suffused with moments Elvis ongoing that it's no wonder the Korean War period is 'forgotten'. Halberstam comes to us with a posthumously published reminder.

From the closely-detailed battle stories, harrowing and grim, slaughter attributable in no small measure to the complacent defensive strategy of the war's start, we see just how much desper
Zhifei Ge
Apr 05, 2012 Zhifei Ge rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
As a Chinese, I think the book tells a story which I was told only partially in my education. The author's examination of the Korean war is very insightful and generally convincing. Overall, the book is worth reading.

Previously, I only knew China had volunteered joining the North Korea to defend against the US army. Now, I know North Korea initiated the civil war and then two big nations joined the war as policemen. North Korea fought well in the beginning and then UN army beat them back to alm
Jan 22, 2011 Converse rated it liked it

David Halberstam's last book (he was killed in a traffic accident shortly after completing it) focuses on the origins and the first few months (up to about the winter of 1951) of the Korean War. Although it has bit more purple prose than I could wish, I liked it. Kim Il Sunn, the North Korean leader installed by the Soviets when they occupied Korea north of the 38 parallel after the Second World War, seems to have been the person who initiated the war. Stalin, the Soviet dictator, went along wi

David Bales
Nov 19, 2009 David Bales rated it it was amazing
I was deeply moved by this, the last book by David Halberstam before his untimely death in a car accident in 2007. Halberstam got the idea for a book on Korea while talking to officers who had served there when he was reporting from Vietnam in the early 1960s. Halberstam went to Vietnam in 1962 and ended up writing a book called "The Making of a Quagmire" in 1964 which proved prophetic. "The Coldest Winter" is about the terrible fighting in 1950 and 1951, after North Korea invaded South Korea an ...more
Scott Martin
Jul 04, 2010 Scott Martin rated it liked it
This book focuses on the Korean War, specifically, the first year of conflict, when the Korean conflict underwent a great deal of momentum swings (North Korea's blistering offensive to MacArthur's great final success at Inchon, followed up by his greatest blunder of advancing on the Yalu and ignoring the overwhelming evidence of a Chinese offensive, the Chinese offensive and the American counter-offensive that eventually lead to 2+ years of stalemate before armistice). What is interesting about ...more
William Ramsay
Feb 25, 2011 William Ramsay rated it it was amazing
This is a very good book, indeed. It's a history of the Korean War, but in the hands of a writer like Halberstam it becomes much more. It chronicles how domestic politics and influences can direct events in a way none of the participants can imagine. In 1948 Mao defeated the nationalist Chinese and took over China. At the time the Democrats had been in power for almost 20 years and the Republicans were desperate. They used the 'loss' of China as a wedge against the Truman administration. This wa ...more
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David Halberstam (April 10, 1934–April 23, 2007) was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author known for his early work on the Vietnam War and his later sports journalism.

Halberstam graduated from Harvard University with a degree in journalism in 1955 and started his career writing for the Daily Times Leader in West Point, Mississippi. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, writing for
More about David Halberstam...

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“Fear was the terrible secret of the battlefiled and could afflict the brave as well as the timid. Worse it was contagious, and could destroy a unit before a battle even began. Because of that, commanders were first and foremost in the fear suppression business.” 12 likes
“Fear was the terrible secret of the battlefield and could afflict the brave as well as the timid. Worse it was contagious, and could destroy a unit before a battle even began. Because of that, commanders were first and foremost in the fear suppression business.” 3 likes
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