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The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  6,388 ratings  ·  688 reviews
One military historian called it "the century's nastiest little war." The three-year Korean Conflict (1950-53) was certainly that, but for Americans, it is also "the forgotten war," a protracted struggle that, as David Halberstam noted, "sometimes seemed to have been orphaned by history." The author of The Best and the Brightest rescues this early Cold War confrontation fr ...more
Hardcover, 719 pages
Published September 25th 2007 by Hyperion (NY) (first published January 1st 2007)
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David Halberstam's The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

Should you read any history of the Korean War it should be The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam. It was Halberstam's last book. Shortly after publication, Halbertsam was killed in an automobile accident April 23, 2007. He was on his way to interview a subject for his next book.

Lest the reader pick up this volume thinking it is a history of the compete Korean War, it is not. It is a masterful treatment
Jun 18, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 12, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, war, nonfiction, korea
Halberstam's prose is workmanlike, but he still tells quite the story. The book benefits most from interviews with ordinary soldiers.
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Brian Eshleman
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked The Best and the Brightest, and this book contains contains the same behind the scenes accounts of the policy decisions that shape America's part on the world stage. Like The Best and the Brightest, it also delves beneath the current actions and attitudes of the major players to explain as much of the way their psychological makeup shapes their current part in history as is possible in a series of excellent mini-biographies.

Unlike The Best and the Brightest, which, if memory serve
Scott  Hitchcock
Jul 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction

If you have no knowledge of the Korean War this is a complete accounting from all perspectives including all of the political agendas not only from the American POV but also the Russian, Chinese, North and South Korean.

I thought from the title of the book it was going to be more about the battles and struggles in country. Because I already know a lot about the politics of the war I liked those parts a lot more but recognize to tell the full story you have to tell the political story becau
May 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: korean-war
This is a book about Heroes and Villains, which is how I prefer my military history served. I enjoyed reading of the criminal negligence of Generals MacArthur and Almond as much as I did about many, many individual acts of bravery by names now permanently etched. Few do heartbreaking as well as Halberstam.

There are weaknesses, to be sure. Halberstam is a writer in need of an editor, someone to tighten up the redundancies and to fix a syntax which is, well, gnarly. Sometimes there are little hint
Simon Wood

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
Dave Gaston
Apr 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia, nonfiction, history, war
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
Jul 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Erik Graff
Jan 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Horace Derwent
Jun 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

today, again i read a brainwashing review and some retarded comments from some mindwarped morons, which were about this lamentable period of history

all the same, said that rhee syngman stirred this up, he who started the war and made this turmoil, said that it was in the name of justice that mau tsetung sent People's Volunteer Army to support (aw, just another dictator and butcher) kim ilsung to fight against American Imperialists' invasion

i told them to have fried rice with egg with the cro
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fabulous book. It was written in such a way that kept me engaged, and the author's passion for the story is contagious. So glad read it.
Wayne Barrett


I would really love to rate this book higher. If not for the honor and memory it brings to those who served in Korea then for the details about the war that I learned. I would love to, but I won't because yes, I learned a lot, but the dry style in which this book was written made it a task to trudge through.

The Korean War has been called "the forgotten war" and it was for that reason I sought out a book on the subject. I was talking with a cousin recently about an uncle of ours who had passe
Robert French
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
Apr 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 19, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Frederick Bingham
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book gave me chills.

I will be the first to admit that, like many Americans, the subject of Korean War is a little bit of a mystery to me, and this book is my first true foray into the topic, and I seriously doubt I can peel back the Korean War with a better book. David Halberstam was absolutely a master of the subject. He not only captured all of the dynamics of the war, but he did so without spinning long narratives that lead you down rabbit holes after rabbit holes.

Key figures like Truma
Steven Peterson
Oct 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Cathi Davis
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am recommending this book to everyone. I knew so little about the Korean War and with today’s events felt perhaps I should know more, now I do. Halberstam did his usual approach mixing the grand sweep of history with the mundane details of individual soldiers’ stories. It started very slowly, and I slogged through the first several chapters, reading only bits each day. (My own personal campaign, “what are you reading.” “Uh, well still stuck in Korea”. Which of course is a good metaphor, boy we ...more
Sainath Sunil
Feb 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lynn Spencer
Jun 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history
My husband and I listened to this on audio over a couple of car trips. Very interesting book about a time in history that I feel like I don't know enough about. In addition to giving good background about the diplomatic mess that led to the Korean War, the author also interviewed a number of people who were there and the stories of their experiences at the front were just harrowing. Fascinating to hear about, but hard to think about these folks living through them.

The book meanders a bit in the
Jill Hutchinson
I love Halberstam's books and this is no exception. I did not know enough about the Korean War and was engrossed by the futility of that conflict. It is a riveting book which provides colorful and insightful portraits of the major political and military players in the "forgotten war" and also contains anecdotes and memories of the "common" soldiers who endured that hell on earth called the Korean War. This book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 and a fitting testament to Mr. Halberst ...more
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David Halberstam was an American journalist and historian, known for his work on the Vietnam War, politics, history, the Civil Rights Movement, business, media, American culture, and later, sports journalism. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1964.

Halberstam graduated from Harvard University with a degree in journalism in 1955 and started his career writing for the Dai
“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.” 13 likes
“Gen. Matthew Ridgeway "intended not to impose his will on his men, but to allow the men under him to find something in themselves that would make them more confident, more purposeful fighting men. It was their confidence in themselves that would make them fight well, he believed, not so much their belief in him. His job was to keep them to find that quality in themselves.” 3 likes
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