A potent combination of precise history and moving examples, plus a useful chronology of events.




An eminent China scholar uses increasingly available primary materials for a fine, sharp study of this tumultuous, elusive era—the third volume in a trilogy.

In this excellent follow-up to his groundbreaking previous work on the disastrous “crash collectivization” involved in Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward (The Tragedy of Liberation, 2013, etc.) Dikötter (Chair, Humanities/Univ. of Hong Kong) focuses on the next phase in the Chinese communist experiment: the paroxysm of violence and destruction known as the Cultural Revolution. The author emphasizes how the forced land collectivization sowed the seeds for the later brutalization of the people by “herald[ing] a great leap from socialism to communism” in the model of Stalin’s ruthless land reform of the 1930s and by compelling the starving people “to fight in a continuous revolution.” Smarting from Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin’s brutal purges and cult of personality in his famous speech of Feb. 25, 1956, Mao reacted over the next two decades in cycles of paranoia and defensiveness. He portrayed himself as the champion of the people in encouraging democratic values to flourish in the Hundred Flowers Campaign (before cracking down on dissenters) and then promoted the slogan “Never Forget Class Struggle” and unleashed the Socialist Education Campaign of 1962. His so-called 7 May Directive (1966) articulated a utopian vision of political indoctrination in which the army and the people “fuse to become indistinct.” Using archives and memoirs, Dikötter effectively delineates the spasms of violence that followed: Mao’s exuberant urging of the Red Guards (aka young students) to destroy all the “olds” and embark on a terror campaign to “smash, smash, smash”; the attempt by the military to take control; the periodic “cleansing of the ranks,” from the rank and file with “bad backgrounds” to the upper echelon closest to the chairman—e.g., his heir apparent, Lin Biao. As in his previous two books, Dikötter tells a harrowing tale of unbelievable suffering.

A potent combination of precise history and moving examples, plus a useful chronology of events.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63286-421-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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