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The Coldest Winter

Cover of The Coldest Winter

The Coldest Winter

America and the Korean War
Borrow Borrow

Up until now, the Korean War has been the black hole of modern American history. THE COLDEST WINTER changes that. David Halberstam gives us a masterful narrative of the political decisions and miscalculations on both sides. He charts the disastrous path that led to the massive entry of Chinese forces near the Yalu River, and that caught Douglas MacArthur and his soldiers by surprise. He provides astonishingly vivid and nuanced portraits of all the major figures, including Truman and Eisenhower; Kim Il Sung and Mao Zedong; and General MacArthur. At the same time, Halberstam provides us with his trademark highly evocative narrative journalism, chronicling the crucial battles with reportage of the highest order.

At the heart of the book are the individual stories of the soldiers on the front lines who were left to deal with the consequences of the dangerous misjudgments and competing agendas of powerful men. We meet them, follow them, and see some of the most dreadful battles in history through their eyes. THE COLDEST WINTER is contemporary history in its most literary and luminescent form, and it provides crucial perspective on the Vietnam War and the events of today. It stands as a lasting testament to one of the greatest journalists and historians of our time, and to the fighting men whose heroism it chronicles.

Up until now, the Korean War has been the black hole of modern American history. THE COLDEST WINTER changes that. David Halberstam gives us a masterful narrative of the political decisions and miscalculations on both sides. He charts the disastrous path that led to the massive entry of Chinese forces near the Yalu River, and that caught Douglas MacArthur and his soldiers by surprise. He provides astonishingly vivid and nuanced portraits of all the major figures, including Truman and Eisenhower; Kim Il Sung and Mao Zedong; and General MacArthur. At the same time, Halberstam provides us with his trademark highly evocative narrative journalism, chronicling the crucial battles with reportage of the highest order.

At the heart of the book are the individual stories of the soldiers on the front lines who were left to deal with the consequences of the dangerous misjudgments and competing agendas of powerful men. We meet them, follow them, and see some of the most dreadful battles in history through their eyes. THE COLDEST WINTER is contemporary history in its most literary and luminescent form, and it provides crucial perspective on the Vietnam War and the events of today. It stands as a lasting testament to one of the greatest journalists and historians of our time, and to the fighting men whose heroism it chronicles.

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  • AudioFile Magazine The late, great David Halberstam has written a virtuoso tribute to "the forgotten war": Korea, early 1950s. This is much more than a history of the year in which the Chinese entered the war and almost pushed the South Koreans and Americans into the sea. Personalities and events parade across the narrative: generals, presidents, common soldiers, politics, and battles. And herein one also perceives why Scott Brick, with his middle-American voice, is recognized as such an outstanding narrator. An effective reader should disappear from a book such as this, leaving the listener without distraction. But Brick manages to add to the narrative with the increased intensity of his reading at all the appropriate moments. Nothing he does subtracts; everything he does adds. D.R.W. (c) AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 23, 2007
    Reviewed by James Brady

    At the heart of David Halberstam's massive and powerful new history of the Korean War is a bloody, losing battle fought in November 1950 in the snow-covered mountains of North Korea by outnumbered American GIs and Marines against the Chinese Communist Army.
    Halberstam's villain is not North Korea's Kim Il Sung or China's Chairman Mao or even the Soviet Union's Josef Stalin, who pulled the strings. It's the legendary general Douglas MacArthur, the aging, arrogant, politically ambitious architect of what the author calls “the single greatest American military miscalculation of the war,” MacArthur's decision “to go all the way to the Yalu because he was sure the Chinese would not come in.”
    Much of the story is familiar. What distinguishes this version by Halberstam (who died this year in a California auto crash) is his reportorial skill, honed in Vietnam in Pulitzer-winning dispatches to the New York Times
    . His pounding narrative, in which GIs and generals describe their coldest winter, whisks the reader along, even though we know the ending.
    Most Korean War scholars agree that MacArthur's sprint to the border of great China with a Siberian winter coming on resulted in a lethal nightmare. Though focused on that mountain battle, Halberstam's book covers the entire war, from the sudden dawn attack by Kim Il Sung's Soviet-backed North Koreans against the U.S.-trained South, on June 25, 1950, to its uneasy truce in 1953. It was a smallish war but a big Cold War story: Harry Truman, Stalin and Mao, Joe McCarthy and Eisenhower, George C. Marshall and Omar Bradley, among others, stride through it. A few quibbles: there were no B-17 bombers destroyed on Wake Island the day after Pearl Harbor, as Halberstam asserts, and Halberstam gives his minor characters too much attention.
    At first MacArthur did well, toughing out those early months when the first GIs sent in from cushy billets in occupied Japan were overwhelmed by Kim's rugged little peasant army. MacArthur's greatest gamble led to a marvelous turning point: the invasion at Inchon in September, when he outflanked the stunned Reds.
    After Inchon, the general headed north and his luck ran out. His sycophants, intelligence chief Willoughby and field commander Ned Almond, refused to believe battlefield evidence indicating the Chinese Communists had quietly infiltrated North Korea and were lying in wait. The Marines fought their way out as other units disintegrated. In the end, far too late, Truman sacked MacArthur.
    Alive with the voices of the men who fought, Halberstam's telling is a virtuoso work of history. (Sept
    .)
    James Brady, columnist at
    Parade and Forbes.com, is author of several books about Korea. His latest book is
    Why Marines Fight (St. Martin's, Nov.).

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The Coldest Winter
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America and the Korean War
David Halberstam
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