Synopses & Reviews
“The text sparkles with shrewdly plausible inferences mortared into a compelling narrative . . . [Short] is excellent at coining pithy summations of political motives that ring humanly true.”—The New York Times Book Review (front page)
Observing Pol Pot at close quarters during the one and only official visit he ever made abroad, to China in 1975, Philip Short was struck by the Cambodian leaders charm and charisma. Yet Pol Pots utopian experiments in social engineering would result in the death of one in every five Cambodians—more than a million people.
How did an idealistic dream of justice and prosperity mutate into one of humanitys worst nightmares? To answer these questions, Short traveled through Cambodia, interviewing former Khmer Rouge leaders and sifting through previously closed archives around the world. Key figures, including Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, Pols brother-in-law and foreign minister, speak here for the first time.
Shorts masterly narrative serves as the definitive portrait of the man who headed one of the most enigmatic and terrifying regimes of modern times.
“Short chronicles the stages of the Cambodian revolution with admirable clarity . . . A few chilling details, expertly deployed, do the necessary work.” —The New York Times
“A spectacularly efficient job of describing what happened and why . . . A chillingly clear portrait.” —The Economist
A gripping and definitive portrait of the man who headed one of the most enigmatic and terrifying regimes of modern times
In the three and a half years of Pol Pot's rule, more than a million Cambodians, a fifth of the country's population, were executed or died from hunger. An idealistic and reclusive figure, Pol Pot sought to instill in his people values of moral purity and self-abnegation through a revolution of radical egalitarianism. In the process his country descended into madness, becoming a concentration camp of the mind, a slave state in which obedience was enforced on the killing fields.
How did a utopian dream of shared prosperity mutate into one of the worst nightmares humanity has ever known? To understand this almost inconceivable mystery, Philip Short explores Pol Pot's life from his early years to his death. Short spent four years traveling throughout Cambodia interviewing the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge movement, many of whom have never spoken before, including Pol Pot's brother-in-law and the former Khmer Rouge head of state. He also sifted through the previously closed archives of China, Russia, Vietnam, and Cambodia itself to trace the fate of one man and the nation that he led into ruin.
This powerful biography reveals that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were not a one-off aberration but instead grew out of a darkness of the soul common to all peoples. Cambodian history and culture combined with intervention from the United States and other nations to set the stage for a disaster whose horrors echo loudly in the troubling events of our world today.
About the Author
has been a foreign correspondent for The Times
(London), The Economist
, and the BBC in Uganda, Moscow, China, and Washington, D.C. He is the author of the definitive biography of Mao Tse-tung, and lived in China and Cambodia in the 1970s and early 1980s, where he has returned regularly ever since. He now lives in southern France.