Synopses & Reviews
David Halberstam's magisterial and thrilling The Best and the Brightest
was the defining book for the Vietnam War. More than three decades later, Halberstam used his unrivalled research and formidable journalistic skills to shed light on another dark corner in our history: the Korean War. The Coldest Winter
is a successor to The Best and the Brightest
, even though in historical terms it precedes it. Halberstam considered The Coldest Winter
the best book he ever wrote, the culmination of forty-five years of writing about America's postwar foreign policy.
Up until now, the Korean War has been the black hole of modern American history. The Coldest Winter changes that. 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, and that caught Douglas MacArthur and his soldiers by surprise. He provides astonishingly vivid and nuanced portraits of all the major figures Eisenhower, Truman, Acheson, Kim, and Mao, and Generals MacArthur, Almond, and Ridgway. 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 misjudgements and competing agendas of powerful men. We meet them, follow them, and see some of the most dreadful battles in history through their eyes. As ever, Halberstam was concerned with the extraordinary courage and resolve of peopleasked to bear an extraordinary burden.
The Coldest Winter is contemporary history in its most literary and luminescent form, and provides crucial perspective on the Vietnam War and the events of today. It was a book that Halberstam first decided to write more than thirty years ago and that took him nearly ten years to write. 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.
"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 [River] 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.)." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Commanding and evocative....Halberstam's final work stands as the coda to his enduringly famous The Best and the Brightest." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Another memorable slice of the 20th-century history, measuring up to such earlier Halberstam classics as The Best and the Brightest and The Powers That Be." Kirkus Reviews
"I could hardly put this book down. Meticulously and thoroughly researched, it is splendidly compelling reading. The Coldest Winter is a superb conjoining of all the factors of this tragic war: the military tactics and strategy of both sides; the international diplomacy; the internal politics; the personalities of the various players. A great work." Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.), co-author of We Were Soldiers Once...and Young
"[A] book that only Halberstam could pull off, and he does so with bravura and skill worthy of a farewell performance." San Francisco Chronicle
"We may have forgotten the Korean War, but this volume is a reminder of what we should have remembered in history and, with the Halberstam oeuvre now complete, what we will miss." Chicago Tribune
"It caps a brilliant journalistic career in a particularly satisfying way since it serves as a kind of prequel to The Best and the Brightest." William Grimes, New York Times
"[A] fitting, warm tribute to the art of reporting, the most appropriate epitaph imaginable for David Halberstam." Christian Science Monitor
"[C]ements Halberstam's reputation as the preeminent popular historian of his generation." Los Angeles Times
"Meticulously reported and exhaustively researched, it traces the strategy, politics, diplomacy and history behind the war on both sides, from Tokyo and Taiwan to Beijing, Moscow and Washington, providing remarkably detailed capsule portraits of its major figures." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Much more than a book on a war, The Coldest Winter is an instant-classic look at the people, power and politics that created a dangerous stage...and then acted on it." Chicago Sun-Times
"The Coldest Winter is easily the best popular history of the Korean War. Halberstam is a whale of a storyteller." Baltimore Sun
"Halberstam's recounting of the immense shifts in battlefield momentum is breathtaking." Seattle Times
Halberstam uses his unrivaled research and formidable journalistic skills to shed light on another dark corner in history: the Korean War. He provides a masterful narrative of the political decisions and miscalculation on both sides, culminating with the massive entry of Chinese forces near the Yalu, which catches Douglas MacArthur's forces by surprise.
About the Author
David Halberstam was one of America's most distinguished journalists and historians. After graduating from Harvard in 1955, he covered the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, then was sent overseas by the New York Times to report on the war in Vietnam. The author of fifteen bestsellers, including The Best and the Brightest, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his Vietnam reporting at the age of thirty. He was killed in a car accident on April 23, 2007, while on his way to an interview for what was to be his next book.
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