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Publisher's Summary

Born in rural China in 1893, Mao Zedong led his country through "a long-drawn-out adventure in upheaval". In the process he became one of the monumental figures of the 20th century. He died in 1976, just as China was entering detente with the U.S. This excellent biography illuminates Mao's family life, his early years as a revolutionary, and his brief paradoxical flirtation with capitalism. Spence, the author of 11 books on Chinese history, provides both a panoramic portrait of China and a private portrait of the man at the center of so many historic events. Using sources not readily available, he penetrates the complex persona of Chairman Mao to provide an intimate portrait of a chilling enigma.
©2000 Jonathan Spence; (P)2000 Books on Tape, Inc.
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Critic Reviews

"China historian Spence blends historical facts with cultural analysis, creating a work that is fluid and informative." (Publishers Weekly)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Karen on 06-07-05

Excellent analysis

This book by Spence is, of course, first-rate. Of course, nearly all of his works on China are worthy reads. Not all histories, however, can be successfully adapted to audio format and retain their validity for the common reader. But this book excels as an audio book. I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest in the history of the past century or anyone that cares to understand the current state of affairs in China (and the world) today.

Besides, this book (less than 200 pages) can be listened to in less than six hours. And the writing is superb! You certainly won't get "bored" listening to this book!

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5 of 6 people found this review helpful


By Occasional Reviewer on 04-12-16

Anodyne Chronicle

What would have made Mao Zedong better?

Any insight at all into Mao's driving motives and character; any power of evoking the moral and emotional atmosphere of the political culture in which he thrived and that he dominated; any ability to offer a sense of causal connection among major historical events.

What was most disappointing about Jonathan Spence’s story?

The bland, generic quality of the narrative. So far as theme and tone are concerned, Mao's story, as Spence tells it, could have been the story of virtually any political figure in the liberal bourgeois democratic West. Mao comes across as mild, benevolent, avuncular, but sadly a little too confident in his own omniscience, and misled, poor fellow, by those around him who could have steered him aright but who for reasons unspecified failed to do so. A colorless narrative. The East in this story is not only not Red; it is scarcely even the East. Decades of terror, purges, intrigues, power struggles, treachery, deceit, manipulation, betrayal, and homicide on an unimaginably gargantuan scale--one gets the impression that Spence is himself so bland and mild that he would consider it impolite to evoke such things with any vividness. Or perhaps his vision is itself so neutral, so anodyne, that he really isn't capable of registering them.

What three words best describe Alexander Adams’s performance?

ordinary, moderately clumsy, not too distracting

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Shock and dismay, disorientation, a dizzying, vertiginous sense of unreality

Any additional comments?

The biography by Jung Chang and John Halliday offers the power and color absent from Spence's account. They depict Mao as a power-mad monster, a supremely cunning psychopathic gangster boss. One could say it's a hatchet job, but they have a lot of evidence to back up their depiction, including many of Mao's own statements. Without the recognition of Mao's psychopathy, it would be hard to account for quite so many corpses and shattered lives, so much deliberate and prolonged torment. Their story is compelling, linked causally one episode to the next (Spence's is not). The one main thing missing from their account is the ideological fervor that must have animated so many cadres, along with sheer terror and intimidation. I had hoped Spence would compensate some for that large hole in the Chang/Halliday biography. It didn't. I'm on now to David Priestland's The Red Flag: A History of Communism, which promises better in that respect.

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