Top critical review
Well written, and well researched, but unbalanced and vindictive.
on February 11, 2015
Chairman Mao is one of the 3 great dictators of the 20th century. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were all sociopathic monsters. Each had his own peculiar pathology and genius. Overall Mao was an amoral egomaniac. Although he might enjoy the death of a particular enemy he didn't seek out widespread death with any pleasure as Stalin, and Hitler did. However, he could could not truly care for people; even his own family. The masses were simply a resource to him, the only resource he had an abundance of. Spending 70 million people out of 900 million is no big deal if it helps him achieve his perception of 'greatness'.
To write a true impartial biography of this man though, you have to also address the gravitas and personal energy it takes to take power and keep that power for decades. At the particular skill of power politics Mao was an unprecedented genius. Unlike Hitler, who was also a genius, Mao knew when to step back and live to fight another day. As when his #2 Liu Shao-chi stood up to him in 1962 to stem the tide of famine deaths created by Mao's programs. Mao saw the writing on the wall, smoothly accented, and carefully redirected blame away from himself, while carefully planning revenge. Not enough is written about Deng Xiao-peng's involvement in the Mao regime. He just suddenly appears near the end of the book.
Chang's invective tries to put every single thing Mao does in the worst possible light, which makes this book unbalanced and unprofessional, while still being an excellent read with great scholarship done to back up the book. Even the worst gangster or terrorist has positive character traits as well. Mao was an amoral sociopath... but also a cunning man driven to make China a 'GREAT' nation. Upon reading reviews that scholars of modern China have written (Andrew Nathan, Columbia University Professor and Chair among others)I have to downgrade my original review. Just because someone writes a compelling book, don't take everything they write as gospel truth. It turns out that much of what what Chang and Halliday have written can not be supported or substantiated. Legitimate documentation is mixed seamlessly with tenuous or false documentation. Legitimate insight is mixed with wild speculation and putting words in people's mouths. As Andrew Nathan puts it: 'jade and plastic'. Mixing good scholarship with bad. Don't let this book be your only source of information about Mao.