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The Coldest Winter

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The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. By David Halberstam. (Hyperion: 2007. Pg. 736.) ISBN: 1401300529.

Reviewed by Herbert White - October 31, 2007

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War presents a masterful and readable account of the Korean War. This book was written by David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist who was the premier writer on American foreign policy. He is also the author of The Best and the Brightest, an unforgettable book about the Vietnam War. Regrettably, Halberstam passed away shortly after this book was finished. With The Coldest Winter, he has greatly added to his remarkable legacy, and he has produced a book that will forever change our understanding of the Korean War and its long term impact. As important, this book makes an obscure episode of the Cold War accessible to a broad readership.

Infused with gripping details and written in a vibrant narrative style, Halberstam chronicles the events that lead to the start of the Korean War, how the war was executed, and how it was brought to its inglorious conclusion. Along the way he introduces the reader to the key players in this macabre drama, including the American President Harry Truman, Dean Acheson (American Secretary of State), Kim Il-Sung (the North Korean Leader), Mao Zedong (the Chinese Leader), and the American Generals Douglas MacArthur and Matthew Ridgway. The role that the Korean War played in propelling General Dwight Eisenhower into the White House is also touched upon.

Within the pages of this momentous book, Halberstam examines the role that ambition and politics played in almost every aspect of the war, and the numerous miscalculations and outright mistakes that were constant companions both on and off the battlefield. Along the way Halberstam also inserts eyewitness accounts and personal glimpses of the war, told from the viewpoint of the common soldier. Halberstam also provides absorbing overviews of the major battles, the battle tactics used, and how the various American, Chinese, Russian, and Korean battlefield commanders performed.

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the role that the Korean War has had on American history and American foreign policy, as well as for anyone with an interest in Asian history, the Cold War, Military History, and American politics. Although this is a popular history of the war, scholars will find much to appreciate about this book, not the least of which are the book's endnotes and up-to-date bibliography. This book also includes a compelling afterword by Russell Baker. The only drawback to this otherwise excellent history is that the book lacks an index. This large print edition of the book is unabridged and includes all the maps and reference material found in the standard print edition. Running some 1,240 pages, this is a massive and invaluable book that chronicles this nearly forgotten war whose repercussions are still being felt today.

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