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Summary

Summary

"In a grand gesture of reclamation and remembrance, Mr. Halberstam has brought the war back home."
--The New York Times

David Halberstam's magisterial and thrilling The Best and the Brightest was the defining book about the Vietnam conflict. More than three decades later, Halberstam used his unrivaled research and formidable journalistic skills to shed light on another pivotal moment in our history: the Korean War. Halberstam considered The Coldest Winter his most accomplished work, the culmination of forty-five years of writing about America's postwar foreign policy.

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 River 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. As ever, Halberstam was concerned with the extraordinary courage and resolve of people asked to bear an extraordinary burden.

The Coldest Winter is contemporary history in its most literary and luminescent form, providing crucial perspective on every war America has been involved in since. It is a book that Halberstam first decided to write more than thirty years ago and that took him nearly ten years to complete. 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.


Author Notes

David Halberstam was born on April 10, 1934 in New York City and later attended Harvard University. After graduating in 1955, Halberstam worked at a small daily newspaper until he attained a position at the Nashville Tennessean.

Halberstam has written over 20 books including The Children, a written account of his coverage of the Civil Rights Movement; The Best and Brightest, which was a bestseller; and The Game and October, 1964, both detailing his fascination of sports. Halberstam also won a Pulitzer Prize for his reports on the Vietnam War while working for the New York Times. He was killed in a car crash on April 23, 2007 at the age of 73.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

"*Starred Review* Halberstam's shockingly sudden death in an April 2007 automobile accident was an irreplaceable loss of a great journalist and historian, making a poignant valedictory of this history of the Korean War. It bears the salient traits of Halberstam's singularity: his working combination of deep-drilling interviewing with thorough research, a detached awareness of historical trends, and, as he writes in this work, a respect for the nobility of ordinary people. The connections he makes between them and leaders who perceive themselves as directing events in this case, between General Douglas MacArthur and platoon-level soldiers who bore the consequences of his decisions dispels history as an impersonal force and restores it as a tangible, visceral process influenced by character. Halberstam's acuity about weapons, terrain, and the mysterious transformation of a man into a warrior focuses on the Chinese intervention in the Korean War in November 1950, and considers particularly how American soldiers and marines at all ranks recovered from initial defeats, learning how to thwart the enemy's successful tactics. Commanding and evocative as Halberstam is about the brutal face of battle, his career's forte of explaining political contexts is the crucial advantage of this work, offering answers on how America became involved in the Korean conflict. Unabashed about extolling heroes and condemning villains, Halberstam's final work stands as the coda to his enduringly famous The Best and the Brightest (1972)."--"Taylor, Gilbert" Copyright 2007 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

This final work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author (The Best and the Brightest), who died in April, looks at the "Forgotten War." Not a battle history, it concentrates largely on the politics of the situation and how the Truman administration found itself fighting a war it did not want with a commander it could not trust. Much of the book concerns the MacArthur headquarters and the general's insistence on carrying out his own agenda rather than Washington's. The author expresses a great deal of anger at Col. Charles Willoughby, MacArthur's intelligence chief, who baldly falsified his estimates to agree with the boss's fanciful preconceptions of the Chinese. The result was a huge U.S. military debacle culminating in the disastrous retreat from the Yalu in 1951. Halberstam offers interesting discussions of the China Lobby and the effect it had on the debate. The run-up to the war and the first year are covered in great detail, but the book gets sketchier after Matthew Ridgway's assumption of supreme command in 1951. Some rough organization and lack of narrative covering the later years suggest that Halberstam's death may have cut short his work. Still, this is a vital, accessibly written resource for students of the period and is sure to be widely read. Recommended for most collections.-Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


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