I’ve read bad historical nonfiction for the average person and I’ve read good historical nonfiction for the average guy. The Coldest Winter is without a doubt in the GREAT category, because it does what your high school history class failed to do. Tell the story.
The Korean War, or the Forgotten War, is one of my personal struggle periods. You can find out everything you ever wanted to know about WWII, but the books written on Korea are far and in between. The Coldest Winter gives you everything you need to know from the macro view: personal reflections of Mao, Stalin, Truman and the geopolitical forces at work. Issues like the pro-China lobby in the US and how politicized issues greatly affect the war on the ground. And the micro-view: select perspectives from many soldiers who fought and died in some horrible conditions.
Some parts read like a horror movie as American troops recklessly move north right into a waiting Chinese trap.
Of course, no Korean War book is complete without an extensive look at MacArthur. The dominating personality, a general so egofied that he views his successes as the natural order of things and his failures as a result of someone else’s bad ideas. How his cult of personality doomed the lives of many American servicemen and almost started a nuclear war. And how his popularity kept the president from removing him until long after it was due.
And, of course, how the lessons we learned (and didn’t learn) led us directly into the quagmire of Vietnam. A completely avoidable trap that sucked in three administrations.
A must-read for casual history fans.
4 out of 4 stars.