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Mao: A Biography

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Everyone who came in close contact with Mao was taken aback at the anarchy of his personal ways. He ate idiosyncratically. He became increasingly sexually promiscuous as he aged. He would stay up much of the night, sleep during much of the day, and at times he would postpone sleep, remaining awake for thirty-six hours or more, until tension and exhaustion overcame him. Yet Everyone who came in close contact with Mao was taken aback at the anarchy of his personal ways. He ate idiosyncratically. He became increasingly sexually promiscuous as he aged. He would stay up much of the night, sleep during much of the day, and at times he would postpone sleep, remaining awake for thirty-six hours or more, until tension and exhaustion overcame him. Yet many people who met Mao came away deeply impressed by his intellectual reach, originality, style of power-within-simplicity, kindness toward low-level staff members, and the aura of respect that surrounded him at the top of Chinese politics. It would seem difficult to reconcile these two disparate views of Mao. But in a fundamental sense there was no brick wall between Mao the person and Mao the leader. This biography attempts to provide a comprehensive account of this powerful and polarizing historical figure.


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Everyone who came in close contact with Mao was taken aback at the anarchy of his personal ways. He ate idiosyncratically. He became increasingly sexually promiscuous as he aged. He would stay up much of the night, sleep during much of the day, and at times he would postpone sleep, remaining awake for thirty-six hours or more, until tension and exhaustion overcame him. Yet Everyone who came in close contact with Mao was taken aback at the anarchy of his personal ways. He ate idiosyncratically. He became increasingly sexually promiscuous as he aged. He would stay up much of the night, sleep during much of the day, and at times he would postpone sleep, remaining awake for thirty-six hours or more, until tension and exhaustion overcame him. Yet many people who met Mao came away deeply impressed by his intellectual reach, originality, style of power-within-simplicity, kindness toward low-level staff members, and the aura of respect that surrounded him at the top of Chinese politics. It would seem difficult to reconcile these two disparate views of Mao. But in a fundamental sense there was no brick wall between Mao the person and Mao the leader. This biography attempts to provide a comprehensive account of this powerful and polarizing historical figure.

30 review for Mao: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    (note: this review is of the original, 1980 edition) Lives up to the title in that it explains Mao and only Mao -- nothing about historical context or the people that Mao encountered, and ridden with cliches. Examples: "All through history the semi-intellectual has been the most potent person in an inchoate political situation." How? Any examples besides Mao? What exactly defines a semi-intellectual? "The results were disastrous. Battles were lost. Troops deserted. Towns that had been held by the red (note: this review is of the original, 1980 edition) Lives up to the title in that it explains Mao and only Mao -- nothing about historical context or the people that Mao encountered, and ridden with cliches. Examples: "All through history the semi-intellectual has been the most potent person in an inchoate political situation." How? Any examples besides Mao? What exactly defines a semi-intellectual? "The results were disastrous. Battles were lost. Troops deserted. Towns that had been held by the reds fell to the enemy." What battles were lost? Why were they lost? Why did troops desert? "Two men set out with the precious bottles; one was beheaded en route, one got through." A man is beheaded and you're not going to tell me why? You won't even explain what the hell it is about China in the early 1900s that allows people to be beheaded while carrying precious bottles? Most egregiously, at age 14 Mao is arranged to be married to a woman 6 years his senior. But we never hear anything about what becomes of this wife, if they divorced, how Mao treated her, and so forth. Terrill's book was published in 1980, only four years after Mao's death. One gets the idea Terrill can't be blamed for this book's errors (which are legion) is left to wonder if everything feels so haphazard because of publisher pressure to beat other Mao bios. Find a later edition by a different author; this one went obsolete the day it was published.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bryce Pinder

    (B-school) Really hard to find a good biography of Mao. One of the challenges of learning about Mao is that he's generally presented through a Western lens, which is obviously heavily biased against communism and therefore biased against Mao. By contrast, Terrill is biased FOR Mao, highlighting the significance of his influence on modern China while downplaying his obviously flawed economic and political views. However the book is poorly written as an entry-level biography for the uniformed. Ter (B-school) Really hard to find a good biography of Mao. One of the challenges of learning about Mao is that he's generally presented through a Western lens, which is obviously heavily biased against communism and therefore biased against Mao. By contrast, Terrill is biased FOR Mao, highlighting the significance of his influence on modern China while downplaying his obviously flawed economic and political views. However the book is poorly written as an entry-level biography for the uniformed. Terrill assumes an understanding of Chinese culture and history as well as the nuances of the different communist views (Marx vs. Stalin vs. Lenin), making much of his analysis hard to follow. I also found myself wanting more details in some areas (civil and Sino-Japanese wars, Cultural Revolution) and less detail in others (nuances of communist views, Mao as a political leader). Overall a very challenging subject to write on, but missed the mark for me in a lot of ways.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Larry Wang

    Very good, comprehensive book detailing the life of Mao Zedong. Terrill focuses less on Marxism-Leninism and more on Chinese traditional culture (ex. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Story of the Marshes, Journey to the West etc.) as the core influences of Mao's ideology. My only gripe with Terrill is his sensationalism at times in the book. Also, he doesn't seem to cast any doubt on the (IMO) highly dubious account of the CCP soldiers who swung on the ropes of a half-destroyed bridge to throw gre Very good, comprehensive book detailing the life of Mao Zedong. Terrill focuses less on Marxism-Leninism and more on Chinese traditional culture (ex. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Story of the Marshes, Journey to the West etc.) as the core influences of Mao's ideology. My only gripe with Terrill is his sensationalism at times in the book. Also, he doesn't seem to cast any doubt on the (IMO) highly dubious account of the CCP soldiers who swung on the ropes of a half-destroyed bridge to throw grenades on the KMT, eventually overwhelming them (this was during the Long March).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ietrio

    A hagiography from someone who gets high on powerful people. The Private Life of Chairman Mao is a much more valuable read than the mysticism of Terrill. A hagiography from someone who gets high on powerful people. The Private Life of Chairman Mao is a much more valuable read than the mysticism of Terrill.

  5. 5 out of 5

    HZ

    Ross Terrill knows Chinese history well...but he barely understands Chinese culture

  6. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    I decided to read a biography of Mao after seeing "Nixon in China," the opera by John Adams, in a live-at-the-met" production a couple of months ago. Seeing the opera made me realize how little I knew about Mao, although I'd taken two terms of Chinese/Japanese history in college in the mid-60s. (Those covered mostly the ancient cultural history and certainly didn't go beyond mid-19th century at all.) Reviews led me to this revised 1999 edition of Terrill's biography. I was somewhat alarmed by wha I decided to read a biography of Mao after seeing "Nixon in China," the opera by John Adams, in a live-at-the-met" production a couple of months ago. Seeing the opera made me realize how little I knew about Mao, although I'd taken two terms of Chinese/Japanese history in college in the mid-60s. (Those covered mostly the ancient cultural history and certainly didn't go beyond mid-19th century at all.) Reviews led me to this revised 1999 edition of Terrill's biography. I was somewhat alarmed by what seemed to me a tendency to uncritical acceptance of Mao's own recollections of his childhood and early youth, but I suppose that that's almost inevitable when dealing with the very early life of someone completely unknown and insignificant at that stage of life. Documentation, naturally enough, steadily improves as the book goes along. I do think it's well-written and I found it kept my interest keen after the childhood section. I haven't read enough about Mao and modern Chinese history to judge how accurate it is, but it certainly has been praised by those who know more. And it's heightened my interest sufficiently so that I expect to read more about the history of the era and today's China as well.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Peter Dickerson

    I read this many years ago. It is a masterpiece. A complete objective account of Mao and China.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    It is always interesting to get outsider's view on our country's great historical figures. Perhaps for a more balanced description from a less 'red-coloured" eye.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

  10. 4 out of 5

    Steve Hart

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dieter

  12. 4 out of 5

    Yen Peter

  13. 4 out of 5

    Blair

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jinsie

  15. 4 out of 5

    Peter

  16. 5 out of 5

    Snowfalcon

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alexander widrow

    This is one of my favorite bios of one Chairman Mao

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  19. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tfl0pz

  21. 5 out of 5

    Shirley Xu

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mr

  23. 5 out of 5

    Shaw

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sun Shan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Feistymonkey

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jr. Zhang

  27. 4 out of 5

    Wheel_n_whip

  28. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  29. 4 out of 5

    Antonia Sears

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nan Tan

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