Joseph Stilwell was the military attaché to China from 1935 to 1939, commander of United States forces, and allied chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek from 1942 to 1944. His story unfolds against the background of China's history, from the revolution of 1911 to the turmoil of World War II, when China's Nationalist government faced attack from Japanese invaders and Communist insurgents.
©1971 Barbara W. Tuchman; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"The most interesting and informative book on U.S.-China relations...a brilliant, lucid and authentic account." (The Nation)
"Barbara Tuchman's best book...so large in scope, so crammed with information, so clear in exposition, so assured in tone that one is tempted to say it is not a book but an education." (The New Yorker)
Non-Fiction, Science, History and Business Reader
I am a great admirer of Barbara Tuchman, having previously read most of her books on Audible, so I was very much looking forward to this Pulitzer Prize winning work, but I found only disappointment.
Unlike her other works, I felt that Ms. Tuchman lost perspective on the greater narrative by getting caught up in smaller matters of concern. Too often we find ourselves repeating the same problems again and again with "Peanut" or other issues. We bypass opportunities to effectively communicate the key relationships, choosing instead to illustrate our subject's frustrations with repetition.
I think the source of the problem is the author's access to General's Diary. She clearly greatly enjoyed reading it, and too often falls into the trap of merely re-writing it.
Great historical story-telling.
The central character, Joe Stilwell
Any time he was speaking truth to power
God, send us more of such men
Barbara Tuchman is a gifted teller of history, as everyone familiar with her work knows. But the narrator, identified by Audible as Pam Ward, who I think narrated Tuchman's Guns of August, is a perfect reader. Too often, narrators' voices, habits of speech, lack of interest and over-acting make Audible's books hard to listen to. Ms. Ward combines clear interpretive reading with just enough acting. She
This over 20 hours of listening in 4 parts of the life and times of Joseph Stillwell. It chronicles his life from birth (1911) to death (1945). He first went to China in 1920 and spoke fluent Chinese. He was the military attache to China (1935-39) and commander of US forces and allied chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek (CKS) in 1942-44. While he was commander of the forces in China he also had to deal with the British which a different agenda in Far East, CKS, the communists Chinese, the Japanese and another US General Chenault. All of these factions had their own agenda and made Stillwell's plans extremely difficult to carry out. In particular, Stilwell believed in taking over the Burma Road to allow for supply of goods into China. The British wanted resources elsewhere; Chenault wanted an exclusive air attack: CKS wanted U aid but did not want to commit Chinese troops and was more worried about the communists than the Japanese and Japanese were aggressively attacking China.
Stilwell is depicted as a person who had a great respect and admiration for the Chinese people but had no respect or trust for high ranking chinese officers who were more interested in kickbacks and maintaining their army rather than winning the war. Stilwell also butted heads with CKS over how Chinese troops should be utilitized.
The story also provides a good summary of the history of China from 1900 on. The story ends sadly. Stilwell does eventually open the Burma road, but air resources had improved to the point where the road was not necessary for supplies. Stilwell was eventually recalled back to the US when Roosevelt caved in to CKS request to have Stillwell removed. He returned to the US without fanfare or recognition for his efforts as the person who saw more battles than anyother in the Pacific.
If you are interested in the history of China ane beginnings of US - China diplomacy you find this book interesting.
A stunning story of heroism, perseverance and the will to overcome all obstacles in the face of an ally not unable, but unwilling, to fight for itself. The story of Stilwell in China could easily be understood as the prototype for what happened in Viet Nam a decade later. It was impossible for me to come away from this book without a completely new understanding of Chiang Kai-shek and the role he played (or perhaps more accurately didn't play) in the Second World War. It gives a very positive view of Stilwell and the American effort, a positive view of many, many Chinese, but a very negative view of the active government in China during World War 2. And it serves as a dramatic counter-point to the allied victories in Europe and in the Pacific.
I recommend it, but it is not an easy book to read. The book is not new (it was originally published in 1971) but Barbary Tuchman did a great service with this book and it deserves to be read. The narrator does an excellent job but, as I said, it is not an easy book to read.
Of course, ole Vinegar Joe. How could he not be. This story brought the crusty old soldier right back to life.
Vinegar and Peanuts don't mix
I have always been interested in China and find Barbara Tuchman's books on historic moments excellent. This one did not disappoint. She painted a fair portrait of Stilwell. Clearly she liked him, but she did not cover up his flaws - particularly those that impacted his work in China. The most fascinating part of the story covers the WWII period, but the earlier time periods cast useful illumination on the events. Chiang Kai Shek does not come off very well, but the Americans, including Stilwell, did not truly understand him or the Chinese viewpoint with regard to many things. Mme. Chiang, whose Western outlook was better understood, was mostly responsible for the level of backing the Americans gave to the Kuomintang.
I found this book well worth the time. For those who are interested in how fairly recent history has shaped our modern world, this book is strongly recommended.
B. Tuchman is such a good writer and presenter of Stilwell's good and bad parts and mostly the bad parts of the U.S. - China policy. My stomach began to twist whenever Stilwell had to deal with Chiang Kai Shek et al. It's no wonder Stillwell died of stomach/liver cancer soon after the war. The reason I read the book was that my father was in that theater of war, U.S. Army.
Pam does an excellent job narrating this book.
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