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Publisher's Summary

David Halberstam's magisterial and thrilling The Best and the Brightest was the defining book for the Vietnam War. More than three decades later, Halberstam used his unrivalled research and formidable journalistic skills to shed light on another dark corner in our history: the Korean War. The Coldest Winter is a successor to The Best and the Brightest, even though, in historical terms, it precedes it. Halberstam considered The Coldest Winter the best book he ever wrote, the culmination of 45 years of writing about America's postwar foreign policy.

Up until now, the Korean War has been the black hole of modern American history. The Coldest Winter changes that. 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, 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.

At the heart of this audiobook are the individual stories of the soldiers on the front lines who were left to deal with the consequences of the dangerous misjudgments and competing agendas of powerful men. We meet them, follow them, and see some of the most dreadful battles in history through their eyes. As ever, Halberstam was concerned with the extraordinary courage and resolve of people asked to bear an extraordinary burden.

©2007 David Halberstam; (P)2007 Hyperion

Critic Reviews

"Stirring....In a grand gesture of reclamation and remembrance, Mr. Halberstam has brought the war back home." (The New York Times)
"Alive with the voices of the men who fought, Halberstam's telling is a virtuoso work of history." (Publishers Weekly)

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  • Overall

Almost as good as The Best and the Brightest

Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest has been judged to be one of the best books on Vietnam ever written, and he comes close to that standard with his Korean War book. Alternating between gripping battle scenes (based on interviews with particpants done by Halberstam) and analysis of the politics of the White House, of Congress, and of the military figures, the book races along like a fiction thriller. Here is Gen. Macarthur in all his billiance and in all his egotistical mania....the combination of which led to his downfall. Here is practical, common sense, stalwart Harry Truman....threading his way among generals who were out of touch with the ground forces, a Congress suddenly beguiled by Joe McCarthy's witch hunt, Joe Stalin, who wanted to cause the US some discomfort in Asia and who did not mind if the US caused his Chinese Communist allies some discomfort too, Mao Tse Tung, ready to show the imperialist West that its time in Asia was finished, Kim Il Sung, an over-confident war monger determined to unite Korea under his power, and an American public who saw this sad war as being the wrong war, at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

The quality of the audio production is excellent. The narrator's voice is clear, his pacing is varied to suit the needs of the text, and his emphasis is well-placed.

Thanks to Halberstam, Korea may no longer be "the forgotten war."

50 of 52 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great book, great reader

The Coldest Winter is one of the better war history books I've read or heard. The author, David Halberstam, certainly did his homework, and he tells a compelling story about the incredible bravery of the soldiers fighting the cold and the enemy, and dying because the stupidity of the senior command.
Edward Herrmann is a great reader and makes the listen all the more enjoyable.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Lewis
  • Port Angeles, WA, USA
  • 01-01-08

More than Korean saga

"The Coldest Winter" shows how age can bring wisdom and perspective, and an excellent journalist can bring it out. The book may begin on June 25, 1950, but it winds its way back to the roots of the conflict and explains, finally, to me, how the Army could have been so stupid, so beguiled. MacAuthur is exposed -- again, if one saw Ken Burns' epic about WWII -- as an egocentric maniac surrounded by brainless "leaders" who cannot lead. Thank God for O.P. Smith, the Marine leader who refused to betray his men in a meglamaniac scheme to "race" to the Yalu. The book draws all the characters from each sector of the conflict -- Russian, Chinese, N. Korean, S. Korean, the U.S. and to some extent Japan -- into an intertwined story that shows the war from each perspective.

The inclusion of so many first person stories makes the book come alive. Being in combat is not the same as being in Japan or Wash. D.C., hearing about it. Getting a sense of the conditions on the ground fleshed the story out well.

The book is in no small part a "can't put it down" because the narration is incredible. The flawless pronunciation is accompanied by the emotion the moment demands, from the fawning, yawning acts of Almond to the overwhelming anger of Walker and Smith. The book just flows.

The book is going to be a classic and may attract some attention to a forgotten war and the men who fought it.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Gary
  • Phoenix, AZ, USA
  • 03-29-08

The Coldest Winter

This is an excellent account of the Forgotten War, juxtaposing the valor and sacrifice of individuals in combat against the incompetence of their civilian and military leaders. Its themes remain sadly topical more than a half-century after the events.

I cannot recommend the audio version of the book, however. First, the abridgement is poorly done. Halberstam chose to begin the book with the first encounter between UN and Chinese troops, at Unsan in October, 1950; this important chapter is omitted in the abridgement, however. Later, when the narrative proceeds chronologically from the beginning of the War in June, 1950 but assumes the reader is familiar with Unsan, the audio listener is left at a loss.

The second problem with the audio presentation is the lack of maps, twenty-five of which are provided in the physical book. This makes it difficult to grasp fully the audio narrative.


6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • russell
  • levittown, NY, United States
  • 12-07-07

The Coldest Winter

finally the men of this war got the nod that they deserve. The writer of this book did the men of this war the justice they deserve. I did not want this book to ever come to an end, because you can feel yourself inside these battles. The way the writer describes them. I found myself crying at times, and angry many other times at the way the generals in the beginning of the war was stupid and arrogant and more general MacArthur, that it was a disgrace that they let this man have all these poor men because of his arrogance and stupidity they are dead today. My father served in the Korean War, and never spoke of it. And now I understand why, after listening to this book. The narrator is excellent. I recommend this book highly to time flies listening to it

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • S.
  • 08-29-12

Excellent -

Halberstam at his best - this is a fantastic book, on an important subject, performed by a great narrator, and worth every minute..

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Fascinating views!

This book offers an incredible look at the political reasons for the Korea War, and shows how misunderstandings by our leaders and those of Russia, China and North Korea caused it. It has fewer foxhole stories than some of Stephen Ambrose's WW2 books but gives very enlightening views of the games played by politicians and the military commanders. I'm also reading a book about New Guinea in WW2 and between these two books, General Douglas MacArthur is definitely not presented as a very good commander. "The Coldest Winter" shows that had a huge ego and made serious mistakes. An awesome book!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Korea stalemate

The author spent ten years researching this book and it shows. The book sketches a broad overview of decisions being made in Tokyo and Washington and how they affected the war being fought in Korea. This is essential in order to understand the material, but where the author excels is in personalizing the experience through the eyes of several participants who were there. Through extensive interviews with Korea war veterans he is able to illustrate the stages of the war through narratives of US soldiers and commanders that were there.
There are some in this country that still defend MacArthur's conduct in the Korean war. They will not enjoy this books depiction of MacArthur. The author is unsparing in showing the folly of MacArthur's leadership.
The book is a fascinating study of a little understood part of our history and a small preview of what was to come in Vietnam a decade latter.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Well Done, Updates Classic Fehrenbach

David Halberstam's final book is a jewel. It is extremely readable (or listenable) and presents an unbiased approach to the Korean War. His research provides some post -iron curtain
details not in the Fehrenbach classic which was written in 1963. This book is mandatory reading, or listening, in my advanced classes on Korea. It communicates with those seeking an answer to "why is Korea 'The Forgotten War'".

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • John
  • MENLO PARK, CA, United States
  • 05-06-10

Filled a Gap

I think my favorite thing about this book was how it filled in a huge gap in my knowledge of American history. I knew the broad strokes of the conflict, but this book really helped me understand some of the nuances and decisions, as well as the personalities.
A good solid use of the credits.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful