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Publisher's Summary

"Superb... A masterpiece of thorough research, deft pacing and arresting detail... This war story - the fight to break out of a frozen hell near the Chosin Reservoir - has been told many times before. But Sides tells it exceedingly well, with fresh research, gritty scenes and cinematic sweep." (Washington Post)

From the New York Times best-selling author of Ghost Soldiers and In the Kingdom of Ice, a chronicle of the extraordinary feats of heroism by Marines called on to do the impossible during the greatest battle of the Korean War. 

On Oct. 15, 1950, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of UN troops in Korea, convinced President Harry Truman that the Communist forces of Kim Il-sung would be utterly defeated by Thanksgiving. The Chinese, he said with near certainty, would not intervene in the war. 

As he was speaking, 300,000 Red Chinese soldiers began secretly crossing the Manchurian border. Led by some 20,000 men of the First Marine Division, the Americans moved deep into the snowy mountains of North Korea, toward the trap Mao had set for the vainglorious MacArthur along the frozen shores of the Chosin Reservoir. What followed was one of the most heroic - and harrowing - operations in American military history, and one of the classic battles of all time. Faced with probable annihilation, and temperatures plunging to 20 degrees below zero, the surrounded, and hugely outnumbered, marines fought through the enemy forces with ferocity, ingenuity, and nearly unimaginable courage as they marched their way to the sea.  

Hampton Sides' superb account of this epic clash relies on years of archival research, unpublished letters, declassified documents, and interviews with scores of marines and Koreans who survived the siege. While expertly detailing the follies of the American leaders, On Desperate Ground is an immediate, grunt's-eye view of history, enthralling in its narrative pace and powerful in its portrayal of what ordinary men are capable of in the most extreme circumstances.  

Hampton Sides has been hailed by critics as one of the best nonfiction writers of his generation. As the Miami Herald wrote, "Sides has a novelist's eye for the propulsive elements that lend momentum and dramatic pace to the best nonfiction narratives."

©2018 Hampton Sides (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"On Desperate Ground is a masterpiece of war history, a sweeping and powerfully drawn epic of the Korean War and its mightiest battle. The astonishing heroism, resourcefulness, and grit of the Marines trapped at Chosin Reservoir boggles the mind, and Hampton Sides's telling of the story largely through the voices of those who fought (including Koreans) makes for a spellbinding and moving narrative. One of the most harrowing accounts of war I have ever read, this book is destined to become a classic." (Douglas Preston, number one New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of the Monkey God)

"What a book! Through moment-by-moment, intensely-researched details, On Desperate Ground utterly immerses the reader in this harrowing battle. Hampton Sides gives us a better understanding of the history behind current U.S. relations with Korea and China while offering a series of captivating profiles in human courage - an absolutely riveting read." (Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All the Light We Cannot See)

"No one writes war and extreme life-and-death tales as vividly and authentically as Hampton Sides. As a veteran of the 1st Marine Division, I found his new book about one of the most desperate battles in American history to be riveting and beautifully told. Sides gets it all right, from the heroism of the Marines trapped in the frozen mountains to the chess moves of the generals and politicians who put them there. An incredible page-turner of a book, a must-read." (William Broyles Jr., acclaimed screenwriter of Jarhead, Apollo 13, Flags of Our Fathers, and Cast Away)

What members say

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Excellent page turning account

I have read Hampton Sides before and his account of this pivotal Korean War battle is well researched and writted. Great reading by David Pittu as well

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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The Chosen Battle: Its Heroes and Dastards

Narration: Clear and interesting.

Content: Informative, poignant, deservedly storied account of the First Marine Division's "Attack in a Different" direction. General Smith comes across as an especially gifted, courageous general, MacArthur a pompous, insensitive ass.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • jim holt
  • cordova, tn United States
  • 11-13-18

Vivid and Heartbreaking

I cannot get these stories out of my head. Brilliant story telling and one of the best narrations I’ve heard.

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What a great read!

I couldn't stop reading this...what a great overview of the Korean War. Semper Fi devil dogs!

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Powerful Book!

As an American, I am so humbled and grateful for the heroic and brave men who fought for our country in Korea. I didn't know much about it before reading this book. The stories related in this fabulous tome touched me to my core. Clearly, the book is throughly researched. I was thinking as I listened: This book should be required reading for every American! I worry that we take our freedoms too much for granted. This book illustrates so perfectly that our freedoms must be fought for AND there are still those in the world who would gladly take them from us. The author does a masterful job, too, of painting a picture of generals who were so wrapped up in their own pride that they failed to listen to reason and ignored the facts. Thank goodness for smart humble heads such as General Smith who meticulously planned the war and then executed the plan. I finished the book just today and have already recommended it to two friends and to my entire family. Thank you Hampton Sides!

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Great read

I really enjoyed hearing about the battles and the courage of the marines who fought them. I felt like I was there with them when listening to the author depict the battles.

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Must read

Really good book, and a fast read. If you like this subject and are like me and really want to know what happened behind closed doors, even though it’s impossible to know, the next best thing is the Frozen Hours by Jeff Shaara. This book is a “novel” but will greatly help you imagination fill in some blanks .

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Frozen Chosin

A great book describing the accounts of the desperate battle at the Chosin Reservoir and the events leading up to the battle. This primarily focuses on the men and the events of the 1st Marine Division; from the Operation Chromite in Incheon to the frozen hell of Chosin Reservoir.

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Phenomenal recount of a grim battle

What an incredible story of terror, valor, and survival. This book lays it out in great detail following notable events and soldiers.

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An excellent book.

Having read many books on the Chosin campaign I confidently recommend "On Desperate Ground" as one of the best.