The Coldest Winter: Book summary and reviews of The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam

The Coldest Winter

America and the Korean War

By David Halberstam

The Coldest Winter
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2007,
    736 pages.

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Book Summary

The Coldest Winter is a successor to Halberstam's 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 forty-five 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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Commanding and evocative . . . Halberstam's final work stands as the coda to his enduringly famous The Best and the Brightest.

""For anyone who aspires to a position of national leadership, no matter the circumstances of his or her birth, this book should be mandatory reading. And anyone who feels a need, as a confused former prisoner of war once felt the need, for insights into how a great and good nation can lose a war and see its worthy purposes and principles destroyed by self-delusion can do no better than to read and reread David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest." - from the Foreword by Senator John McCain.

"The most comprehensive saga of how America became involved in Vietnam. . . . [I]t is also The Iliad of the American empire and The Odyssey of this nation’s search for its idealistic soul." - The Boston Globe.

"Some readers may find The Coldest Winter to be something of a quagmire itself. Halberstam acknowledges in an author's note that it does not have a "linear" structure. Rather, "it takes you on its own journey, and you learn along the way. It becomes not just the story of the Chinese entering the war and what happened in those critical weeks. On the way there is a great deal of political history to be learned, all of which forms the background on both sides. And there are other battles. People kept telling me about the brutal fighting in the earlier Pusan Perimeter days, and so I had to learn about that." In the process, we reach page 395 before the weather turns cold. By then, Douglas MacArthur, for five years unanswerable to anyone as occupation boss of Japan, was running the war by remote control -- never spending, as Halberstam acidly notes, "a night in the field in Korea." He was already 70, and his willfulness was unyielding, abetted by pseudo-intelligence subserviently packaged by staff toadies in Tokyo." - The Washington Post.

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Author Information

David Halberstam Author Biography

Photo by Porter Gifford

David Halberstam was one of America's most distinguished journalists and historians, a man whose newspaper reporting and books helped define the era we live in. He graduated from Harvard in 1955, took his first job on the smallest daily in Mississippi, and then covered the early civil rights struggle for the Nashville Tennessean. He joined The New York Times in 1960, went overseas almost immediately, first to the Congo and then to Vietnam. His early pessimistic dispatches from Vietnam won him the Pulitzer in 1964 at the age of thirty. Many of his books, including The Best and the Brightest, The Powers That Be, The Reckoning, and The Fifties, have been national bestsellers.

Over the years, he developed a pattern of alternating a book with a weighty theme with one that ...

... Full Biography

Name Pronunciation
David Halberstam: dayvid HAL-buhr-STAM

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