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Summary

On 25 June, 1950, the invasion of South Korea by the Communist North launched one of the bloodiest conflicts of the last century. The seemingly limitless power of the Chinese-backed North was thrown against the ferocious firepower of the UN-backed South in a war that can be seen today as the stark prelude to Vietnam.

Max Hastings drew on first-hand accounts of those who fought on both sides to produce this vivid and incisive reassessment of the Korean War, bringing the military and human dimensions into sharp focus. Critically acclaimed on publication, The Korean War remains the best narrative history of this conflict.

©1987 Max Hastings (P)2014 Audible Studios

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A missing piece of history

Would you consider the audio edition of The Korean War to be better than the print version?

Print would have provided a reference book that I could see maps

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

The political tensions between the various countries and the potential use of nuclear weapons

Have you listened to any of Cameron Stewart’s other performances? How does this one compare?

not listened to any

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

no emotional reaction other than wishing the veterans should gain far more recognition for their action in this forgotten and neglected conflict

Any additional comments?

A really worthy book to gain an insight into a war that has been ignored and forgotten.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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MASH It Isn't

Max Hastings is one of those extremely thorough writers that provides a comprehensive picture of the events in his books. I found the detail in his treatment of the war against Japan during World War 2 amazing. However, I was less enamoured with his work on the Falklands conflict as it read more akin to a government report and lacked more of the personal accounts that enrich the telling of such events. Still, Hastings is accomplished and so I felt his book on the Korean war would be a good start to gain an insight into that theoretically ongoing conflict.

This book didn't suffer nearly so much as his Falklands work did and so was a more interesting read. I care less for the politics behind the conflicts and more on the men that fought it but I do understand that one needs an overall frame of reference and thus a need to fully detail the politics behind the scenes.

It amused me to find out that in one meeting between the North Korean representatives and the American and South Koreans that both parties sat in silence across a table from one another for over 2 hours at a point in the conflict when tensions were running high. It's always amazing to see how egos play a part at the highest level seeing the American delegation having a separate entrance built to the negotiation hut in order not to use the same one as the North Koreans.

The book ably depicts just how brutal the climate was as well as the opposition and the harsh winters were killers to both sides. Having known very little about the conflict, I was shocked at the evident ineptness early on by the Americans and it shows how just a few years after World War II how the quality and readiness of the U.S army had sharply declined in that time. Also, the poor quality of the South Korean troops only added to this inadequate response to the North Korean incursion. The levels of cruelty by South Korean soldiers on their own troops and civilians was also an eye opener.

We also see the rise of the Kim family that went on to dominate North Korea to this day so yet another education in this war. Hastings is very diligent but I did note he omitted a small but relevant incident where a North Korean pilot defected with his MIG fighter after a leaflet drop by the U.S offering $100,000 to the pilot that did so. This intelligence coup would have shaped the response to these MIG fighters by the U.S pilots and so I was surprised Hastings missed this.

Dry politics aside, this book is an in depth treatment of the brutal conflict and well worth a read if you want to learn more about this event in world history.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Jim
  • London
  • 29-05-15

Consistently Gripping

A wholly gripping account of a war which Hastings argues had to be fought because of what was at the time a real threat from communist totalitarian states. As with his other books he offers eye witness accounts of combatants which keeps the action urgent and exciting while detailing the strategic and political efforts of generals, presidents and foreign policy wonks. It's a very satisfying combination and in this particular book it's applied to the story of a country split between murderous communists and despotic nationalists, each backed by a superpower. The allies had good equipment but a shortage of battle hardened troops, the communists had relatively poor kit but were willing to win victory by sacrificing massive numbers of poorly trained infantry. Hastings argues that the terrain and the border with China meant that the war was always, in effect, unwinnable but the story plays out as a riveting dog-fight between two enormous armies lead by gifted but deranged generals across an extraordinarily difficult landscape. Hastings' reflections on what happens when the electorates of democratic nations become bored of intractable conflict and repelled by the foreign regimes that their governments have backed also has strong resonances with what's currently happening in the middle east.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Comprehensive, informative & genuinely interesting

Knowing only the broadest outlines of the Korean War, this title kept me company for a week out walking the dogs and more than once I found myself finding a bench or a gate to sit on a while and listen closely. I was expecting this to be a bit of a dutiful job, filling in a big gap in my personal knowledge but it turned out to be an extremely well-written, well-read piece of work which was from time to time as gripping as a novel for anyone not knowing what happened next. Not bad for a depiction of a war which was, I now understand, frequently a wretched, freezing stand-off.

Further reading reassures me that Hastings has not missed out anything worth fretting about so my admittedly inexpert opinion would be that I would heartily recommend this to anyone wanting to understand a major piece of recent history in one excellent volume.

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  • Mark C.
  • Cambridgeshire, UK
  • 09-10-17

Very relevant to 2017

Although written in 1985, this book shines a real light on the history of Korea and why we are having trouble with the regime now.

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Fantastic introduction

This book is great for those who know a bit, but certainly not a lot, about the period. It ser

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Favourite

This is my favourite book of this type. It's a genuinely fascinating listen, in my case probably because I only had a rough outline of the conflict. The clash of ideals, societies and egos are compulsive listening. The fact it features the changing of the guard from a western military point of view (leadership, tactics and equipment) gives the war a poignant feel to me. Sadly as always it's the ordinary civilians that are caught up in the see saw battles.

Admittedly the accents used mid sentence still throw my off a little, especially as someone British recreating a Korean or Chinese accent usually sounds somewhere between comical and ignorant. But I can see why they tried.

I've listened three times however.

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An undocumented war

Author Max Hastings has produced this history of the only war fought by allies from within the UN against what was seen as communist aggression from China and North Korea.
This is a must for all students of Asia - American conflicts and the Korean War in particular. Absorbing and pacy, the reader holds your interest and is able to convey regional accents without over doing it. Highly recommended

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good broad history<br />

liked this book a lot, good chapters on POWs, not UK centric, well narrated, five stars

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Fascinating account of a conflict little spoken of

A very intriguing history of a conflict I knew nearly nothing about, yet had such a significant impact on world affairs.

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  • rstone23
  • 30-03-16

Brings a true history to a war that is often over looked

Brings a true history to an otherwise forgotten war. The story keeps you engaged as it brings you through the years and battles that politics dictated instead of a goal to win the war.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Stephen
  • 21-03-16

The Korean War - Hasting's Take

Story: Overall, the book is very good and covers elements not covered in most books on Korea such as the UK contributions to the UNC. I recommend this book.

Narrator: it is always a pleasure to listen to Cameron Stewart. There is usual bias of an American listening to a British voice.

Production: Excellent.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • 04-05-17

exhaustively detailed and balanced

exhaustively detailed and balanced treatment of the Korean War by a master of military history

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Jordan Schneider
  • 28-03-15

Strong mil-focused history of Korean War

Deft handling of military and political aspects, but a little weak on politics and lacks post-ussr fall docs. Aside from that doesn't feel all that dated and he takes advantage of when he wrote it to conduct interviews with lots of different voices. could have gone a bit deeper militarily. Pow chapter of Koreans held in the aouth fascinating. Good job weaving in different non-elite voices and from multiple sides. Would've loved to learn more about Turkish fighters. Worthy war in the end, particularly given how ROK has been able to thrive, important to see relative morality when defending flawed regime that's better than alternative. But enough with the Uk analysis can do no wrong.
Not a brilliant work, but good research and interviews went into it. Mac portrait good and concise, not much on us high politics. Good on characterizing how societies were responding to the war, perspective from everyday Americans and uk. Odd to think that uk in 1950 saw itself a first rate power, empire would last for awhile was operating assumption. Have to always be contextualizj get, imagining what is the recent history of the subjects, get a sense of their historical and political frame of references.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Mikkel
  • 11-11-15

Mostly a high level view

I had hoped, that the book would be more like Stephen Ambrose's books from World War 2. That is not the case. It's taking a higher level approach, with less focus on the combat and experience of the men.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael S. Owens
  • 28-04-17

An excellent historical work - but....

This is an excellent historical work focused on little known aspects of the Korean War.

unfortunately the reader's terrible attempts to affect an American accent while reading quotations, amusing at first, become extremely annoying by the end. I would much rather he read solely in his native British accent, preferring to imagine that I was being told the story by the author, himself from the UK.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • JxL
  • 26-02-15

well-rounded & thoughtful

this is a well-rounded and thoughtful survey of the American and English experience in the Korean War. the narrator sought to enliven quotations with his imitations of the various accents of the speakers, which I could have lived without; but I can't suggest a better way to signal the beginnings and endings of quoted material, so even that I got used to. Hastings I have grown accustomed to enjoying and respecting.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • az-joe
  • 27-08-16

did the Brits win this war?????

Hour after hour of British pride being expressed by Mr hastings! You would have thought they the british single handed won this war and the Americans are an after thought who blundered around the country making foolish mistakes which they then committed again in viet nam. this book was a major disappointment, I have read most of Max Hastings books and can honestly say were great histories well written and very informative. Don't know what happened here. Forget this one

6 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Joe
  • 06-10-16

Great Read

Very interesting and informative book. I was astounded with how many references there were to the nuclear option. it's frightening how close we came.

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  • David
  • 07-07-16

A Max Hastings classic.

This is not a happy read. However, for those like myself who have had little instruction on the matter it is about as good as you could ask for.