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Summary

Between 1958 and 1962, 45 million Chinese people were worked, starved or beaten to death. Mao Zedong threw his country into a frenzy with the Great Leap Forward. It lead to one of the greatest catastrophes the world has ever known. Dikotter's extraordinary research within Chinese archives brings together for the first time what happened in the corridors of power with the everyday experiences of ordinary people. This groundbreaking account definitively recasts the history of the People's Republic of China.

©2010 Frank Dikotter (P)2012 W F Howes Ltd

What listeners say about Mao's Great Famine

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Mr
  • 28-11-15

Good book, poorly written

What did you like most about Mao's Great Famine?

This is a great book about a shocking period of history. Despite the heavy subject matter I found it engrossing. I've read a number of books on the subject however at times I found them to be rather repetitive. Not so with this book, it remains very readable. Shame the Chinese will never get hold of a copy!!

What did you like best about this story?

The book is called Mao's Great Famine, unsurprisingly there are very few highlights.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

And this is where it all went wrong. I would strongly recommend the book, but don't get the recording. I don't know who made the decision to give Mr Bauckham the task of reading this, but they should hang their head in shame. His Chinese pronunciation is abysmal. I appreciate that Chinese is a language most are unfamiliar with, but surely a prerequisite for narrating a book about China would at least be a rudimentary understanding of how to pronounce names and places. He wasn't even consistent in his mispronunciation. Completely ruined it.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, its quite depressing actually, only listen to it when the sun is shining.

Any additional comments?

Maybe you could do a re-recording, I'd even give it a crack.

1 person found this helpful

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Essential history

I am constantly puzzled as to why the history of modern China isn't taught more widely in schools in the West. The stories, like that of Mao's famine, are difficult but fascinating insights into human nature, and give us many lessons for contemporary politics. Dikötter's book here is well-researched and goes beyond the usual one-sided revisionist stances that seem fashionable these days - and Dikötter does not shy away from presenting inconvenient facts, or counter-arguments to his own positions, which is very rare nowadays. Not to be missed.

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Pounding weight of research. Appalling pronunciation by narrator

BOOK: This book is a ton weight at times of dreadful Stats. A huge amount of detective research. Very impressive counterweight to CCP propaganda. NARRATOR: Why can’t Dikotter’s publishing company find a narrator with knowledge of pinyin? It’s really not so difficult to learn. For a book with long lists of Chinese names and places the narrator’s inconsistent performance beers between farce and absurdity.

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An Amazing listen

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, very moving and informative

Who was your favorite character and why?

NA

Which character – as performed by David Bauckham – was your favourite?

NA

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The description of how people living during the famine and the causes was riveting.

Any additional comments?

Really worth at listen. Highly recomended

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I read this book while travelling around China...

I read this book while travelling around China and I have to say it made the trip have more depth, albeit harrowing at times. I feel I understood the country and the culture on a much deeper level as well as what was going on around me, even though most people didn't speak English. Of all of the countries I have been too (& there are many), China is not one I 'enjoyed''; I may go back to Beijing sometime, however, overall the feeling of China was not for me. This book gives you a great solid foundation of a piece of significant history for a great peoples of a large powerful country.

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Masterly, involving and informative

An excellent listen (of a long a detailed account that would have been a hard read I think). Combines vast detail with thought provoking insight

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  • deborah
  • 09-01-12

Seminal book on Mao's failures

This audiobook will expose what most of us never knew: the People's Revolution hid a devastating loss of life through starvation and exhaustion. I also learned about the cult of personality and the role the Soviets played in this disaster. My only complaint was that the listing of data became tiresome, like steel tonnage exported, etc.

The best part of the story if the narration by David Bauckham. Clearly a well trained speaker of Mandarin, his articulation and inflection was spot on, and I never tired of his voice. Excellent book overall.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Eric Fish
  • 27-06-15

Great book, terrible audio reading

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The narrator clearly has no background whatsoever in reading texts with Chinese words, and it seems he couldn't be bothered to learn even approximate pronunciations. I'm not a language snob, and by no means expect perfection in this regard, but the pronunciations were so bad that I often had no clue what he was talking about. For example, Guangzhou became "Gwang-zoo," Liu Shaoqi became "Liu Shao-kee." And those were just some of the ones I was able to figure out based on context. Virtually every name and place was pronounced incorrectly, and these incorrect pronunciations weren't even consistent. I could figure out most of the time what he meant to say by the context, but it was very annoying when I had no clue what place or person was being discussed because of the abysmal pronunciations. It undermines the value as a learning tool. Save your money and buy the print version.

7 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Shu
  • 23-05-16

Linear

I finished the book right after Gulag. Compared with Gulag, Mao's great famine is to linear with less profound dive into the country's darkness and nature.

2 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Frances Ann Clark
  • 06-11-15

Engaging history, bad pronunciation

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Parts of this recording may grate on the ears of anyone who speaks Chinese or has a firm idea of how Chinese names and places ought to be pronounced. At best, it's distracting, at worst it is hard to understand what names the narrator is attempting to pronounce. David Bauckham is otherwise a very competent and fluid narrator, which perhaps makes the Chinese pronunciation problems more noticeable.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of David Bauckham?

Any narrator of similar competence, but who could pronounce the Chinese names and places mentioned in the text, would be a massive improvement.

Any additional comments?

There's plenty of available discussion about the importance of Dikotter's work in challenging Chinese orthodoxy regarding the Great Famine and Great Leap Forward. It's worth reading, as is the more thoughtful criticism of his arguments and methods in reaching his final figure of 45 million dead due to the famine.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Nica Lorber
  • 18-10-16

Too many stats

Is there anything you would change about this book?

I would add more first hand accounts to humanize the story. It's hard to relate to a list of endless statistics. After a while they loose their impact.

Any additional comments?

The subject of this book is fascinating, and the author did a lot of research to shed new light on this topic.

However, the majority of the book listed endless statistics that became hard to relate to after a while. Given the human tragedy of the situation, the book felt less personal and more statistical. I think that it could have provided more impact if there were more narratives from first hand accounts.

The quantity of statistics made me start to question them after a while, even though the epilogue explains in detail how these stats were derived.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Scott J. Jones MD
  • 15-06-16

Excellent but a bit over-cooked

The author establishes a number of historically important points, and the anecdotes which are portrayed are graphic and impactful. But this all could have been accomplished with the same zeal and perspicacity in half the number of pages.

1 person found this helpful

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  • maambeau
  • 11-02-13

Amazing story

Would you consider the audio edition of Mao's Great Famine to be better than the print version?

I haven't read the print version

What did you like best about this story?

The way the facts were laid out.

Have you listened to any of David Bauckham’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

How to wreck a country

Any additional comments?

Makes me want to learn more about China, before and after crazy Mao.

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Patricia
  • 28-11-20

One of the Better Reads

While this text is one of the better reads on the Great Leap Forward / Great Famine, much was expected from the narrator, who delivered on some points, but failed on others. The Chinese word -shui is pronounced Schway not Schwee. This is but one mispronunciation that will drive any Chinese speaker insane. But this is not the only Mandarin word that is repeatedly mispronounced. Why not make notes in the readings that show the phonetically correct pronunciation? Now for the content. Dikotter is well respected in the field of Asian Studies and his publications are very well researched. However, the Great Leap Forward was a event in Chinese history that merits the telling of more than a few personal accounts. While written records certainly play into the telling of the history, any China scholar worth their weight in salt would be well aware that these "documents" are dubious, at best. Dikotter brings this to the fore, but doesn't quite do enough to offset the picture painted by these documents by using personal accounts. In all, Mao's Great Famine is a decent read, but certainly not at the top of my list in terms of conveying the realities of the day.

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  • Karen B
  • 15-06-20

Heartbreaking and superb.

A careful historian sifts through the evidence from official sources to document Mao's famine. Causes, results, responsibility. The callous disregard for the deaths of millions is astonishing. What a madhouse - today the Chairman wants steel, so melt down your pots at home and make unusable slag. Tomorrow the Chairman thinks sparrows eat grain, so mobilize every starving farmer in the countryside to run after sparrows. (By the way, they eat insects - that eat grain.) Dante's Inferno - but real.

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Profile Image for Kassandra M. Bentley
  • Kassandra M. Bentley
  • 05-05-20

Timely

This thoroughly researched book not only serves as a memorial for the victims of one of history's most vile and least acknowledged crimes, it offers insight into modern China and the Chinese Communist Party.