"In a grand gesture of reclamation and remembrance, Mr. Halberstam has brought the war back home."---The New York Times
David Halberstam's magisterial and thrilling The Best and the Brightest was the defining book about the Vietnam conflict. More than three decades later, Halberstam used his unrivaled research and formidable journalistic skills to shed light on another pivotal moment in our history: the Korean War. Halberstam considered The Coldest Winter his most accomplished work, the culmination of forty-five years of writing about America's postwar foreign policy.
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 River 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. As ever, Halberstam was concerned with the extraordinary courage and resolve of people asked to bear an extraordinary burden.
The Coldest Winter is contemporary history in its most literary and luminescent form, providing crucial perspective on every war America has been involved in since. It is a book that Halberstam first decided to write more than thirty years ago and that took him nearly ten years to complete. It stands as a lasting testament to one of the greatest journalists and historians of our time, and to the fighting men whose heroism it chronicles.
Reviewed by James BradyAt the heart of David Halberstam's massive and powerful new history of the Korean War is a bloody, losing battle fought in November 1950 in the snow-covered mountains of North Korea by outnumbered American GIs and Marines against the Chinese Communist Army.Halberstam's villain is not North Korea's Kim Il Sung or China's Chairman Mao or even the Soviet Union's Josef Stalin, who pulled the strings. It's the legendary general Douglas MacArthur, the aging, arrogant, politically ambitious architect of what the author calls "the single greatest American military miscalculation of the war," MacArthur's decision "to go all the way to the Yalu because he was sure the Chinese would not come in."Much of the story is familiar. What distinguishes this version by Halberstam (who died this year in a California auto crash) is his reportorial skill, honed in Vietnam in Pulitzer-winning dispatches to the New York Times. His pounding narrative, in which GIs and generals describe their coldest winter, whisks the reader along, even though we know the ending.Most Korean War scholars agree that MacArthur's sprint to the border of great China with a Siberian winter coming on resulted in a lethal nightmare. Though focused on that mountain battle, Halberstam's book covers the entire war, from the sudden dawn attack by Kim Il Sung's Soviet-backed North Koreans against the U.S.-trained South, on June 25, 1950, to its uneasy truce in 1953. It was a smallish war but a big Cold War story: Harry Truman, Stalin and Mao, Joe McCarthy and Eisenhower, George C. Marshall and Omar Bradley, among others, stride through it. A few quibbles: there were no B-17 bombers destroyed on Wake Island the day after Pearl Harbor, as Halberstam asserts, and Halberstam gives his minor characters too much attention.At first MacArthur did well, toughing out those early months when the first GIs sent in from cushy billets in occupied Japan were overwhelmed by Kim's rugged little peasant army. MacArthur's greatest gamble led to a marvelous turning point: the invasion at Inchon in September, when he outflanked the stunned Reds. After Inchon, the general headed north and his luck ran out. His sycophants, intelligence chief Willoughby and field commander Ned Almond, refused to believe battlefield evidence indicating the Chinese Communists had quietly infiltrated North Korea and were lying in wait. The Marines fought their way out as other units disintegrated. In the end, far too late, Truman sacked MacArthur.Alive with the voices of the men who fought, Halberstam's telling is a virtuoso work of history. (Sept.)James Brady, columnist at Parade and Forbes.com, is author of several books about Korea. His latest book is Why Marines Fight (St. Martin's, Nov.).