Historian Frank Dikötter used a brief window of political openness before the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China to get inside official archives and gather evidence of the terrible toll the Great Chinese Famine took on ordinary people. He also discovered how Communist leaders caused, and then covered up, the catastrophe. Dikötter shows the disaster that engulfed China between 1958 and 1962 was much worse than previously thought, with a death toll of at least 45 million—three times higher than the official number.
Four years of traveling around China trawling local archives allowed Dikötter to catalogue the tragedy in his 2010 work, Mao’s Great Famine. He did this using a clever combination of facts, figures, and harrowing human stories. In extraordinary detail, Dikötter examines the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s attempt to jumpstart industrialization, comparing it to other mass deaths, such as the Holocaust in World War II. His compelling reassessment of one of the darkest episodes of the twentieth century forces scholars to examine Mao’s policy through every painful detail of the suffering it caused.