Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62

James C. Scott writes:

Mao’s Great Famine is surely the best and most comprehensive general history of the famine published to date. Dikötter is a reliable guide to the utopian origins of the Great Leap, to the export of agricultural commodities to pay for industrial investment at the height of the famine, to the competitive frenzy among provincial cadres to promise unattainable bumper harvests, to the mobilisation of untold millions of people in ill-advised drainage, dam, irrigation and iron foundry projects, to the agro-fantasy that close planting and deep (one-metre) ploughing would raise yields astronomically, to the evolving elite debates on the consequences for the rural population of gigantic communes, collective dining and grain requisitions.

(LRB 6 December 2012)

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