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Publisher's 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

What listeners say about The Korean War

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Impressive detail and sensitivity

Hastings is a great wartime storyteller. He shows admirable balance and qualifies his opinions with cautions, and as far as I can tell, full disclosure of his preconceptions and assumptions.

The narrator is very good, with the sad exception of his Australians who all sound like intoxicated cockneys - including the diplomats.

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Korea

A military historian at the top of his game supplimented by the right narrator for the task .Bravo

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The pinnacle of Korean war storytelling

Max finds a way of making a historical tragedy, just the most interesting thing you can imagine. The definitive retelling of the korean war, would recomment to anyone who's searching for more on this part of the cold war.

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A nationalist fight viewed as a ideological war

Great expose of a not well remembered conflict of the twentieth century. Max Hastings has captured the fox hole to the presidency and back again aspects of the combat and challenges of the Korean War. His discussion on MacArthurs brilliance and foibles is one of the more interesting components of the book, especially in light of Samuel Huntington’s view on the role of the soldier in politics written around the time of the war.
However the most poignant theme throughout the book is the view that Korea was a war against communism rather a war for national unity between two authoritarian states. One strong with reluctant backers the other extremely weak with the full backing of the world’s capitalist power, America. This thread throughout the book speaks to the most telling narrative of the war from the fox hole to the White House unmistakable tone of good versus subtle political evil is ever present.
It is through this thematic lens that readers/listeners should consider the war’s enduring lessons as the twenty first century shapes up for a similar ideological show down. A showdown that may mask the underlying reasons for tension and possibly conflict.

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Tells a Story Largely Ignored

Although this book is not new, itstill tells a very relevant story about world politics and the situation the United States found itself in during the vacuum that followed WW2. It explains a complicated and uncertain terms without indictement or bias. I found it excellent.

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Should be subtitled the Definitive History of...

This was my first foray into Max Hastings books. Have been listening to this over the past 2 weeks and enjoyed it immensely. I studied history at school and did a module on the Korean War. This book seems to do everything we were taught to do. write both sides of the story, acknowledge sources and note their veracity. If you want a fair well balanced overview of the Korean Conflict, I would reccomend this 100%.

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Great narrative history. Shame about the accents.

Hastings ability to pull together the complex threads of world history is first class. This is very good introduction to a formative event of the Cold War and essential for an understanding of what was to happen in Vietnam. My only complaint is the narrator’s use of accents. The Chinese and Korean are comical and close to racism. The Australian soldiers sound like cockneys. The Australian conservative foreign minister would have talked like an upperclass Englishman.

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Brought to life General McArthur and the involvement of China.

Korea was the scene of the first USA war where the enemy was The Yellow Peril. I didn’t have much knowledge of this war other than it was really ugly. Possibly both sides were ugly. Even though it was written in the mid 1980s I think, South Korea have continued to thrive since and North Korea have continued to be a basket case. Certainly worth listening too.

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  • rstone23
  • 30-03-2016

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.

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  • Stephen
  • 21-03-2016

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.

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  • John
  • 04-05-2017

simply the best chronology and

simply the best chronology and analysis o the Korean War ...heavy on facts and reflection

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  • Michael S. Owens
  • 28-04-2017

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.

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  • Mikkel
  • 11-11-2015

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.

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  • Jordan Schneider
  • 28-03-2015

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.

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  • JxL
  • 26-02-2015

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.

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  • Rev. James Fowler
  • 15-11-2018

Interesting History

An interesting interpretation and story. But the author's dislike for America was obvious and reinforced by his biased examples and interviews with non-Americans.

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  • James Walker
  • 23-03-2021

Like his book on vietnam, a truly gratifying, educational, introspective, and all encompassing experience

While the book is a bit dated at this point, it provides the most essential account of the Korean War. It bears some resemblances in narrative structure to Tradegy, such as focusing on the experiences of pows and the airmen by about the 2/3 or 3/4 point, which isn’t bad just something I noticed. Also like Tragedy, the last chapter is an almost awe-inspiring exercise in reflection, summary, introspection and making you feel like you understand the conflict as well as most historians. Has made me think twice about my views on Communism, and the best use of limited warfare.

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  • Ozyman Jones
  • 28-06-2020

Good coverage of an almost forgotten war.

Always entertaining and informative, stacked with interesting facts. There are a great many stories and asides that fill in the human side of the conflict. Well read and never boring, for this listener.

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  • Mark P
  • 14-12-2014

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.

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  • S. Morris
  • 07-03-2018

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.

25 people found this helpful

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  • David K.
  • 15-05-2018

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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  • David
  • 24-05-2018

Long but very easy to get through. Recommend.

The narrator was great and the content is good in that it breaks it up and looks at the conflict from multiple angles. Would have liked more north korean perspective even if caveats applied.

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  • Jim
  • 29-05-2015

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.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Joe Scanlon
  • 26-05-2018

Korean Conflict

Having had an uncle in the Gloucester’s who was involved in the war I was interested to gain a better understanding of the conflict.
The in depth research and personal accounts make this book a must all historians.

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  • John H. Bethea
  • 17-04-2020

Insulting American accent

This book would be okay if the reader didn’t adopt the worst, insulting accent that I’ve ever heard.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Chris
  • 30-11-2021

A war that should not be forgotten

Max Hastings always does his groundwork, and his writing skill never fails. Despite being born in the year the war ended, I knew next to nothing about the conflict. Interviews with combatants combined with historical records make sense of what to many was a degrading, pointless war.
Even so long after it was written it still seems completely relevant; the respective fortunes of North and South Korea seem astonishing unchanged. I don't think that it could be written today for I doubt that the Chinese access he had then would still be available.

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  • Mike
  • 25-11-2021

Good history of forgotten conflict. Style a bit dated now.

It’s interesting hearing a Max Hastings book from the 80’s. I’d say that quite a bit of the language used in descriptions of the various protagonists is coloured by the attitudes of the day, and hasn’t necessarily aged well.
There is also one particularly horrific bit of voice work where Cameron Stewart voices a character by apparently doing an impression of Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffanies. He only does it once, so I recon he was like ‘I can do the accent if you like’, the producer was like ‘okay, let’s here it’ then everyone looked at each other in horror and told him never to do it again… it accidentally made the cut though…

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  • Anonymous User
  • 25-10-2021

Good writing poorly presented

The story is well-researched and well-told, as is all of Max Hastings's work. The reading lets it down. The presenter has a odd use of emphasis which seems to trivialise the content, and he reads quotes from Americans in an American accent, which I find infuriating. I will get the book, and read it. Money back please.

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