“The text sparkles with shrewdly plausible inferences mortared into a compelling narrative . . . [Short] is excellent at coining pithy summations of political motives that ring humanly true.”—The New York Times Book Review (front page) Observing Pol Pot at close quarters during the one and only official visit he ever made abroad, to China in 1975, Philip Short was struck by the Cambodian leader’s charm and charisma. Yet Pol Pot’s utopian experiments in social engineering would result in the death of one in every five Cambodians—more than a million people. How did an idealistic dream of justice and prosperity mutate into one of humanity’s worst nightmares? To answer these questions, Short traveled through Cambodia, interviewing former Khmer Rouge leaders and sifting through previously closed archives around the world. Key figures, including Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, Pol’s brother-in-law and foreign minister, speak here for the first time. Short’s masterly narrative serves as the definitive portrait of the man who headed one of the most enigmatic and terrifying regimes of modern times.
“Short chronicles the stages of the Cambodian revolution with admirable clarity . . . A few chilling details, expertly deployed, do the necessary work.” —The New York Times “A spectacularly efficient job of describing what happened and why . . . A chillingly clear portrait.” —The Economist
By D. C. Carrad "augustabookman" - February 14, 2005
I approach this review with a background of five years of volunteer work in Cambodia (1995-2000) and marriage into a Khmer family. This is the best book I have yet read on the entire history of the Khmer Rouge years. It is more (fortunately) than a biography of Pol Pot -- it is just as much a history of Cambodia and and examination of its peoples' character, and shorter biographies of other prominent Khmer figures, especially King Sihanouk. The author scrupulously avoids the oversimplifications and falso moralizing of most books about Cambodia -- the ones that say either (1) the Khmer Rouge were entirely America's fault, (2) entirely Nixon's fault, or (3) entirely Kissinger's fault -- choose one. He carefully explores, among other things, American policy toward and conduct in Cambodia in the period leading up to 1975 in a thorough and neutral manner, with interesting suggestions on the significance of this and many other topics. In addition, the author's style is fluid and... read more
There is no honor or greaness here, just butchery
By Antonio - February 18, 2005
Philip Short refers to his book on Mao in his preface to "Pol Pot:Anatomy to a Massacre" and, while acknowledging Mao's extraordinary beastliness (the man was probably responsible for over 50 million deaths) he highlights Mao's pretentions to greatness not unlike Napoleon's or Alexander's. That is not the case with Pol Pot. He did not fight an honorable war against a brutal invader, like Mao did with the Japanese. Instead, he led to his Cambodia's occupation by the hated Vietnamese, who had been his paymasters for a long time. Pol Pot did not succeed in brutally modernizing his country's industry, like Stalin in the Soviet Union or Mao in China. Instead, he pulled it right back into the stone age. Like his worst predecessors in genocide, he never learned from his mistakes. Instead, he kept his habit of ordering executions, a habit which eventually led to his imprisonment by his surviving henchmen (who feared for their lives) and some sort of trial. And his corpse was not... read more
Too much of an apologist, and almost racist, but gripping read nonetheless.
By Hiroo Yamagata - August 21, 2005
Of course, this isn't just an account of Pol Pot the person, it necessarily has to be an overview of the dreadful Khmer Rouge. It is, in fact, a very gripping read. 450 pages in couple of days. But the author's conclusions are very disturbing.
THere are several questions that ANY book on Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge must answer, and Short does answer them, but not straightforwardly. Let's take a look at some examples of such questions, and Short's answeres:
1.Why did Khmer Rouge take everything to extreme?
a. Because Khmeres traditionally tend to take everything to extremes.
b. KR leaders were fans of utopian socialists when they studied in Paris, and were trained by head-strong idealist (but really unpractical and incompetent in real life) students in paris. They just caried it out simplistically.
b. Khmeres are notoriously lazy, and they wouldn't work unless they are forced.
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