The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

by David Halberstam


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"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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786888627
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 09/16/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 736
Sales rank: 180,648
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.70(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

David Halberstam was one of America's most distinguished journalists and historians. After graduating from Harvard in 1955, he covered the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, then was sent overseas by the New York Times to report on the war in Vietnam. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his Vietnam reporting at the age of 30. His last fourteen books were all New York Times bestsellers.

Date of Birth:

April 10, 1934

Date of Death:

April 23, 2007

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

San Francisco, California


B.A., Harvard, 1955

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Coldest Winter 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 82 reviews.
Ursus More than 1 year ago
I am a veteran of the Korean conflict, and I find it painful to see that almost no one who was not in it remembers it. I wince when speakers at public gatherings routinely skip from World War II to Viet Nam in their otherwise dutiful acknowledgment of those who served in the nation's armed forces. It was my good fortune to be assigned to a job behind the lines, so I escaped the horrors of combat, but the war was still an experience that I have always felt a need to understand better than I did when I returned home after the armistice and resumed my education on the G.I. Bill. David Halberstam's authoritative book not only describes the course of the war in a way that sounds right to me, he suppplies the political, social and economic context that makes the conflict understandable. For example, I had never before focused on the connection between the demise of Josef Stalin and the end of the shooting war. I wish the author were still living so I could thank him for this fine book, which I consider nothing less than a precious gift to people like me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was a private first class in June of 1950 and planning to attend Seattle University, which was 60 miles from Fort Lewis. where the 2nd Division was based. The 4th Regimental Combat Team, of which I was a member was attached to the 2nd Division. On June 25, the North Korans crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. I would not be discharged in September, as I had planned. But because I had only a few months left in my enlistment when the 2nd Division was sent to Korea, I was one of the lucky ones. My enlistment would be extended by a year, but it would be after the division left the states. I would not be with many of my buddies, most of whom would die in Korea. But because I am a fan of Halberstam¿s writing and because I wanted to learn more about the battles in which the 2nd Division participated, I read Halberstam¿s book. I found that fully half the book is devoted to the politics of the war, not only in the U.S., but in Korea and China, as well. Informative and revealing yes, but I was looking for a fuller account of the fighting. And I found one mistake, which was glaring in my eyes. Halberstam writes that funds to the military were so curtailed as the war began that soldiers at Fort Lewis were ordered to use only two sheets of toilet paper when they did their business in the latrines. I know on no such order and I was there. He is right, however, about the overconfidence of the army officers at the war¿s beginning. I recall a lecture to the troops in which we were told the war would be over in three months. ¿These are peasants we¿ll be fighting. When their tank drivers, when their artillerymen are killed, there won¿t be anyone trained to replace them.¿ How wrong they were and little our military knew of the disasters which awaited the troops. They are extensively detained in the book. Joseph P. Ritz, author of I NEVER LOOKED FOR MY MOTHER AND OTHER REGRETS OF A JOURNALIST.
Sigma More than 1 year ago
I read the other reviews before writing my own, which I hope clarifies a few aspects of this history. First, the title tells it all, this is history of the first year of the Korean War; so it only fleetingly discusses the last 3 years of the Korean stalemate. Second, this history is more about the politics behind the war than it is about the fighting. It primarily focuses on why the Korean War began, why we became involved, why General MacArthur was relieved of his command, and why U.S. policy ultimately resulted in a stalemate (a full scale war with China was deemed untenable). Anyone who is primarily interested military history will be disappointed. And I have to admit that I often tired of all the political intrigue regarding these events. But one message is clear from this book, a message that is applicable to all wars, namely, that all wars are politically determined in their initiation, scope, and goals. Unfortunately, how these wars are concluded rarely follows the script of those who initiated them or those who responded to the agression.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is supposed to be a complete history of the Korean War but it falls far short of that goal. Having fought in Korea at the beginning and the end of the war, I was disappointed that the book devotes very little to what happened after MacArthur is fired in early 1951. The title ' The Coldest Winter' fairly sums up the book because it is mainly devoted to explaining what occurred up to and through the route of the UN Forces during the winter of 1950. To that point, the book is fairly thorough and accurate but it only repeats what many other authors have already written. After the UN forces were driven back by the Chinese deep into South Korea, the UN forces were able to reorganize and launched a major counterattack in early 1951 which Halberstam writes about. But what the book fails to bring out is that in routing the UN forces, the Chinese had suffered heavy losses and did not have the reserves to replace those losses. The UN counter offensive resulted in more heavy losses to the Chinese as they were pushed back into North Korea, particularly on the eastern flank. The entire Chinese front was in such danger or collapsing that the Chinese sought a truce and Pres. Truman's biggest mistake was to agree to the truce. Had the UN rejected the truce offer, the Chinese would have been forced to retreat deep into N. Korea and that would have been a propitious time for the UN to agree to an armistice. Instead, the war went on for over two more years ending on July 28, 1953. It ended then only because a major Chinese offensive designed to push the Marines back across the Imjin River failed and the Chinese again had run out of steam. Many important battles were fought up until the end which Halberstam fails to even acknowledge, particularly the last battle of Boulder City. But where he really falls short is that he misses all the maneuvering of Pres. Eisenhower to bring the war to an end, how the 25th Division was ordered not to counterattack and retake key outposts in May 1953, and later the First Marine Division was also barred from retaking other key outposts lost to the Chinese in July 1953. The loss of those outposts left the Marines naked on Boulder City and meant that the battle was fought in their front lines instead of 2,000 yards in front of them, and the result was very heavy casualties for the Marines. Except for some blunders by the Chinese, they could have penetrated the lines and driven the UN back across the Imjim River which would have left the Chinese a clear route right into the Korean capital at Seoul. Halberstam apparently was unaware of how significant the last battle was in War.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The worst book regarding military history that I have ever read-and I have read quite a few. This is what happens when a self-proclaimed "historian" has a biased opinion about the subject matter (s)he is writing about, and is unwilling to change his opinion even though the facts say otherwise. Worse, to write a book based on opinion and mislead the reader into thinking it's a well-researched truism is extremely dangerous. This book should be burned. However, there are few books on the Korean War as it stands, which is why Halberstam should have at least tried to get as many documents about the war as possible. He even ignores Korean viewpoints and documents. He spent ten years writing this book? Ridiculous. I honestly believe that he watched M.A.S.H. for ten years, and that was the bulk of his research. A biased television program about the Vietnam War with a Korean set, as Bruce Cummings called it. Halberstam had no right to write a book about the Korean War. His unreliable, false (to the point of fabrication) statements run throughout the book. Almost every page in this 600-page piece-of-junk has falsity written in them. To say that Kim II Sung was just a puppet of the Russians or Chinese is ridiculous. He then states that MacArthur planned the invasion of the North in late 1950. What? Where did he get this from? This is absolutely false. Or that June 1950 invasion started this conflict (it didn't). Take it from Bruce Cummings in his brilliant book "The Korean War". He states that The Coldest Winter is an account "of the war that evince almost no knowledge of Korea or its history." with no research from any Koreans. He continues that Halberstam's book is representative today's books on military history where, "extensive knowledge of the war is not required." Books on military history today are more political viewpoints rather than historical facts. I also agree with Cummings when he says that Acheson, not MacArthur, "dominated the basic decisions about the war". He overestimated MacArthur's influence as he made no decision that was central to the war. Even The Inchon landing was written by military planners prior to the war. And lastly, MacArthur said that the Chinese would not enter the "because they didn't have an Air Force." Remember, MacArthur learned from WWII that Air Power was significant in winning the war, as it does today, because it provides cover for the ground troops, and eliminates the opposing forces ground assets. However, once MacArthur realized his mistake about the Chinese, and that the Chinese were sending hundreds of thousands of troops into Korea, he wanted to go into China to prevent this from occurring. North Korea occupied 90 percent of Korea prior to MacArthur; after MacArthur, they were pushed all the way to the Yalo River. Why are those things not mentioned? Because a liberal-minded "journalist" (not historian) wrote his personal views about the war and claimed them as "facts". All in all, THE WORST BOOK ON MILITARY HISTORY EVER WRITTEN.
ch86 More than 1 year ago
Halberstam puts it all out there for the reader to see. The good, the bad and the ugly. If you like Max Hastings' books, you will also like Halberstam. One of the best war books I've ever read.
RonboCA More than 1 year ago
I'll give Halberstam credit for writing a well researched book but that's about it. He goes on and on for 700 pages blaming MacArthur and his lackey General Almond for all the problems in the Korean War. While I happen to agree with much of the criticism of MacArthur, Halberstam's total lack of objectivity and relentless persecution almost had me wanting to defend the guy. Note to Mr. Halberstam - There's two sides to every story and intelligent readers want to hear both sides and make-up their own minds. The other big problem I had with the book was the author spent so much time bashing MacArthur and his staff that he glossed over, or skipped entirely, some major battles and true heroes in the 2nd half of the war. Halberstam could have made his point on MacArthur in about 1/5 the pages he devoted to it and then have been able to cover the entire war adequately. A better title for this book would have been "MacArthur vs Truman, a Politcal History". The Author might want to read McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" or Bradley's "Flyboys" for a lesson on how to write an accurate, objective, and entertaining book on military history.
Shaines More than 1 year ago
This book brings to light the key players in a bitter and costly war and points up the frailties of General Douglas Mac Arthur and his staff at the cost of thousands of American and Allied lives. A well written insight into a relatively little known and under studied-American War
Rioghan_Celt More than 1 year ago
This was the final book that David Halberstam published prior to his death, and in it he brings to light the myriad details of the "Forgotten War". Not content to give a brief overview, Halberstam researched everything. From the Political overview to the foxhole view, Halberstam's research helps to prevent the Korean War from being forgotten, and shows just how terrible the fighting got. From the opening attacks launched by the North Koreans, to the defense of Pusan, and the Landings at Inchon and beyond to the Yalu River. Halberstam chronicles the war blow by blow! By far one of the most detailed military history books I've ever read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellant!!! I was a Marine in Korea and this is one of the finest books on that war that I have ever read. Well done and very easy to read. Political background is enlightening.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Goes too far afield too many times. More about the personalities that shaped the war than the people who fought it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿The Coldest Winter,¿ David Halberstam¿s final journalistic tribute to heroes, is a fitting tribute to the men of the oft forgotten war. Halberstam¿s lengthy career in journalism and author shows in his brilliant writing style that keeps you engrossed in every word. It is not surprising that someone who has written so much about Vietnam, would have a huge resource to draw upon in a work about the Korean War. The Coldest Winter is a story that needed telling, much the way Herodotus told of the men of Thermopylae or, more recently how Stephen Ambrose told of the men of Easy Company in Band of Brothers. Halberstam understood well how most Americans ignore the events and outcome of the Korean Conflict, often, that part of history seems better left untold. The Coldest Winter tells this story, and it¿s back stories and even it¿s substantial post-script. We mustn¿t forget that the success of South Korea today owes a debt to the American and U.N. forces who fought there over half a century ago. What Halberstam also does in this book is point out the miserable failings of Generals like MacArthur, long-time sacred cows of military history, whose hubris in later life jeopardized the legacy of any truly heroic deeds of their youth. General Ned Almond is also lambasted for his stubbornness and poor leadership style, which led to unnecessary losses of American and U.N. forces. The Coldest Winter is a hefty book, at over 650 pages, broken into eleven sections over some 53 chapters, but it reads as fast as it reads brilliant. This is the first Halberstam book I have read, I regret that it comes only after his passing. There were certainly more great works to come had he not met his untimely death. REVIEW EVERY BOOK YOU READ, OTHER READERS, PUBLISHERS AND AUTHORS DESERVE YOUR OPINIONS TOO.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
dbeveridge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Halberstam is a master combination journalist, historian, and storyteller. This is one of his best: incisive political analysis, clear and compelling storytelling, and great sensitivity to the individual human stories that make writing about war so important in our understanding of people reacting to impossible circumstances. A wonderful book.
mecpc1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A superb account. Well researched and based primarily upon interviews of soldiers and primary sources.
labfs39 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Despite having been a history major, or perhaps because of it, these days I prefer my history tomes readable. David Halberstam's The Coldest Winter is both of these: a tome and readable. Originally a journalist, Halberstam's book is like an extended story, one whose cast of characters include the great (MacArthur, Truman, Acheson, Mao) and the everyman who might have been us (Paul McGee, Pappy Miller). These biographies are woven into the story so that we live the action through the characters, rather than observe the battles from a distance of time and space. I was thoroughly engaged throughout and wish that I could have been a fly on the wall during all the interviews that Halberstam conducted in the course of researching the book. General or infantryman, heroic or weak, the people are fascinating.The other strength of the book is the clear way in which the author explains the origins and first winter of the war. Part I draws the reader in with a spell-binding, edge of your seat telling of the Chinese ambush of the American forces at Unsan. Once hooked, Halberstam takes you through the political forces, both domestic and internationally, which led to the Korean War. Then once again he returns to Korea and relates first the defeats and then the limited victories that were to define the war. For anyone interested in an introduction to the Korean War, I would highly recommend The Coldest Winter.
nhoule on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was less than complimentary to both President Truman, as a prisoner to MacArthur's reputation and to General MacArthur as an absentee delusional commander who sent US soldiers to their death in the most meaningless of reasons; self gratification and the need to be right above all else. It was a sad testimony to the quality of leaders throughout the book. It made me angry. Halberstam was not very subtle and although he tried hard to make the story matter of fact it could not hide his disdain for the leadership housed in the Dai Ichi in Tokyo and in the White House as well as the Joint Chiefs of staff inability to deal appropriately with MacArthur. The book was very eye opening about a war I knew very little about.
meegeekai on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very well written. Having spent a fair amount of time in modern Korea it was hard to picture this took place in my lifetime. Very revealing information on the back channel politics and maneuvering going on in Washington. When compared to todays situation in Iraq, puts things into perspective.
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In my experience, most books can be divided into three broad categories: those that seek to educate, those that seek to entertain and those that seek to do both. When you can find books that fall into the third category, and succeed, you have most profitably invested your time. In this category I place the works of Stephen Ambrose and David McCollough. Also, works of historical fiction by such authors as James Michener and James Clavell would qualify. However, the further in depth the education becomes, the more difficult it is to maintain the entertainment factor. Ambrose and McCollough are masters in this regard. David Halberstam is an outstanding historian and a meticulous one. It is the depth of his analysis that makes this work extremely educational, but at the same time, dry at times and plodding at others. This is definitely a worthwhile read for anyone seeking an education on matters involving the Korean War in general and the military and political landscape of East Asia during the period following the Second World War in particular. Of particular interest, and outstanding focus are the relationship between President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur; the Chinese civil war and the dichotomy between the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek and the Communist army of Mao Zedong; the domestic political struggle surrounding the fall of China and the leadup to the Korean conflict; and the relationship between Korean dictator Kim Il Sung and his Communist overlords in both Russia and China. This is an outstanding piece of work from the standpoint of analysis and historical relevance, however it falls slightly short from the viewpoint of purely enjoyable reading, due in large part to the depth of the analysis and the detail used by the author. Nevertheless, I highly recommend it.
ALincolnNut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Halberstam offers a single volume comprehensive history of the Korean War in "The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War." Relying on dozens of personal interviews, in addition to government publications and other books, he constructs a narrative of the military, historical, and political contexts for the war. He also makes blatantly clear his assessment that the soldiers on the ground were mismanaged early in the war by the inadequate leadership of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his staff.Opting for a dramatic opening rather than a chronological one, Halberstam describes the first Chinese attack on overextended American forces in November 1950, which seems to him a microcosm of the war and its strategic mistakes. Units which expected no opposition had become lackadaisical about their spacing from other units and their supply lines, leaving them vulnerable. This attitude emanated from the top commander, MacArthur himself, who believed the Chinese would never enter the conflict.MacArthur is the central figure of the first half of the book. In particular, Halberstam points out the political support McArthur enjoyed among key congressional leaders, which allowed him to operate seemingly without the supervision of the commander-in-chief, at least until Pres. Harry Truman relieved MacArthur of duty. The latter half of the book explains how Americans throughout the chain of command struggled to clean up the mess MacArthur created.There is much to commend in Halberstam's detailed history. Given his journalistic roots, Halberstam always maintains a good balance in the narrative between the famous leaders and the common soldiers, their experiences and their decisions. And although he sees much of the war as a cautionary tale of American hubris, there are countless stories of unquestionable heroism and wise action amidst all the mistakes. It should also be noted that while Halberstam's focus is on the American involvement, he pays significant attention to contextualizing the North Koreans, the Chinese, and their military and political styles and personalities.The significant limitations of "The Coldest Winter" are directly related to its strengths. The detail that Halberstam offers for all of the people he describes means that the cast of characters is large and sometimes unwieldy. Frankly, it was difficult to keep all of the names and places straight throughout the book. (I had similar difficulties reading Stephen Ambrose's brilliant account of the D-Day invasion.) Also, Halberstam's desire to deeply explore the political context creates a lengthy interruption in the narrative of the war.The overall value of the book easily outweighs any limitations or shortcomings. Halberstam is a strong writer, and he clearly has an ear for compelling stories, which he capably knits into the overall narrative. Lengthy as the narrative is ¿ around 650 pages ¿ the skill required to fit this large story in one volume should not be underestimated. Students of post-World War II American history and American politics should find the book compelling and cautionary.
Schmerguls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the last book Halberstam wrote, he having finished it five days before he was killed in a car accident on 23 Apr 2007. It tells ths story of the Korean War in considerable detail up to the summer of 1951, and then sketches the remaining events, with an Epilogue which I thought detracted from my appreciation of the book--it caused me to lower my rating of the book to four and a half stars. Otherwise I would give the book five stars, even though there are considerable detailed accounts of battles--something which can be wearisome to me. But the view of MacArthur and of General Ned Aalmond is devastating and I think accurate. The account of the firing of Mac Arthur and of his return to the U.S., which I followed extremely carefully white it was going on, is well-told and met with my full approval, since I was and am convinced Truman was right to fire MacArthur--as I think most knowledgable people now agree. I think this is the best Halberstam book I have read--I have read four others.
ksmyth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
David Halberstam's last book is a substantial volume on the Korean War. However, don't be misled. This is not a history of the entire war. Rather it is an examination of the year 1950-51, decisions made by General MacArthur in his running of the war, and the conflicts between MacArthur and the Truman administration. Halberstam spins a sprawling story, sharing the United States' lack of readiness for the war, the stiffening of American resistance at the Pusan perimeter, the Inchon surprise, the heady push across the 38th parallel and the devastating results of Chinese intervention. Halberstam made thorough use of many secondary resources. However the real brilliance of the narrative lays in the testimony of Korean War veterans who paint a vivid picture of this less-remembered conflict on the mid-twentieth century.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you enjoy history well told you must read the last book by David Halberstam. Reading The Coldest Winter reminds me why I still remember reading The Best and the Brightest and The Powers That Be many years ago. As a writer Halberstam is superb and his latest, an excursion into the early years of the cold war, is more evidence of his skill. The story unfolds with careful attention to the details of the battles as well as incisive character sketches of the main players on each side. The international political tensions of the early fifties are highlighted and become as real as those in the Mideast today. That North Korea is still a significant international political and diplomatic problem even today makes this book relevant. Halberstam himself regarded this as his best book. But more importantly, from the perspective of a literature lover, it is a very good read.
logs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An entertaining and informative account on the Korean War.Depicts MacArthur as a truly tragic character.My only complaint is the author disregards almost entirely the contributions made by the Republic of Korea forces.
JBreedlove on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Filled in a lot of holes concerning the actual war and the political conditions in the US that lead to the fighting. The "who lost China" crowd and McCarthy were the direct descendants of the modern American slash and burn right wing politics. The echo chamber prohibited Truman from replacing McArthur earlier than he did. But in the end the American people were the ones who allowed the War.