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A Short History of the Korean War Paperback – January 30, 1990

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (January 30, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688095135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688095130
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 6.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As pungent and concise as his short histories of both world wars, Stokesbury's survey of "the half war" takes a broad view and seems to leave nothing out but the details. The first third covers the North Korean invasion of June 1950, the Pusan perimeter crisis, MacArthur's master stroke at Inchon and the intervention by Chinese forces that November. At this point, other popular histories of the war reach the three-quarter mark, ending often with a cursory summary of the comparatively undramatic three-and-a-half years required to bring the war to its ambiguous conclusion on July 27, 1953. Stokesbury renders the latter period as interesting as the operational fireworks of the first six months: the Truman-MacArthur controversy; the political limitations on U.S. air power; the need for the Americans to fight the war as cheaply as possible, due to NATO commitments; the prolonged negotiations at Panmunjom over the prisoner-exchange issue; and the effect of the war on the home front. Whether the United States could have/should have stayed out of the war in the first place comes under discussion: "no" on both counts, according to the author.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Reducing an entire war to manageable length is a high literary art form, and Professor Stokesbury has mastered it. In the case of this Korean War history, short does not mean banal condensation or a dismal list of statistics and facts. Rather, Stokesbury begins from scratch and describes and interprets each phase of the war, as he did in his readable and well-known short histories of World Wars I and II. The narrative makes good sense of the infantry's complicated battlefield movements; and his interpretation of the air war is exemplary. The result is a concise but totally independent history that can stand alongside any of the recent crop of new Korean War titles. Raymond L. Puffer, U.S. Air Force History Prog., Los Angeles
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Read this book first if you want to learn about the Korean War.
P. Castronovo
Despite Chinese warnings, the U.N. continued its drive to unite Korea all the way to the Yalu.
James Gallen
The author has a great gift for economy of words, saying a lot with a few sentences.
Daniel Hurley

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By David L. Bernard on June 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
When I found this book I did not have much interest in the Korean conflict, but since I enjoyed this author's history of WWII very much, I gave this book a try. I am glad I did. It explained the politics, the negotiations, the battles, some personalities and it was an enjoyable read. After reading this book, I read Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy. (Actually, I'm only about 2/3rds of the way through now. By the way, that is a truly excellent book.) The chapter in that book on the Korean War includes a discussion of the perspectives of the Chinese, Stalin, and N. Korea and the relations between these parties, whereas Stokesbury's book is basically just about the American goals, fears, etc. It is a pity that Stokesbury did not really explore these topics in this book, because it would have added so much more to our understanding of the story. Why did the Chinese get involved?; Could that have been prevented? What role did the Soviet Union play in encouraging the invasion? How did this conflict affect Sino-Soviet relatons? Whose idea was it to invade S. Korea anyway?; etc. Maybe the role of the Korean conflict in the overall containment of communism could also have been explored. Still, a very good book that accomplishes what it sets out to do very well.
The Korean conflict seems so contemporary in a way that earlier American wars do not. Think of N. Korea as Saddam's Iraq and you have a very contemporary story of trying to contain a dangerous rogue state, even if American leaders thought of their job more as containing communism.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Haiyu on May 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
"The wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy." - General of the Army Omar Bradley
This book is a testament to the fact that historical works need not be a long, dry succession of innumerable statistics and facts. This book reads like a well-written novel, having all the literary elements which captivate a reader: character development, climax of events, and finally resolution. Though one may argue, as the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea was established, if there was any resolution at all in the case of the Korean War. "[T]he cease-fire brought not jubilation, triumph, and ease after toil, but rather a mingled sense of relief and frustration, and unhappy awareness that if things were not going to get worse, neither were they going to get much better," Stokesbury writes.
A "short history" of a war in which casualties on both sides totaled at least three million does not mean that Stokesbury wrote only of the major events of the Korean War. Significant attention is paid to the period between the end of the Second World War and 1950. The stage is set for the beginning of the Korean War by Stokesbury's description of the "state of the world" at the time: "The basic antagonism of [democracy and capitalism in the West and the totalitarian Communists in the Soviet Union] had been submerged by the common danger of Nazi Germany, and the temporary necessity of alliance to defeat Hitler and his
followers in World War II. But once the menace was removed, the old differences surfaced again, and within a tragically short time after 1945, it was obvious that the world had entered on the old and dangerous paths once more."
Under these conditions, Stokesbury argues, the war in Korea was unavoidable.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dave Klutz on May 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
James Stokesbury, A Short History of the Korean War was an excellently written book about the Korean War. He managed to bring in all the aspects of the war from political, military, gobal concerderations, and in-fighting in the military. This is not a typical military history book. It is not an in-dept review of the battles of the war. It is more of a review of how the military fought the war. Stokesbury examines why MacArthur was fired, the fighting between the Air Force and the Army. The role of the Navy is not forgotten. He does give MacArthur the credit for the daring Inchon Landing but doesnot forget to point out that he overlooked the obvious signs that China would not allow the United States to occupy North Korea. This is an ideal book for anyone who just wants to know more about the Korean War. It is a quick and enjoyable read for historians. For those individuals who don't enjoy reading boring history books, this is the one for you.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 7, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book by Stokesbury is considerably shorter than his other "Short History"-titles. Again, no pictures. And again, he generally tells the events in a mix of chronological and topic-oriented order.
A fitful account is given on the general state of the political world in which this war was embedded and of which it also was a symptom. The author does not detail his work with accounts of individual battles (except naming the most famous), tactics or technical data. Rather, he hyperpolates these into a general moving of the bombline and - if at all - sticking to corps-size movements. On historical facts that are a matter of debate he never fails to voice and conclude his own opinion, trying to be as objective as possible.
His style of writing is once more enjoyable and very readable, though almost on the verge of being too ironic-humoristic (on convincing the S.Korean president of cooperation: "and finally Rhee agreed to behave, in return for American promises to love, cherish, and support Korea for the foreseeable future" p.248) and casual for the subject of, after all, a war, and sometimes short of being of a primitive beat-em-up hooray-patriotism ("Again they (...) gave the odds to the enemy, and still beat him cold." p.184).
Still, this style serves to let even people who wouldn't read a sole non-fictional account read on this important part of history.
To illustrate this style some quotes:
"The gunners had also been given one-third of all the high-explosive antitank ammunition available in the Far East Command (...) Unfortunately, one-third of the available HEAT ammunition consisted of only six rounds (...)" p.
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