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Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 Paperback – October 7, 2001


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Product Details

  • Series: Grove Great Lives
  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st Grove Press ed edition (October 7, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802138527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802138521
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #309,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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I read this book for the first time over 25 years ago.
Philip C. Nasca
I long for a movie that will show the fascinating struggle among Stilwell, Chiang, and Chennault in relation to the Japanese and Mao's Communists.
Thomas R. Dean
This book is, like all of Tuchman's, a good read, with her unique combination of good historiography and compelling writing.
Daniel Berger

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 92 people found the following review helpful By Thomas R. Dean on March 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is about a period that is both so important and yet largely neglected in American education. The book is quite easy to read with its strong steady narrative flow, its interest in the personalities at play as well as its study of the background of their struggles. Since the book came out around the time of the Vietnam War, I assumed it would be more anti-American foreign policy in tone than it is. It's quite balanced.
Tuchman obviously regards Stilwell as the hero of the tale. It's hard to come to any other conclusion about this deeply humble but brilliant, unwearying but always frustrated man. Yet she is quite fair in assessing the difficulties faced by Stilwell's close-to-home antagonist, Chiang Kai Shek. She is also not sparing in describing the courage, success and tactical genius of Claire Chennault, whose (clearly wrong-headed) conception of the War was opposed to that of Stilwell.
The story of America in China in WWII and its aftermath is so fascinating, so HUGELY important - and still so relatively little publicized - especially in relation to the affairs of MacArthur, Nimitz and Halsey in the Pacific or Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton in Europe.
I long for a movie that will show the fascinating struggle among Stilwell, Chiang, and Chennault in relation to the Japanese and Mao's Communists. It can be said that America's foreign policy in 1943-50 has far less immediate impact in post Cold War Europe today than in Japan, China, Burma, and Indonesia. America's two costly wars since WWII have been in Asia. This book gives a wonderful background to anyone interested in how did the existing state of affairs in China come to pass?
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Chimonsho on June 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
Employment in 1930s China gave Barbara Tuchman an early start three decades before beginning this book. The wait was worth it, since "Stilwell" is an enduring classic, combining sound scholarship with fluid, often brilliant writing that makes for great popular history. "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell was among the most interesting of WW2 generals, perhaps second only to friend and mentor George Marshall. Stilwell possessed an array of strengths (personal integrity, fluent Mandarin, well-informed sympathy for the Chinese) and weaknesses (lack of tact, acid disdain for Chiang Kai-Shek). But his task---maximizing China's war effort against Japan---was essentially impossible, since the deep roots of GMD-CCP rivalry reflected complex internal dynamics. US (and Soviet) attempts to influence the course of the Sino-Japanese struggle and subsequent civil war had only marginal impact. Recent research adds much detail to our knowledge of 1940s China, but Tuchman's cautionary tale has lost none of its relevance for today's policymakers, who seemingly still believe that it is possible (as per J. Spence's title) "To Change China." Among many works on this era, T. White ed., "The Stilwell Papers" features his blunt, earthy style, while J. Davies, "Dragon By The Tail" is a compelling account by an Old China Hand who served on Stilwell's staff.
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94 of 105 people found the following review helpful By P. M Simon on April 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
Barbara Tuchman's Pulitzer-winning history, STILWELL and the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN CHINA should be a must-read for every US historian, politician, or businessman dealing with the Middle Kingdom. Tuchman makes a very valid central point- that America doesn't 'get' China, understand recent Chinese history, or interact well with Chinese officials.

That theme has been espoused by others and we should ask if it is so. I can confidently say that Tuchman makes a compelling case. She uses old Vinegar Joe and his relationship with Chiang Kaishek (Jiang Jieshi)as a case study. \

Thus, although STILWELL stands well on its own as a history of US-China relations during WWII or as a biography of the general, those strengths should not obscure the main theme: that the US has not pursued relations with China effectively or listened to our experts.

Before those reading this review start voting "not helpful," let me interject that I speak fluent Mandarin, have lived in Taiwan and the mainland, have been to most of the places described in this history, have been a US diplomat in the PRC, and had an association with the Stilwell Museum in Chongqing.

Tuchman's book is full of nuggets about the life of Chiang and Stilwell, and has many other interesting people woven in: MacArthur, Pat Hurley, Pershing, Mao, Zhou Enlai, Terry and the Pirates, etc. That alone makes the book an excellent read, a fact furthered by Ms. Tuchman's accessible style.

Yet, her main point still hasn't poked anyone in Washington or the US public in the eye, apparently: that the US still sufferes from the delusion that it can somehow "control" or "change" China. As Tuchman remarks, China is not and has never been "ours" to lose, win, or modify.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Teresa Carpenter on August 28, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Stillwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45, may not deliver that feel-good, "how we won the war" bump, but it does offer a thoughtful and highly readable account of America's attempts to come to terms with an emerging superpower.

Pulitzer laureate Barbara Tuchman follows the career of Joseph Stilwell, a dyed-in-the-wool Yankee and West Point graduate, who was posted as a military attaché to the Legation in Peking in l920 - only nine years after the Chinese threw off imperial rule. During World War II, he was named Allied Chief of Staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. The contest of wills between these two men occupies much of the book: Stilwell wanting to take over and train Chinese into crack units to resist the Japanese; Chiang insisting that the Americans handle Japan while he and his lackluster troops occupied themselves hunting down Communists. Their story reveals a larger clash of cultures, pitting Stilwell, the pragmatic, tactless Westerner, against Chiang, a would-be emperor trapped by inertia and the need to save face.

Tuchman revels in detail but keeps her story moving briskly. (It tends to get bogged down in Burma, but so did the Allies.) Generally favorable to Stilwell, she points out the folly of trying to impose top-down a set of Western values upon a non-Western culture. As for training a listless army to prop up a tinpot dictator? It was not a good idea then, and it's not a good idea now.
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