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Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's China 1st Edition
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Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
A devastating temblor is the least of the shocks in this vivid history of a pivotal year in China?s journey from communism.... Palmer gives readers a lucid, canny portrait, filled with telling details, of a society tamped down by repression, regimentation, and drab poverty, but seething with antiauthoritarian rage. His is one of the most illuminating studies of this little understood period, and of the crucible from which modern China emerged.
Frank Dikotter, The Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year 2011
I devoured James Palmer?s mesmerizing book on the end of Mao?s reign in one sitting.
Palmer eloquently portrays an era and a regime in its death throes as a transformed, modern China begins to emerge.
Christian Science Monitor
The story of the 1976 earthquake, which destroyed the city of Tangshan and killed hundreds of thousands of Chinese, coincides with the tumultuous final decade of Mao?s reign. British historian James Palmer?s account of events not only re-creates China in the 1970s in vivid detail but also sheds light on the China of today.
The Scotsman (Edinburgh)
For all the magnitude of that tragedy [the earthquake], the more gripping story here concerns the plotting in Zhongnanhai, the palace complexes attached to the Forbidden City, where the party elite lived.
Winnipeg Free Press
In this superb account of recent Chinese history, British author James Palmer, a Beijing resident, paints a disturbing picture of the country a few years before its economic boom began in the early 1980s.... Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes is full of fascinating and disturbing stories about an especially dark time in Chinese history. It is well worth reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the Asian powerhouse.
James Palmer?s book weaves together these two narratives of natural disaster and elite political intrigue to provide a lucid account of one of the eeriest moments in modern Chinese history.... Palmer?s account is written in enviably elegant prose. The narrative never flags and its judgments are humane and nuanced.... This account of the links between natural disaster and elite politics in China is a fine work of history. But its real relevance may be that it shows how much has changed in China, and yet how little, since 1976.
China?s year of death and resurrection was never described with more lucid understanding or to more forceful effect. A mesmerizing book.
Alan Paul, author of Big in China
James Palmer understands China, and in this fascinating, gripping book, he shows how the natural disaster of an earthquake helped end the unnatural disaster of the Cultural Revolution.
Frank Dikotter, author of Mao?s Great Famine
This is a terrific book, gripping yet humane, and essential reading for anybody wishing to understand how Mao?s reign came to an end.
Isabel Hilton, editor, chinadialogue
James Palmer has written an incisive and gripping account of one of the most dramatic moments in recent Chinese history: political intrigue and natural disaster in the closing days of Maoism.
A compressed, fast-moving survey of the waning rule of Mao Zedong, precipitated by the horrendous Tangshan earthquake of 1976. Beijing-based author Palmer efficiently lays out the devastation wrought by 10 years of the Cultural Revolution, and how over the space of a few months the Chinese people managed to rebound and move forward.... A riveting précis of the fatal weaknesses in Mao?s dictatorship.
Palmer gathered stories of individual earthquake victims and survivors that have unsparing fascination and weaves them together with the scientific controversies over earthquake prediction, mishandling of earthquake relief, chauvinistic refusal of foreign aid, and heroic local resilience.... Highly recommended as a dramatic and sophisticated presentation of the transition to present-day China.
Dallas Morning News<
This material is irresistible, and British journalist James Palmer does a good job with it.... Outside the cyclone of brutality, Palmer offers a good description of what it was like to live in Maoist China.
The Chinese have many sayings about heaven and earth, and the relationship between divine and mundane order. One of them is encapsulated in the title that Palmer, a perceptive British writer living in Beijing, gives his study of 1976 China, the year the bloody chaos of the Cultural Revolution finally ended.... In his epilogue, Palmer nicely captures just how far China has come over the last 35 years.
Wall Street Journal
Mr. Palmer takes us through these events with skillful ease, weaving history, politics and geophysics into a complete narrative.
Christian Science Monitor
The China Palmer describes has eerie echoes of North Korea: a scary realm where entertainment ? in any form ? was nearly non-existent and the memory of hunger was never far away. Palmer gives texture to his story by sprinkling his account with glimpses of ordinary Chinese and their lives.... His quick, highly readable account of a pivotal moment in China?s recent past makes good reading for all hoping to better understand the global giant?s present and future.
John Batchelor, Host, TheJohn Batchelor Show
A stunning work of journalism and history, written with a mesmerizing clarity.
The Independent (London)
James Palmer?s account is as dispassionate as it is detailed; his subject matter is so bizarre that he can let it speak for itself..... Palmer?s book is a timely reminder of the supreme horror of the alternative that could so easily have been.
Palmer...has written a gripping narrative of this period that showed the upheaval brought about during one year and launched China to become the country it is today. Thoroughly documented and accessible, this is political reporting that provides a better understanding of China and its people.
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Palmer includes bibliographical footnotes, but he makes mention to many details and conclusions that are not cited. I wish he had cited many of those points so that a reader could consult sources for more information. Perhaps some of this information had been gathered from personal communications unnamed for safety reasons; but nevertheless, I wish he had cited such information as such. Moreover, Palmer doubts that Lin Biao and his cohorts died in a plane crash in September 1971 during an assumed coup as explained by the Chinese government. In my study it seems that scholars and writers generally assume this account is believable, so I wish that Palmer had given reasons for his doubt.
In addition to content, I review also an author's use of language. Granted, this author is apparently British, but the grammar and vocabulary are nevertheless in great need of correction. Above all, I highly resent the use of nasty words (yes, these "four-letter words" are indeed four-letter words), which do not need to be used in book for the general audience. Most irritating is the needless use of most of his commas--a usage that is also very excessive. He places commas before every preposition and past participle, so he shows no understanding of the differences between restrictive and nonrestricted modifiers in regards to relative clauses and participial phrases. Most of the time his comma usage is ungrammatical, and reading the text is difficult so that an attempt to read aloud or silently to oneself results in unnatural and obtuse speech. Also very, very irritating is the author's lack of grammatical agreement with nouns, pronouns, and verbs, such as "metres of water was" (i.e., "were") on page 62, "The Gang of Four still weren't (i.e., "was not") and "the Gang were planning their own coup" (i.e., "was" and "its") on page 191, but also on that page "The Gang wasn't" (so the author is hopelessly inconsistent besides being often incorrect). This constant problem shows a lack of editing. It is not natural English and sounds terrible. As one of my schoolteachers would have said, it hurts the ears. Also ear hurting is his constant peculiar use of placing the numbered days before the month as in "14 July." Perhaps Europeans like this, but to Americans this is irritating and not natural. Moreover, he forgets to use periods when necessary, such after the abbreviation "Mrs." (page 29 and elsewhere). It is an abbreviation! I would like to add that I find some of the author's terminology incomprehensible, such as "put paid" (page 123), "attempts … showed up the … nature" (page 211), and "have very little truck with" (page 217).