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In Mortal Combat: Korea, 1950-1953 Hardcover – October, 1991

3.9 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this Korean War history, Toland ( Infamy ) makes skillful use of material gathered in Chinese and North Korean archives and through interviews with Chinese and North Korean veterans of the 1950-1953 war. In crisp, lucid prose he relates the familiar chronology from Pusan to Panmunjom, personalizing the course of events through well-chosen anecdotes and quotes, examining from a fresh perspective the controversial aspects of the conflict, including Chinese allegations that the Americans used germ warfare, the Truman-MacArthur confrontation and American brutality against Korean civilians. The relatively static last half of the war, usually given short shrift, is here fully developed, with Toland explaining how critical the POW issue was for both sides during the truce talks. In a book full of impressive features, the most noteworthy is this: Toland has gathered previously inaccessible material enabling him to describe Mao Zedong's direct role in the war as well as that of his field commander Peng Teh-huai. The "forgotten war," in which four million people perished, has never been described more interestingly. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Toland, author of Adolf Hitler ( LJ 12/15/78), Infamy ( LJ 3/15/82), and The Rising Sun ( LJ 3/1/71), applies his skills as a popular historian to the Korean War. There is little historical background; some of the ongoing analysis is weak and poorly documented (e.g., when dealing with Chinese motives and policy-making); and there are also a few omissions and errors. Of the almost 20 maps, many are confusingly drawn and not very helpful. These problems are generally minor, however, and the story is well worth reading. Toland makes good use of participants' interviews (from both sides) to enrich the secondary literature in a lively, moving, and at times disturbing presentation. He covers strategic and tactical maneuvers, correspondents, political struggles, behind-the-lines activities, prisoners of war, and numerous acts of combat and leadership heroism (and failure) in a fluid style certain to hold the reader's attention. Highly recommended for public libraries and subject collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/91.
- Kenneth W. Berger, Duke Univ. Lib., Durham, N.C.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow & Co; 1st edition (October 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688100791
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688100797
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #842,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
due to the fact that it has a strong and interesting beginning, a somewhat "vanilla" middle , and a rather "limp" ending.
I am not a military historian, but am an analyst. I am not a veteran, but do understand the difference between the various types of "histories",i.e. academic military history, journalistic military history, popular military history ("coffee table" books, etc.), "official histories", oral history, etc.
This book definately falls into the journalistic history category, with all it pitfalls and advantages. One pitfall is that Mr. Toland is FAR too easy on the press in general and he doesn't spend much time at all on faults of the forementioned press. On the other hand, one of the advantages is that this book is a wonderful "read", i.e. the book has a definite flow to it (along with being easy to read).
In my opinion, the book, like some of his other books, starts off very strong and detailed and then proceeds to a somewhat bland middle and finishes with a rather "limp" ending. [The book of his that epitimizes this is: The Rising Sun!] His discussion of Generals Walker and MacArthur are very good indeed and better than most other books (considering that he does it better in FAR less space/wording). Another strong suit of this book is the insight and discussion of POWS and their treatment. He also, does give a view of the "other side of the hill", which other so-called "histories of the Korean War" fail to do. However, in the middle of the book I would have liked to see more detailed discussion on some of the "nitty-gritty" tactical battles once the Chinese entered the war (as by this pt.
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By A Customer on August 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
Toland has written some outstanding books to include, THE RISING SUN and BUT NOT IN SHAME. However, IN MORTAL COMBAT is sloppy. He routinely makes mistakes when describing Anerican Army combat units and their role in the war. Moreover, he has lionized ceratin commanders, like Gen Walker, who were at best mediocre commanders. The book's only strength is that he made an attempt to tell the story of the North Koreans, too, and for that Toland deserves some credit. Still, for a better history of the war, its hard to beat Roy Appleman's SOUTH TO THE NAKTONG, NORTH TO THE YALU.
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Format: Paperback
Toland depicts the Korean War with such detail and accuracy that it becomes impossible to romantisize war. The soldiers were against overwhelming odds in extreme conditions, and constantly in a struggle to stay alive. By retelling the war from the perspective of all the key generals in the war, or from a close observer of a general, Toland gave us their insight to why they made the decisions that they did. He also captured many of these key decisions in the epilogue detailing the weaknesses and mistakes of the key leaders. His historical accuracy of the carnage produced on both sides made it a chilling reminder of the horrors of war. The lengthy cat and mouse game played between the governments of the United States, North Korea, and China to sign the peace agreement lasted over a year while American soldiers suffered in POW camps. I wasn't born at the time, but reading it now made me angry as the battles continued to produce casualties as did the POW camps. Very good book!
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Format: Paperback
I have been a fan of John Toland's books ever since I was a kid and read the abridged version of BATTLE: THE STORY OF THE BULGE. Toland writes in a style that is enjoyable to read. In reading his books it is evident that John Toland was an aspiring playright and budding novelist.

IN MORTAL COMBAT was Toland's last major military history book. He assembled this volume from numerous sources and made a concerted effort to keep the story balanced. In reading IN MORTAL COMBAT you find that the Korean War was not just a case of evil communists battling righteous capitalists. Nor was this a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States. Certainly the North Korean armed forces were equipped by and patterned after the Red Army, but the North Korean's shared a common goal with their southern neighbors: To unite Korea under one flag.

The North Koreans crossed the 38th parallel without without any contrived or otherwise phony pretext. At that time the dividing line, the 38th parallel, was an unfortified imaginary line cutting across the Korean peninsula. The attack was focused on destroying the Republic of Korea forces and driving foreigners from their shores. The invasion caught both South Koreans and American forces by surprise. The great conquering US Army of the Second World War had lapsed in peacetime apathy. Worse was the fact that American reinforcement sent to Korea were initially equipped with artillery shells and anti-tank weapons that were proven ineffective in the World War five years earlier.

Squeezed into the Pusan Perimeter, the United Nations force, primary US troops, counterattacked and virtually destroyed the North Korean army. North Korea was on the verge of total collapse when thousands of Chinese volunteers appeared on the scene.
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