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Publisher's Summary

In this brilliant narrative of America's first limited war, John Toland shows yet again why, for over two decades, he has been one of this country's most respected and popular military historians. Toland lets both the events and the participants speak for themselves, employing scrupulous archival research and interviews as the bases for the drama and accuracy of his writing. In Mortal Combat reveals Mao's prediction of the date and place of MacArthur's Inchon landing, Russia's indifference to the war, Mao's secret leadership of the North Korean military, and the true nature of both sides' treatment and repatriation of POWs.

In addition to being the first Westerner to gain access to Chinese records and combatants, Toland interviewed numerous North and South Korean veterans and over two hundred members of the American military, many of whom had never been approached before. The result is a signal work of compelling listenability and lasting importance.

©1991 John Toland (P)2019 Blackstone Publishing

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Patrick
  • 02-09-19

Slightly disappointed

I have read books by several authors on the Korean War. This author differs from others (Halberstam, Hastings, Ferenbach), on discussion of several events (McArthur, Almond, US biological warfare, etc.). Does give new perspective on plotting before war started, postwar activities, POW’s, etc. overall I would give a Luke warm recommendation.

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  • J.Brock
  • 15-09-20

Brilliant, Unbiased Narrative

Korea was a most tragic war for all involved. So much loss of life, and for seemingly so little gains. John Toland does a masterful job of laying out the beginnings of the war, how it started with a sudden invasion of the south by the Communist North in Korea. It sounds like today's happenings. The South called on the Americans for help, and other UN forces. The United States contributed the most in terms of UN involvement. After WWII, the US military was not as strong as it had been. Many of the troops sent were completely unprepared for what they were about to face. But they nonetheless fought valiantly against the KPA, the Russians, who armed the KPA, and Chinese's brutal communist Mao, who secretly led the Korean People's Army of the north. No one could truly win this limited war.

This book highlights the fall of Douglass MacArthur, who was ultimately relieved of his command. The individual stories are the most touching, such as the brave fight of the POW's and the heroes of the Chosen Reservoir. No story is left unturned and the book is not about the power players, but about all of those who played a role in this devastating conflict. It's a well-rounded, fast past, stunning achievement. It could go on for 27 more hours and it wound't be enough!!

Grover Gardner is the best. Simply one of the very best narrators of military history. It just doesn't get better.

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  • Susan
  • 12-06-20

great reader and great information about Korean Wa

loved it and I feel like any history buff will as well. get it. thanks.

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  • Robert H. Mclaughlin
  • 15-09-19

timeline

this book read like a diary on such and such a date and such and such a Time the Ambassador spoke to the president of South Korea answer to such a Time MacArthur arrived at the police on at such-and-such a time General Walker did this. at the Choson reservoir on such-and-such a date this was done. very boring

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-09-19

well written

book was very researched and well written the Korea war is one that I knew little about. the book was informative.

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  • Michael B.
  • 20-04-21

Very Good Book on the Korea War

This book was a really good book using first person descriptions from all sides. The POW stories were really good. I found the descriptions of the battles after the disaster in North Korea to be to brief for my liking but overall I would recommend this book.

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  • Hudson Barry
  • 07-03-21

A Great History Book

In Mortal Combat is a great history book. It got slower and less exciting toward the end, but that is more or less analogous to the Korean War. I knew the Communist Chinese threw in large numbers of soldiers but I did not realize that Communist China played such a central part...This book implies (if it does not clearly state it) that the Communist Chinese became the central opponent, and the two main reasons the US did not go into total war with Communist China were 1) we thought it would rope in the Soviets starting a nuclear world war and 2) that the American people (and “the West” in general) had a craving for finding peaceful solutions to aggressive nationalistic communism. The military restrictions to the Korean peninsula were extremely frustrating to many military people...I never thought I would be so sympathetic to MacArthur—he had some good points (I think Ridgway may have been the best of the men who held his position) though ultimately I suppose he was wrong about using nuclear weapons.

The format of “In Mortal Combat” reminded me of John Toland’s “Battle” about the Battle of the Bulge insofar as they both felt comprehensive, fair, and had depth in terms of visiting both sides and multiple levels of command and politics. Mr. Toland gives many tactical descriptions of battles and accounts of headquarters discussions and many first-person accounts from multiple positions. Chesty Puller and his Marines made a few appearances, including in a worthy account of the Chosin Reservoir battle which I thought was described similarly here and in “One Bugle, No Drums”. Mr. Toland’s work definitely gives the impression that he sought the truth and produced an account of the Korean War that is as balanced and as close to the truth as one can be.

If I find a better book about the Korean War then I may modify this review...But without any direct comparisons presently under my belt "In Mortal Combat" gets five stars. Grover Gardner's reading is very good.

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  • markcallahan
  • 03-11-20

crucial to an understanding of the post ww2 world

almost no one remembers the forgotten war
but 4 million lives were lost and there are lessons that need remembered today
if your not interested in the history, politics, or anything else, we owe it to those 4 million to remember them.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-08-20

Rather Complicated But Good

It’s a really good collection of all the facts around the Korean War, but you lose sight of the story of the men in the trenches. Toland focuses much of the story on the higher levels of leadership and you lose the stories of the ground fighting that continued for months while peace was negotiated.

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  • Dennis Jameson
  • 17-05-20

Selectively incomplete.

I like Toland, he can write a great narrative, but he falls short in dwelling on the successes but skimming over the failures. And some incidents he accepts uncritically without even a cursory fact check. On the otherhand he does a good job laying out the political considerations.