Tag Archives: Political Science

Book Review: Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History

Once Mao Tse-tung’s thought is grasped by the broad masses, it becomes a source of strength and a spiritual atom bomb of infinite power. ~ Lin Biao 

Mao's Little Red Book by Alexander C Cook

Alexander C. Cook has put together a great book about the second most read book in the world. The Quotations of Chairman Mao, or simply Mao’s Little Red Book, took the world by storm and created fans as well as enemies. Cook put together the a collection of scholarly essays from experienced scholars in this extremely well documented book. The amount of documentation and citations is well above and beyond what I would have expected. The writing is clear, to the point, and gives a variety of viewpoints. 

Mao’s quotations on revolution and socialism may seem dated to many casual readers or those without a history or political science background. But it must be remembered that the world was a very different place fifty years ago. Fifty years may not seem like a great deal of time, but a great deal of change happens over a fifty year period. Consider that World War II and the Desert Storm were fifty years apart and think of the changes weapons, technology, and economies.

Mao’s Little Red Book covers the effect it had in China and around the world. The Little Red Book was originally intended for the People’s Army as a tool to keep moral, dedication, and the revolutionary spirit live and well. The demand from the public for a copy was overwhelming. The printing office needed to outsource the production of the book to try and keep up with the demand. Having a copy was a sign of pride and duty for the average citizen. It was quoted and brought up even in casual conversations. It did create a cult of Mao though. That may seem strange and on par with the Kim Il dynasty in North Korea, but it was not that odd in China. Collected quotes had a long history in Chinese culture going back to the Confucius. 

The book was taken in different ways throughout the world. Originally not intended for outside use, even to the point of Chinese officials asking that visitors return any copies of The Little Red Book that they may have. The government felt that outsiders would not get the proper message in context by reading the small sampling and urged interested people to instead read the more complete volumes. China did print The Little Red Book in a few languages, and then more including Swahili. The Swahili edition was published for Tanzania and made available at a very low cost. The problem there, however, even with the support the government, was with the people. High illiteracy rates made even a very inexpensive book almost useless. This was fixed with broadcasts of from Radio Peking in East Africa. 

The book although widely popular in many parts of the world was a complete flop in the Soviet Union. China and the USSR had a difference of opinion that sometimes lead to bloodshed. China saw revolution as active and the USSR believed it achieved all there was. Mao said the Soviet Union lost its way with industrialization; the people no longer poor or agrarian had lost touch with the revolution. The book also was not a hit in the Western Hemisphere. In America, outside of Berkeley and the Black Panthers, it had little effect. Although South and Latin America had more than their share of communist influence, it was mostly from Moscow. The exception, however, was on of the most well known revolutionary/terror groups in the Western Hemisphere: The Shining Path. 

The use of different scholars and different regional expertise gives Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History far more range, coverage, and grasp on how Mao’s little book influenced the world and where it succeeded and where it failed and more importantly why. The book may be above the grasp of the causal history reader, but well worth the read to those with an interest and a background. It is probably one of the more heavily documented books I have read outside of graduate school. Footnotes take up significantly more space than most mass marketed nonfiction books usually use. An excellent scholarly examination.

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Book Review: The July Crisis: The World’s descent into War, Summer 1914

“The spring and summer of 1914 were marked in Europe by an exceptional tranquility.”
Winston Churchill 

The July Crisis: The World’s descent into War, Summer 1914 by Thomas Otte is the history of the events leading to the First World War. Otte is a professor of diplomatic and international history of the 19th and 20th century at the University of East Anglia. He has written books on diplomatic history and China, as well as publishing numerous essays in academic journals. 

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to read and review Cambridge University Press’ Cambridge Honors the Centennial of World War I which featured an excerpt from this book. Otte takes a very detailed look at the events leading to the First World War. It starts with an unprecedented period of peace in Europe interrupted with an assassination in Serbia of the Archduke of a toothless Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The Emperor Franz Josef cut short his vacation on the news, only to continue it from his palace. He had little love for the archduke and his wife. The funeral was attended by immediate family, the officer corps was forbidden to salute the funeral train, and neither were buried in the imperial vault. The Emperor was not interested in war and was joined by the Prime Minister Tisza, however, Foreign Minister Berchtold and Chief of the Army Staff Conrad wanted an immediate and punitive war. No one in Europe wanted war except Austria-Hungary foreign minister and chief of staff. 

Although no one wanted war, there was a sense of paranoia between the nations’ militaries. Although no one want to go to war, I received the strong impression that no one really wanted to stop the war either. With each power in each alliance looking at its interests and security there was no consensus. The alliances were different from the alliances of the cold war. The Warsaw Pact and NATO were entangling alliances. The difference was that individual members did not act out on their own. East Germany would not have invaded West Germany on its own initiative or even mobilized its forces on its own initiative. Alliances were controlled (at least in theory) by the will of all member nations. The alliances of World War I acted to drag an ally nation into war rather than prevent it. 

No nation wanted to appear weak even though two were very weak at the time: Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Russia was beginning to modernize and war was not what it needed. France had come to accept the loss of Alsace Lorraine. Germany was a growing industrial power with no need of a war. England sat outside the alliances and examined its own interests. War would be detrimental. If Germany won, England would have a new neighbor across the channel challenging its supremacy at sea. If Germany lost, France and Russia would be suspicious England’s motives. Although relations with Germany were growing, perhaps England made its decision earlier. The invasion of neutral Belgium is cited as England’s reason to enter the war. Although bound by treaty to protect Belgium, there was no requirement for military action. Diplomatic condemnation would have been sufficient under the treaty. Germany although in an alliance to defend Austria-Hungary in the event of a Russian or French invasion was under no obligation to make war against France or Russia if Austria-Hungary decided to start a regional war. 

It seems like history set up roadblocks to this war at every turn. Rather than stopping, countries ran through these roadblocks, not dead set on going to war, but almost a laziness to stop the war even with all the opportunities. World War I was a war that should not have been fought. There was opposition at every turn, yet despite the opposition, war came and change the world forever. Otte does an outstanding job of detailing the diplomatic and political road to war. Extensive use of footnotes and a wide selection of source, including primary source material make this the definitive study of the origins of World War I. The war was much more than an assassination and alliances. Otte takes the reader deep into the process that lead to war. A must read for diplomatic and political historians. 

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