In This Review

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War
The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War
By David Halberstam
Hyperion, 2007, 736 pp

Halberstam's last book, on the Korean War, is written as an epic, and at times one wishes for a tighter narrative. Nonetheless, it is a formidable achievement and a reminder of why his untimely death in a car accident last year was such a loss. Halberstam almost created the genre, of which there are now many fine American exponents, of narrating wars as the products not only of great colliding forces of history but also of the personalities and human frailties of those making the decisions and living with the consequences. His fascination with men in power never led him to neglect the impact of their follies on those translating their orders into action on the ground. The Korean War has been badly served by historians, lacking as it does the inherent drama of stirring victories or shameful defeats. But many soldiers died in Korea (45,000 Americans), and the war had a major impact on the course and conduct of the Cold War. It also had its own share of larger-than-life characters, with General Douglas MacArthur the largest of them all. MacArthur's reputation here takes another pounding: Halberstam cites his arrogance, duplicity, and misjudgments, including the one with which this book opens -- the decision to chase the North Koreans to the Yalu River, which ended up drawing the Chinese into the conflict.