Book in the news: how America lost China to communism

Book review: The China Mission: George Marshall’s Unfinished War, 1945-47A look at the often overlooked early stages of the Cold War in Asia.

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George Marshall's Unfinished War, 1945-47By Daniel Kurtz-PhelanPublished by WW Norton and Company, £22.99(Buy at Amazon)

The early Cold War wasn't just about central and western Europe. Between 1945 and 1949, Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists and Mao Zedong's Communists fought for control of China, culminating in Mao's victory in the civil war. Although President Harry Truman was bitterly criticised by Republicans for "losing China", his administration tried desperately to stop this from happening, as Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, the executive editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, recounts in this new book.

The China Mission offers "a vivid reconstruction of a critical episode and an insightful meditation on the limits of American power even at its peak", says Aaron Friedberg in The New York Times. More than most books on American statecraft, it "gives the reader a deep appreciation of how the diplomatic sausage is made", adds John Pomfret in The Washington Post. Perhaps the main lesson for contemporary policy-makers is that "American will alone is not sufficient to save the world", since "a capable partner is a necessary part of any solution".

The sense of "compelling drama" is helped along by the fact that Kurtz-Phelan "adeptly paints his characters as more than mere avatars of political positions", says James Hornfischer in The Wall Street Journal. For example, Marshall is portrayed "as a devout public servant, a consummate professional and a sincere idealist who relied upon the good faith of all with whom he dealt". The author "has performed a service in reviving this important episode with such aplomb, rigour and pace".

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