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Bruce Cumings's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Bruce Cumings recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Bruce Cumings's favorite book recommendations of all time.

In 1945 US troops arrived in Korea for what would become America’s longest-lasting conflict. While history books claim without equivocation that the war lasted from 1950 to 1953, those who have actually served there know better. By closely analyzing US intelligence before June 25, 1950 (the war’s official start), and the actions of key players like John Foster Dulles, General Douglas MacArthur, and Chiang Kai-shek, the great investigative reporter I. F. Stone demolishes the official story of America’s “forgotten war” by shedding new light on the tangled sequence of events that led to it. less
Recommended by Bruce Cumings, and 1 others.

Bruce CumingsThis book is very interesting. I F Stone was a famous iconoclastic investigative reporter. His method was to read a whole bunch of newspapers every day, clip them, and then read what the government was saying publicly through government reports, speeches and the like, and then try to figure out what was going on. And he got many things right about the Korean War using that method. In the early... (Source)

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The War Before Vietnam

The clearest, most complete and unbiased examination to date of the Korean War, whose geopolitical aftershocks can still be felt today. Black-and-white photographs. less
Recommended by Bruce Cumings, and 1 others.

Bruce CumingsCallum was a friend of mine, just because I read his book and got to know him, and I think this is one of the very best books on the war. It makes the point that you can also draw out of Reginald Thompson’s book: that the Korean War was much more like the Vietnam War than any other war before that. It had very shifting lines. The guerrillas were very much involved, particularly in the first year... (Source)

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War Trash

War Trash, the extraordinary new novel by the National Book Award–winning author of Waiting, is Ha Jin’s most ambitious work to date: a powerful, unflinching story that opens a window on an unknown aspect of a little-known war—the experiences of Chinese POWs held by Americans during the Korean conflict—and paints an intimate portrait of conformity and dissent against a sweeping canvas of confrontation.

Set in 1951–53, War Trash takes the form of the memoir of Yu Yuan, a young Chinese army officer, one of a corps of “volunteers” sent by Mao to help shore up the Communist side in...
Recommended by Bruce Cumings, Harry Wu, and 2 others.

Bruce CumingsHa Jin’s novel is obviously based on either his experience or his father’s experience of the Korean War. There are some very stark and striking descriptions. He didn’t have access to South Korea, but he has this wonderful ability to treat everybody fairly and to listen to the songs of women guerrillas that were captured by South Korean prison camps and enjoy listening to them.  He does the same... (Source)

Harry WuIt’s written by a young Chinese author who came to the United States. He wrote this book in his second language and still won lots of awards for it, which is very impressive. I think this is a really good book to show the West more about what is going on in China. People think that it’s all about economic growth but there is so much more to our history than that. (Source)

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How presidents spark and sustain support for wars remains an enduring and significant problem. Korea was the first limited war the U.S. experienced in the contemporary period - the first recent war fought for something less than total victory. In Selling the Korean War, Steven Casey explores how President Truman and then Eisenhower tried to sell it to the American public.

Based on a massive array of primary sources, Casey subtly explores the government's selling activities from all angles. He looks at the halting and sometimes chaotic efforts of Harry Truman and Dean Acheson,...
Recommended by Bruce Cumings, and 1 others.

Bruce CumingsYes. This is a recent book, and it is very well researched. I think for lay people who try to understand what historians do, it really helps to know that you can’t really cover a subject without using archives and primary sources. He also looks at formerly classified secret documents. All this information gives us a window into what really happened (as opposed to what was supposed to have... (Source)

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Recommended by Bruce Cumings, and 1 others.

Bruce CumingsLike several of the best books on the Korean War, this one is out of print. When David Halberstam was doing his book on the Korean War a few years ago he wrote that he went to a public library and he found 88 books on the Vietnam War and four on the Korean War, and I think that says a lot about the general lack of scholarship and interest in the Korean War in the U.S. (Source)

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