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The China Mission: George Marshall's Unfinished War, 1945-1947 (Paperback)
An Economist Best Book of 2018
New York Times Book Review Editor’s Pick
“Gripping [and] splendid.… An enormous contribution to our understanding of Marshall.”—Washington Post
At the end of World War II, General George Marshall took on what he thought was a final mission—this time not to win a war, but to stop one. In China, conflict between Communists and Nationalists threatened to suck in the United States and escalate into revolution. Marshall’s charge was to cross the Pacific, broker a peace, and prevent a Communist takeover, all while staving off World War III. At first, the results seemed miraculous. But as they started to come apart, Marshall was faced with a wrenching choice—one that would alter the course of the Cold War, define the US-China relationship, and spark one of the darkest-ever turns in American political life.
The China Mission offers a gripping, close-up view of the central figures of the time—from Marshall, Mao, and Chiang Kai-shek to Eisenhower, Truman, and MacArthur—as they stood face-to-face and struggled to make history, with consequences and lessons that echo today.
About the Author
Daniel Kurtz-Phelan is the executive editor of Foreign Affairs. He previously served in the US State Department as a member of the secretary of state’s Policy Planning Staff. His reportage and analysis have appeared in publications including the New York Times and The New Yorker.
Thoroughly researched and compellingly written, [The China Mission] is at once a revealing study of character and leadership, a vivid reconstruction of a critical episode in the history of the Cold War and an insightful meditation on the limits of American power even at its peak.
— Aaron Friedberg - New York Times Book Review
The story Kurtz-Phelan tells is a gripping one [and] does a splendid job of delineating Marshall’s evolving relationships. … [A]n enormous contribution to our understanding of Marshall.
— John Pomfret - Washington Post
[A] compelling portrait of a remarkable soldier and statesman, and an instructive lesson in the limits of American power, even at its zenith.
Deeply researched and written with verve, [The China Mission] ought to be read by any U.S. foreign-policy maker practicing diplomacy in Asia.… Mr. Kurtz-Phelan has performed a service in reviving this important episode with such aplomb, rigor and pace.
— Wall Street Journal
[Marshall's China mission] has been brilliantly described in the detail it deserves by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan… who seems to have consulted all relevant primary and secondary sources.… Kurtz-Phelan is particularly good at using his various sources to bring Marshall's personality to life.
— Roderick MacFarquhar - New York Review of Books
America has always sought to convert rather than understand China, whether to Christianity or capitalism. In this brilliant historical study, Daniel Kurtz-Phelan focuses on the pivotal moment of misunderstanding between these two very different countries. As a bonus, he provides a beautifully written portrait of George Marshall, a statesman of such integrity that he seems as far removed from Washington, D.C., today as would an ancient Roman.
— Fareed Zakaria, CNN host and author of The Post-American World
The China Mission has much to teach us about both the past and future of American leadership—and about what individual leadership means in the face of hard choices. I have rarely read such a vivid account of how diplomacy really works.
— Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state
The best character study of Marshall I’ve yet seen. He comes alive here as in nothing else that’s been written about him. A major achievement.
— John Lewis Gaddis, author of George F. Keenan and professor of history, Yale University
In gripping, crystalline detail, Kurtz-Phelan has given us a vital new chapter on American statecraft. The lessons from what he calls the ‘unsettled world’ of the early Cold War are urgently relevant today. The China Mission will be read for years to come as a window on the origins of American power—and the limits of its reach.
— Evan Osnos, New Yorker staff writer and author of Age of Ambition
Was America’s greatest statesman to blame for America’s greatest diplomatic failure? In this wonderfully written book, Daniel Kurtz-Phelan sheds a bright light on a crucial but dimly understood chapter in U.S. foreign policy. His portrait of General George Marshall is a model of empathetic but clear-eyed biography and a memorable lesson in the limits of power.
— Evan Thomas, author of Ike’s Bluff and coauthor of The Wise Men