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The Samuel Johnson Prize 2011

The Winner

Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 (Bloomsbury)

Between 1958 and 1962, China descended into hell. Mao Zedong threw his country into a frenzy with the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to catch up and overtake Britain in less than 15 years. The experiment ended in the greatest catastrophe the country had ever known, destroying tens of millions of lives. Dikötter shows that instead of lifting the country to superpower status and proving the power of communism, as Mao had imagined, in reality the Great Leap Forward was a giant - and disastrous - step in the opposite direction. At least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death. Frank Dikötter is one of a small number of historians to have been given access into the Chinese archives since they were re-opened. Mao’s Great Famine reveals exclusive new detail of shocking period, providing fresh historical perspectives for the first time.

Winning Author

Frank Dikötter

Frank Dikotter is Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong and Professor of the Modern History of China on leave from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has pioneered the use of archival sources and published nine books that have changed the way historians view modern China, from the classic The Discourse of Race in Modern China (1992) to his last book entitled China Before Mao: The Age of Openness (2007). Dikötter is married and lives in Hong Kong.