Originally posted by AThousandYoung to Finnegan
I really liked this one:
It's a sensationalistic book that's full of uncorroborated references, No wonder it became popular.
"Academic reviews from China specialists were, on the whole, mostly critical."
"Chang and Halliday's book has been strongly criticized by various academic experts. In
December 2005, The Observer newspaper stated that many knowledgeable academics
of the field have questioned the factual accuracy of some of Chang and Halliday's
claims, notably their selective use of evidence, questioning their stance in the matter,
among other criticisms, although the article also said that Chang and Halliday's critics
did not deny that Mao was "a monster".
David S. G. Goodman, Professor of Chinese Politics at the University of Sydney, wrote
in The Pacific Review that Mao: The Unknown Story, like other examples of revisionist
histories, implied that there had been "a conspiracy of academics and scholars who
have chosen not to reveal the truth." Goodman argued that as popular history the
book's style was "extremely polemic" and he was highly critical of Chang and Halliday's
methodology and use of sources as well as specific conclusions.
Professor Thomas Bernstein of Columbia University referred to the book as "... a major
disaster for the contemporary China field..." because the "scholarship is put at the
service of thoroughly destroying Mao's reputation. The result is an equally stupendous
number of quotations out of context, distortion of facts and omission of much of what
makes Mao a complex, contradictory, and multi-sided leader."
The China Journal invited a group of specialists to give assessments of the book in the
area of their expertise. Professors Gregor Benton (Cardiff University) and Steve Tsang
(University of Oxford) argued that Chang and Halliday "misread sources, use them
selectively, use them out of context, or otherwise trim or bend them to cast Mao in an
unrelentingly bad light." Timothy Cheek (University of British Columbia) then argued
that the book is "not a history in the accepted sense of a reasoned historical analysis,"
rather it "reads like an entertaining Chinese version of a TV soap opera." University
of California at Berkeley political scientist Lowell Dittmer added that "surely the
depiction is overdrawn," but what emerges is a story of "absolute power" leading first to
personal corruption in the form of sexual indulgence and paranoia, and second, policy
corruption, consisting of the power to realize "fantastic charismatic visions and ignore
negative feedback..."  Geremie Barmé (Australian National University) observed
that while "anyone familiar with the lived realities of the Mao years can sympathize with
the authors’ outrage" one must ask whether "a vengeful spirit serves either author or
reader well, especially in the creation of a mass market work that would claim authority
and dominance in the study of Mao Zedong and his history." 
The 2009 anthology, Was Mao Really a Monster: The Academic Response to Chang
and Halliday’s "Mao: The Unknown Story", edited by Gregor Benton and Lin Chun,
brings together fourteen mostly critical previously published academic responses,
including the reviews from China Journal. Benton and Lin write in their introduction that
"unlike the worldwide commercial media... most professional commentary has been
disapproving." They challenge the assertion that Mao was responsible for 70 million
deaths, since the number's origin is vague and substantiation shaky. They include an
extensive list of further reviews. Mobo Gao, Professor of Chinese Studies at the
University of Adelaide, wrote that The Unknown Story was "intellectually scandalous",
saying that it "misinterprets evidence, ignores the existing literature, and makes
sensationalist claims without proper evidence.""