Tory Historian was delighted to read in History Today that the Samuel Johnson Prize (named after a truly great Tory) was awarded this year to Frank Dikötter’s Mao's Great Famine, a book TH has not yet read right through, so devastating it is. There is also the new biography of Bismarck, short-listed for the prize, to read. Jonathan Steinberg's book is described as "a genuine game-changer whose influence will be enormous and sustained".
I was puzzled by the comments of one of the judges, though, the biographer Brenda Maddox, who is reported to have said: ‘Why didn’t I know about this? We feel we know who the villains of the 20th century are – Stalin and Hitler [I could add a few more to that]. But here, fully 50 years after the event, is something we did not know about. It’s testament to the power of non-fiction that it can rock you back on your heels.’ Well, she’s right on the last point, but her comments only serve to reinforce my view that the literati should get out more. Has Maddox not read, or even read a review of Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, for example? Or does her knowledge of Maoism derive from the films of Jean-Luc Godard and the writing of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir? Dikötter gives us much valuable and fascinating new detail, but he does not alter the thrust of what has been known for some time now about the nature of Mao’s appalling regime.There is none so blind as those who do not want to see.