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Pol Pot

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Pol Pot was an idealistic, reclusive figure with great charisma and personal charm. He initiated a revolution whose radical egalitarianism exceeded any other in history. But in the process, Cambodia desended into madness and his name became a byword for oppression.

In the three-and-a-half years of his rule, more than a million people, a fifth of Cambodia’s population, were executed or died from hunger and disease. A supposedly gentle, carefree land of slumbering temples and smiling peasants became a concentration camp of the mind, a slave state in which absolute obedience was enforced on the ‘killing fields’.

Why did it happen? How did an idealistic dream of justice and prosperity mutate into one of humanity’s worst nightmares? Philip Short, the biographer of Mao, has spent four years travelling the length of Cambodia, interviewing surviving leaders of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge movement and sifting through previously closed archives. Here, the former Khmer Rouge Head of State, Pol’s brother-in-law and scores of lesser figures speak for the first time at length about their beliefs and motives.


A superb, chilling, yet human portrait of a monster
Simon Sebag Montefiore, Daily Telegraph
A model of research . . . an intelligent and compassionate account of the Cambodian nightmare
Like a clever and determined detective, Short has exposed the secrets . . . The result is horrifying, but it must be read
Scotland on Sunday
Brings clear thinking to the big questions of blame
Sunday Times
A comprehensive and eloquent biography of a monster
Literary Review
Short unerringly broadens the inquiry to the point where serious history begins, and serious judgements can be made
Financial Times
Short's brilliantly detailed account is a salutary one
Sunday Herald
Philip Short has done a spectacularly efficient job of describing what happened, and how
Exhaustive and authoritative
Times Literary Supplement
Short has made a Herculean effort to reconstruct the past
Robert Colville, Daily Telegraph
The result is a searching account
Sunday Times