Short, Philip 1945-

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Short, Philip 1945-


Born April 17, 1945, in Bristol, England; son of Wilfred (a teacher) and Marion Short; married Christine Victoria Baring-Gould, August 9, 1968; children: Sengan (son). Education: Queen's College, Cambridge, B.A., 1966, M.A., 1968.


Home—Provence, France. Office—c/o Lloyds Bank, 20 Badminton Rd., Dowend, Bristol, England. Agent—David Higham Associates Ltd., 5/8 Lower John St., Golden Sq., London W1R 4HA, England.


Journalist and writer. Freelance correspondent from Malawi, 1967-70, and Uganda, 1971-73; British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), London, England, correspondent from Moscow, Soviet Union, 1974-76, and Peking, China, beginning in 1977, held various other positions leading to Washington bureau correspondent, retired 1997; University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, journalism professor, c. 1978.



Banda, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1974.

The Dragon, the Bear, and the Future of the West, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1981, published as The Dragon and the Bear: Inside China and Russia Today, 1982, published as The Dragon and the Bear: China and Russia in the Eighties, Morrow (New York, NY), 1982.

Mao, a Life, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1999, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.

Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, H. Holt (New York, NY), 2005.


Journalist Philip Short's books have focused primarily on some of the most despotic rulers of the twentieth century, including his first book Banda, about an eccentric Malawi dictator. Short writes about the founder of Communist China in his book Mao, a Life. The author recounts how Mao began at the young age of nineteen to foment rebellion against oppression and the political infighting among Mao's communist comrades, which led to his vicious takeover and subsequent totalitarian regime. History: Review of New Books contributor Norma Corigliano Noonan wrote: "Short analyzes Mao from his earliest youth until his death in minute detail." Noonan went on to comment that the author "vividly portrays the young Mao, alienated from his father, seeking a purpose in life through his studies and pragmatic experience, as well as the aging ‘emperor,’ isolated, lonely, and sad."

In a review of Mao, a Life in the Economist, a contributor wrote that the author's "journalistic style, by contrast, makes for a more complete and colourful account." Writing in the National Review, Christopher Caldwell wrote that the "book is a masterpiece: encyclopedic in its scope, drawing from primary sources in Chinese, Russian, and English, and riveting in its narrative." Mary Carroll commented in Booklist that the author's "advantage in writing a biography of [Mao] … is that he can tell a story." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the biography "sheds valuable light on Mao's character but also serves as an illuminating and sweeping history of modern China." Clive Foss wrote in History Today: "Philip Short's massive biography is an impressive history." Foss continued: "It is also highly readable and lays the foundation for understanding Mao from his earliest years." Library Journal contributor Peggy Spitzer Christoff noted: "In sum, Short … soberly posits that Mao and his cohorts came to disregard human suffering."

Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare tells of the ruthless dictator of Cambodia whose four-year rule in the 1970s resulted in the deaths of one-fifth to one-quarter of the Cambodian population. In a review of Pol Pot in the Economist, a reviewer noted that the author "has … done a spectacularly efficient job of describing what happened, and how." Noting that the Short talked to both the survivors of Pot's notorious "killing fields" and perpetrators of the horrors committed there, the Economist contributor added: "The result is a chillingly clear portrait of Saloth Sar, the man who became Pol Pot." Outlining Pot's rise to power, the author then delves into the atrocities as Pot establishes a bizarre state in which the dictator orders all cities and towns to be evacuated so that people can work in an idealistic rural life with no wages. When the plan fails and people revolt, Pot takes a stranglehold on power by conducting mass murders. John Leonard, writing in Harper's, commented: "Short wants to explain why Pol Pot's ‘government by incantation’ would declare war on private property and free will and spend the next forty months killing 1.5 million Cambodians."

In his review of Pol Pot in Booklist, Bryce Christensen wrote: "Deeply unsettling, Short's probing analysis reveals how the loftiest of political ideals can become the justification for the cruelest brutality. A chilling portrait." A Kirkus Reviews contributor referred to the biography as "a superbly wrought, richly nuanced study in evil." Michael O'Donnell noted in Artforum International: "The riveting chapter on the fall of Phnom Penh alone makes Philip Short's biography of Pol Pot … worth reading." O'Donnell went on to write: "Short is at his best when describing the historic meeting between Pol and Mao in 1975, in which the chairman's elliptical way of speaking and implied meanings were all but lost on Pol in the translation from Mao's halting English into Khmer." A Contemporary Review contributor reflected: "By describing Pol Pot's life one describes the background to and horrors of twentieth-century Cambodia."



Artforum International, April, 2005, Michael O'Donnell, review of Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, p. S26.

Biography, winter, 2006, Lucien Bianco, review of Mao, a Life, p. 233.

Booklist, December 15, 1999, Mary Carroll, review of Mao, a Life, p. 755; December 15, 2004, Bryce Christensen, review of Pol Pot, p. 703.

Contemporary Review, March, 2005, review of Pol Pot, p. 189.

Economist, March 18, 2000, review of Mao, a Life, p. 3; November 6, 2004, review of Pol Pot, p. 90.

Harper's February, 2005, John Leonard, review of Pol Pot, p. 83.

History: Review of New Books, spring, 2000, Norma Corigliano Noonan, review of Mao, a Life, p. 135.

History Today, March, 2001, Clive Foss, review of Mao, a Life, p. 56.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2004, review of Pol Pot, p. 1084.

Library Journal, November 15, 1999, Peggy Spitzer Christoff, review of Mao, a Life, p. 78; December 1, 2004, John F. Riddick, review of Pol Pot, p. 138.

National Review, February 21, 2000, Christopher Caldwell, review of Mao, a Life, p. 46; March 28, 2005, review of Pol Pot, p. 10.

ORBIS, fall, 2000, Arthur Waldron, review of Mao, a Life, p. 637.

Publishers Weekly, November 15, 1999, review of Mao, a Life, p. 49.


David Higham Associates Web site, (December 14, 2006), brief profile of author.