(My review on goodreads)
This is a devastating history of the Great Leap Forward. Mao Zedong had a grand plan for revolutionizing the Chinese economy and moving China from mere socialism to a world of plenty in which the ultimate goals of communism could be realized: to each according to his need.
The result was environmental and ecological devastation; the destruction of vast areas of agriculture; a radical decrease in consumer goods; millions of people forced to work on huge infrastructure projects, many (if not most) of which failed; the destruction of tools and household goods to be turned into useless iron; the destruction of perhaps 40% or rural housing; immiseration of nearly the entire Chinese population; and above all, a famine that killed more than 40 million people.
Dikötter goes into each of those results, and more, in excruciating detail.
Along the way we see the very real danger when a cult of personality is substituted for open and honest debate and exchange of ideas. We are treated to high-level officials in the Chinese communist party continuing to proclaim the correctness of Mao thought even when they knew the extent of the disaster. And we see how those very few who dared to confront Mao with his mistakes were demoted and silenced.