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On Desperate Ground

The Marines at the Reservoir, the Korean War's Greatest Battle
Written by: Hampton Sides
Narrated by: David Pittu
Length: 12 hrs and 7 mins
5 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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Publisher's Summary

"Superb... A masterpiece of thorough research, deft pacing and arresting detail... This war story - the fight to break out of a frozen hell near the Chosin Reservoir - has been told many times before. But Sides tells it exceedingly well, with fresh research, gritty scenes and cinematic sweep." (Washington Post)

From the New York Times best-selling author of Ghost Soldiers and In the Kingdom of Ice, a chronicle of the extraordinary feats of heroism by Marines called on to do the impossible during the greatest battle of the Korean War. 

On Oct. 15, 1950, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of UN troops in Korea, convinced President Harry Truman that the Communist forces of Kim Il-sung would be utterly defeated by Thanksgiving. The Chinese, he said with near certainty, would not intervene in the war. 

As he was speaking, 300,000 Red Chinese soldiers began secretly crossing the Manchurian border. Led by some 20,000 men of the First Marine Division, the Americans moved deep into the snowy mountains of North Korea, toward the trap Mao had set for the vainglorious MacArthur along the frozen shores of the Chosin Reservoir. What followed was one of the most heroic - and harrowing - operations in American military history, and one of the classic battles of all time. Faced with probable annihilation, and temperatures plunging to 20 degrees below zero, the surrounded, and hugely outnumbered, marines fought through the enemy forces with ferocity, ingenuity, and nearly unimaginable courage as they marched their way to the sea.  

Hampton Sides' superb account of this epic clash relies on years of archival research, unpublished letters, declassified documents, and interviews with scores of marines and Koreans who survived the siege. While expertly detailing the follies of the American leaders, On Desperate Ground is an immediate, grunt's-eye view of history, enthralling in its narrative pace and powerful in its portrayal of what ordinary men are capable of in the most extreme circumstances.  

Hampton Sides has been hailed by critics as one of the best nonfiction writers of his generation. As the Miami Herald wrote, "Sides has a novelist's eye for the propulsive elements that lend momentum and dramatic pace to the best nonfiction narratives."

©2018 Hampton Sides (P)2018 Random House Audio

What the critics say

"Superb...a masterpiece of thorough research, deft pacing and arresting detail...Sides shows how brave Marines - officers and grunts - innovated, organized, and blasted their way out of the trap their fabulously famous boss had helped set. This war story - the fight to break out of a frozen hell near the Chosin Reservoir - has been told many times before. But Sides tells it exceedingly well, with fresh research, gritty scenes, and cinematic sweep." (Washington Post)

“To this pantheon [of the best books on the Korean War] we can now add Hampton Sides’ On Desperate Ground, which hits all the right notes.... It’s a story Marines are rightly proud of and one that should be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about the remains that just returned home from Korea, and why those men deserve to be remembered.” (Wall St. Journal)

"No one writes war and extreme life-and-death tales as vividly and authentically as Hampton Sides. As a veteran of the 1st Marine Division, I found his new book about one of the most desperate battles in American history to be riveting and beautifully told. Sides gets it all right, from the heroism of the Marines trapped in the frozen mountains to the chess moves of the generals and politicians who put them there. An incredible page-turner of a book, a must-read." (William Broyles Jr., acclaimed screenwriter of Jarhead, Apollo 13, Flags of Our Fathers, and Cast Away)

“What a book! Through moment-by-moment, intensely-researched details, On Desperate Ground utterly immerses the reader in this harrowing battle. Hampton Sides gives us a better understanding of the history behind current US relations with Korea and China while offering a series of captivating profiles in human courage - an absolutely riveting read.” (Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All the Light We Cannot See)

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  • Kirk Green
  • 2018-10-11

Excellent page turning account

I have read Hampton Sides before and his account of this pivotal Korean War battle is well researched and writted. Great reading by David Pittu as well

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • William R. Toddmancillas
  • 2018-10-05

The Chosen Battle: Its Heroes and Dastards

Narration: Clear and interesting.

Content: Informative, poignant, deservedly storied account of the First Marine Division's "Attack in a Different" direction. General Smith comes across as an especially gifted, courageous general, MacArthur a pompous, insensitive ass.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Art Guzman
  • 2019-01-04

Very enlightening

I did not know much about the Korean War and the sacrifices made by many. The book basically tells the stories of various participants at the Reservoir, so you get different perspectives. Recommend highly if you wish to learn something about the Korean conflict.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Cindy Cooke
  • 2018-12-23

Read this to your children

If your children know the names of all the Avengers, read this book to them so they will know the heroism and courage of their fellow Americans and our allies. We have been blessed as a nation to produce such men as this book d

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Preston
  • 2019-03-26

An unbelievable story of war

I've known about the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, but not everything that was discussed in this book. I really doubt Americans understand much about the Korean War. I didn't realize how many Chinese were killed during this war. This book goes into great detail during the Marines battle at the reservoir. This battle is legendary, but I didn't realize what really went on in northern Korea and why we were there.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Kevin
  • 2019-03-20

Great read

Engaging story of grit and survival against many foes. This war was less discussed in school history classes and left me with many questions. This book answered many of those questions from accounts of several different t perspectives.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Midnightsailor
  • 2019-02-19

my father's war

this is an exceptional account of the Chosin Reservoir campaign that made me so proud to not only be an American but to see my father's war, a Marine pilot, as close as I think I ever can. if you are interested in our military history and on particular the Korean War you must include this in your resources. I thought the narration was excellent. I learned a lot of small details I never knew. oorah and Semper Fi to these gallant Leathernecks!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Vince
  • 2019-07-30

Great story

Hampton Sides does a great job telling the story of this vastly understated under covered war.

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  • Carolyn Covello
  • 2019-07-07

Joe Covello

This is a must read depicting American heroism and determination. Unfortunately it highlights the failure of a 5 star general to be human, not a god. Must read for all Americans.

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  • USMC VIETVET
  • 2019-07-06

Great Story!!

The First Marine Division deserves all the praise and glory a military outfit can receive. I can't imagine what is was like to spend those nights outside in minus 20 degree weather waiting for an enemy that outnumbers you one hundred to one.

General MacArthur and Army General Ned Almond richly deserve all the derision heaped on them for putting the Marines in such a horrible, untenable position. This was not the first time that Army generals put the Marine Corps in a bad spot and certainly not the last. Army General William Westmoreland ordered the Marine Corps to occupy and defend Khe Sanh during the Vietnam War much to the dismay of Marine General Lewis Walt, et al. The disgusting arrogance of the Army generals is beyond belief.

Were it not for the guidance and leadership of Marine General Oliver P. Smith it would have been much worse for the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir.

I highly recommend this book....a truly great read.

Semper Fi
Vietnam Veteran USMC