History Book Reviews

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II

It’s truly difficult rating a book like this. Many critics have slammed this book for the author’s obvious bias, one-sided presentation, and argumentative tone throughout the book. From a historian’s point of view this is bad history because there will always be at least one side that sees things differently. Taking such a polarizing stance with a delicate subject can be risky, and Chang’s emotionally charged argument is extremely critical of the Japanese not just for their actions in this specific event, but for their failure to acknowledge their mistake and to make proper amends for the atrocities committed. Her tone at times can be rather off-putting when reading and I feel that this seriously hurts the book’s credibility. For this reason I can’t give the book a 100% perfect score.

However, this book is invaluable for all of the detailed research and source material. The Rape of Nanking is an incredible example of memory history. Chang did an amazing job collecting diaries and letters from the leaders of the safety zones in Nanking, uncovering some incredible heroes. The book is full of numerous accounts from both survivors and the soldiers that carried out the massacre, gruesome photographs that have been salvaged, and information about the aftermath of the event.

“The Rape of Nanking did not penetrate the world consciousness in the same manner as the Holocaust or Hiroshima because the victims themselves had remained silent.”

This book is harrowing and can be difficult to read. It covers a part of history that often gets overlooked when discussing World War II and it is an utter tragedy that the voices and the suffering of these people has been lost, largely due to post-war politics. Even to this very day the validity of the Nanking Massacre is vehemently denied and debated, even down to the number of actual victims which is difficult to verify. There are many that deny that it had ever happened, much in the same way that the Jewish Holocaust of Europe is denied. Despite this, Chang does a fairly good job shooting down some of these denials with testimony from both sides.

If you can get past the author’s strong argumentative tone, this book is an important read for those that are interested in World War II or Asian History.

Title: The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II
Author: Iris Chang
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication Date: November 21, 1997
Number of Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased / For Class

In December 1937, the Japanese army swept into the ancient city of Nanking. Within weeks, more than 300,000 Chinese civilians were systematically raped, tortured, and murdered—a death toll exceeding that of the atomic blasts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Using extensive interviews with survivors and newly discovered documents, Iris Chang has written what will surely be the definitive history of this horrifying episode. The Rape of Nanking tells the story from three perspectives: of the Japanese soldiers who performed it, of the Chinese civilians who endured it, and of a group of Europeans and Americans who refused to abandon the city and were able to create a safety zone that saved almost 300,000 Chinese. Among these was the Nazi John Rabe, an unlikely hero whom Chang calls the “Oskar Schindler of China” and who worked tirelessly to protect the innocent and publicize the horror. More than just narrating the details of an orgy of violence, The Rape of Nanking analyzes the militaristic culture that fostered in the Japanese soldiers a total disregard for human life. Finally, it tells the appalling story: about how the advent of the Cold War led to a concerted effort on the part of the West and even the Chinese to stifle open discussion of this atrocity. Indeed, Chang characterizes this conspiracy of silence, that persists to this day, as “a second rape.”


  1. I have a copy of this book sitting on my shelf. I grabbed it purely because it’s a part of WWII I’m not aware of. Bias or not, I’d still want to read it 100% because of the events I might end up knowing because of it.
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    1. You should! It is an amazing book that I still think about even years after reading it and taught me so much about the Pacific theater during World War II. I had read it for a paper assignment for an Asian History class and it’s one of the books that has impacted me the most throughout my college career. It’s heavy and gruesome but hopeful also, with some really inspiring stories of some of the heroes within the city. Tragic what happened to the author, she was a great historian.

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