Mao a biography by Jonathan Spence

Spence spends too much time cataloguing the dead instead of showing the turning points in Mao's life. He should have explained how Mao transformed from an urban bookseller into a man living in a cave, trying to run a war; likewise, he leaves out Mao's sinification of Marxist/Leninist thought. Granted, it could be that Spence doesn't have any good information on this, however he should explain that in a note at least. Regardless, from his notes, it looks like I should read Schram's Mao's Road to Power next.

Spence's picture of Mao looks like a victim of the Peter Principle; Mao worked well as a political infighter and propagandist. However, running a country of 600M people didn't work out as well. Perhaps the canonical example of political infighting trumping any other concerns lies in his use of the Hundred Flowers campaign to flush out dissidents. Instead of crushing them, he should have sought to coopt (Bismarck) them. By terminating all opposition, Mao had removed the one handbrake on China's descent into his greatest failure, the Great Leap Backward that killed 20+ million average people who were just trying to get by.

It was for this paper (Dagongbao) that he wrote a series of nine articles on the suicide of a local Changsha woman name Zhao Wuzhen, which attracted wide attention. Zhao had killed herself inside her enclosed bridal sedan chair, as she was being taken to an arranged marriage that she bitterly opposed.
-- Chapter 3, Casting Around
Talk about having a flair for the dramatic ;)
When Mao set off for Moscow in December 1949, the Communists had won, but China was in a catastrophic state. Many areas of the country had endured close to forty years of almost incessant fighting or military occupation of one kind or another -- local warlords, Communist guerrillas, Guomindang suppression forces, Japanese occupying armies -- and had no effective administrative structures.
-- Chapter 8, Taking Over
Quite the contrast from Taiwan
To be labelled a rich peasant or landlord was to face the risk of losing everything, including all of one's savings and even one's life...
The exact way that these (class) labels were applied, and the precise amount of land or other property, tools, and draft animals that each individual or family controlled, were drawn up in exhaustive investigations, a prototype of which had been the kinds of investigations carried out by Mao in Hunan during 1926, in Jinggangshan in 1928, and in Xunwu in 1930. Facing such investigations, wealthy peasants often sought to 'lower' their class status by killing off livestock or destroying stored grain, and by selling off cheaply, or even giving away, surplus land.
-- Chapter 9, The Ultimate Vision