Apparently Mao believed that he was the greatest living Marxist theoretician, but he needed Stalin's aid, so he kept the bragging to a minimum as long as Stalin was alive. When Stalin died in 1953 Mao looked around for a dramatic demonstration that China was the true home of communism, and what he came up with was a plan to industrialize the country in just a few short years.
To accomplish this he bought a bunch of old factories from the Russians, and promised to pay for them with Chinese wheat (maybe other grains, too...I'm not sure) The problem was that there wasn't enough wheat for the Chinese, let alone for the Russians. Wheat was seized from the already strapped peasants and sent out of the country. Peasants who resisted were treated as counter revolutionaries. Lots of them starved.
Factories require iron and steel, so Mao collected most of the country's pots and pans, tools and farm implements so they could be melted down. How, you might ask, were the peasants supposed to cook their food? The answer is, they weren't. Government canteens were set up, and you got your meals there. If you didn't meet your farm quota that day (maybe because your tools had been seized), you didn't get any food. Lots of people starved because they were locked out of the canteens.
Even if you got the food, it was a mixed blessing. All along the distribution lines thieves drained grain from sacks and substituted sand. By the time the sacks got to the canteens they contained a good portion of sand, meaning that the soup everybody got was pretty gritty. Then there was the question of how the soup was served. The kitchen worker could ladle from the watery top of the kettle, or the denser bottom, depending on how much he liked you. If he didn't like you, you could starve.
Farming on the collective farms was a nightmare. Peasants were rounded up and taken to freezing fields where they were expected to dig furrows for planting, only they had no metal tools. No furrows meant no canteen. Lots of people died from exposure to the weather, exhaustion and hunger.
Then there was the prosperity parties. It occurred to Mao that all the killing might depress the people who were still alive, so to bolster their spirits he declared a week-long (I think it was a week) national party where the canteens disgorged their supplies, and everyone was required to overeat. Lots of photos were taken of happy peasants pushing away food when they just couldn't eat any more. Unfortunately the aftermath of the parties was even greater starvation.
I haven't gotten to the part of the book that tells us why The Great Leap came to an end. Mao is said to have remarked that there'd be plenty of grain for the Chinese if they had half the population. Maybe he killed off so many people that the remainder finally had the necessities of life, I don't know. A Maoist on the internet claims that the population actually tripled during this time, that everybody was happy, and that only gangsters and imperialists would criticize the sensitive poet and father of his people. You be the judge. Anyway, the respite after The Great Leap didn't last long. Later Mao would start The Cultural Revolution, with all the loss of life that would entail.