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Vietnam: A History

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"The most comprehensive, up-to-date, and balanced account we have."-Boston Globe. "Superb, balanced in interpretation... immensely readable and full of new and interesting detail."-George Herring,... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

The Definitive Book on the Vietnam War

Part-history book, part-personal memoir, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stanley Karnow does a superb job of telling the story of the biggest American foreign policy disaster of the 20th century. Vietnam was his beat from the death of the first American soldier there in 1959 until after the 1973 ceasefire that ended U.S. involvement. He interviewed almost all of the major players in the war and was there while the story unfolded. This book isn't a complete history of Vietnam (history, culture, economics, sociology, etc.). Instead it covers in great detail the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, plus the origins of Vietnamese nationalism, which stems from their many battles with Chinese and French colonialism throughout the centuries. Although I consider myself a history buff, Karnow surprised me with new details about the war. For example, the Tet Offensive of 1968 decimated the Vietcong and didn't affect U.S. public opinion nearly as much as people would have you believe. Also, the notorious Christmas bombing of 1972 largely spared urban areas of Hanoi and Haiphong--it wasn't the second Hiroshima I'd been led to believe. And JFK wasn't the first U.S. president to get America involved in Vietnam...that was Harry Truman's fault, although FDR got his fingers dirty a little bit. Contrary to some of the other reviewers, I didn't find this book to be pro-Communist. Karnow gives a fair portrayal of both sides. He spends more time discussing North Vietnam's "insane" economic policies and the Communist massacre of civilians at Hué in 1968 than he does any U.S. atrocities (e.g., My Lai). And I was impressed by his descriptions of bravery on both sides of the conflict. This is no mean feat for someone that was placed on Richard Nixon's "enemies list" (as Karnow was). If Karnow spends a lot of time discussing the arrogance and naivete of U.S. politicians and generals as well as the rampant corruption and incompetence of South Vietnam's leaders...well those were big reasons the Communists won, folks. And the parallels to Iraq today are striking. Two last things: 1. Have a dictionary handy when reading this book. 2. This book is a little out-of-date: John McCain and John Kerry are described as "two members of Congress with impeccable war records." Ladies and gents, meet Karl Rove!

The best history on Vietnam I've read

The author looks at Vietnam from an interesting perspective. Providing a useful background on Vietnamese history, with periods of domination from and resistance to, outsiders, the book helps the reader understand the depth of the nationalism which the United States found itself pitted against. Some may argue that this book is too apologetic to the communist regime based out of Hanoi. No matter who writes a book on this subject, people with strong feelings either way may feel that the author provided a biased view. My perception from reading the book was that the author's objective was to understand Vietnam, not further any social agenda. Americans will debate the terrible conflict in Vietnam for decades to come. American history and Vietnamese history inter-mingled in ways that were unanticipated and unfortunate. Until someone produces a more definitive and balanced look at Vietnam, this book will continue to be the standard. I welcome feedback on this and all reviews at

The best place to begin studying America's war in Vietnam.

This book is an excellent factual overview of the American experience in Vietnam. Stanley Karnow was there, as a reporter, and this book has become a staple in the vast collection of American Vietnam War books.This is an excellent primer for those looking for a basic chronological understanding of the events of the war. Unlike so many of the more recent volumes on the subject, this book contains almost no speculation. This book is well researched, well written, and pretty safe, in that you can rely on the factual veracity of its contents.If you're looking for complex political theories, you'll need to dive deeper into the subject, such as Logevall's Choosing War, or Kaiser's American Tragedy.This book also contains some excellent, if standard, photographs, a basic chronology, and a very brief `cast of characters' that are all of use to the beginner. If you are said beginner, you also want to tackle Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie.

The Best of the Best on the Vietnam War

As is related in the beginning of this book, Vietnam: A History is well read in Vietnam today--probablly due to the fact-based, unbiased, reporting style the author uses.The book is split into two divisions. The first, containing a vast history of Vietnam, which can be laborious to get through, yet for history buffs, worth the effort. Second, the Vietnam War.It is the second part of the book which will leave the readers awed by the ineptness and corruption of U.S. & South Vietnamese leadership--both military and political, especially at top levels--angry by the uninformedness of the American people, and shocked by the great cost in lives and property to two warring groups, whose involvement and happening was entirely preventable.Probably no other person was, or is better qualified to write the Vietnam story than Stanley Karnow, who lived in Paris in the 1950's, as a U.S. foreign news correspondent during France's fight for dominance in Vietnam. He also interviewed numerous key participants. He dug into once classifed U.S. documents to reveal unknown information, and he researched and reported on the recollections of high-level polticians, dignataries, military leaders, and the soldiers, men, and women who fought on both sides. An outstanding work! I'd recommed reading "Paris in the Fifties" by the same author as a primer to this book.

A masterful history of America?s most regrettable war.

"Vietnam: A History" is a masterfully written history of America's involvement in Vietnam - certainly one of the two best single-volume histories (along with "A Bright Shining Lie," by Neil Sheehan) of America's most regrettable war that I've read. Written by Stanley Karnow, a former Southeast Asian correspondent for "Time" and "Life" magazines, and "The Washington Post," this book is a comprehensive and fascinating look at the Vietnam war, from its underlying causes at the end of World War II, to the final takeover of South Vietnam by its Communist neighbor, North Vietnam, in April 1975.Karnow delivers with crisp and precise prose an account of the Vietnam War which is both fair and objective. He analyzes the conflict from both the political and military standpoint, and is unsparing in his criticism of errors made by political and military leaders on all sides of the conflict. Three areas of this book were especially interesting to me: first, the author's account of the conflict between the French and Viet Minh, and how the French were defeated at Dienbienphu in 1954; second, how the U.S. government formulated its Vietnam policy under the Kennedy administration, and how that policy ultimately failed; and third, how Richard Nixon, upon becoming President in 1969, changed America's Vietnam policy and began the process of "Vietnamizing" the war. (Karnow's candid description of how the Kennedy administration initially supported South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, then tacitly approved of the 1963 coup d'etat which resulted in Diem's murder is fascinating.)"Vietnam: A History" is an essential book for the reader interested in gaining a good understanding of the war and its causes. Highly recommendable reading!
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