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Perfect Spy Hardcover – April 24, 2007

42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historian Berman (Lyndon Johnson's War) draws on several years of interviews with Pham Xuan An before his death in 2006 for this engaging biography of the Time reporter who spied for North Vietnam throughout the Vietnam War. Pham Xuan An's deep cover began in 1957, when the Vietnamese Communist Party sent him to study journalism in California. After an internship at the Sacramento Bee and traveling around the U.S., he returned to South Vietnam in 1959. As a reporter for Reuters and Time, he was privy to classified information that made him a hero in Hanoi after the war. Amiable, fluent in English and adept at explaining Vietnam to Americans and vice versa, he was popular with reporters and officials of both nations. Readers may suspect some of An's recollections are self-serving, but the evidence in his favor is that almost everyone he befriended continued to admire him after learning his role. It's also clear An liked Americans, so much so that superiors suspected his loyalty and confined him to Vietnam after relations thawed. Without glossing over An's responsibility for American deaths, Berman portrays an attractive, sometimes tragic character. (May)
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“Larry Berman in his book—insightful, overdue, an authentic ‘Shock and Awe’ story—deftly humanizes the contradictions in An’s life” (-Bernard Kalb)

“Berman has done an excellent job… There’s plenty here for both supporters and critics of the Vietnam War to ponder.” (Dan Southerland, former correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor in Saigon)

“Berman has unraveled the mystery of his strange double life in an engrossing narrative.” (Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History and winner of the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in history)

Praise for NO PEACE NO HONOR “A marvelous piece of work.” (Daniel Ellsberg)

Praise for NO PEACE NO HONOR“Carefully researched, authoritative, and highly readable.” (Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History)

Praise for LYNDON JOHNSON’S WAR“A masterful job.” (Marvin Kalb)

Praise for LYNDON JOHNSON’S WAR“Highly readable, full of telling quoted from newly opened sources.” (Walter Lafeber)

Praise for LYNDON JOHNSON’S WAR“Berman has delivered the coup de grace.” (Townsend Hoopes)

“A remarkable blend of biography, history, and personal experience... Highly recommended.”---A.O. Edmonds (Library Journal)

See all Editorial Reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonia; 1st Smithsonian Books Ed edition (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060888385
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060888381
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #659,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Quang Pham on April 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Professor Berman's latest book is highly readable and fascinating. An the spy left Saigon in 1957 (at that time, dozens, maybe hundreds of South Vietnamese also came to the United States including my father who arrived for pilot training with the Air Force) for Orange Coast College (OCC), smack in the middle of John Birch's conservative Orange County, California, now the de-facto capital of ex refugees who fled after An's North Vietnamese Army overran their homeland.

And yes, An played a major role in that victory. Just ask the much-heralded Saigon press corps and the likes of Neil Sheehan, Stanley Karnow, and Morley Safer. The late David Halberstam knew An fairly well too. Most of them have seen An in the years since the war had ended and have raised money to send his son to the University of North Carolina in the 1990s. Toward the end of the book, there's a picture of An's son standing next to President Bush during his "first" visit to Vietnam in late 2006. The son was serving as a translator. Time Magazine, An's last American employer, still had a pension for him.

Berman, an occasional marathonist with plenty of energy for an academic, had traveled to Vietnam numerous times to visit with An. He defly weaves a terrific narrative that takes readers through the Vietnam War and An's relationships with South Vietnamese officials and his American counterparts. The rehashing of key events during the war sometime bog down the pacing of the book. What I found most fascinating was An's time at OCC, where he was remembered as being outgoing, flirtatious and even fell in love with an American student, a blonde haired, blue eyed editor of the school's newspaper. He later befriended the daughter of newspaper mogul, C. K. McClatchy.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Michael W. Adams on May 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
Larry Berman's book, The Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An is a fascinating read on many levels. First, I believe the book should be considered an indispensable volume in the vast collection of Vietnam War literature. It is more than an intriguing tale of espionage and history of the Viet Nam War, it's an enlightening view into the soul of the American press corps and how they provided cover and legitimacy to North Vietnam's most successful spy. An, working for his communists' masters, successfully deceived and manipulated the foreign press corps as well as U.S. and South Vietnamese security officials for the duration of the war. Truly An was one of the great spies of the Twentieth Century, whose chief enablers were well-known members of the American press corps.

The book unfortunately is colored by the author's desire to make An's treachery something we should accept and forgive, notwithstanding his direct culpability in the deaths of U.S. servicemen and untold numbers of South Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. If I had a nickel for every time An was referred to in the book as "charming" or "helpful" I'd have a nice start on my son's college fund. For the most part, these "friends" served as useful idiots to An, who played them like a fiddle. The larger question that remains unanswered is to what degree An succeeded in coloring press stories critical of U.S. policy. The book points out that almost all the newly arrived American correspondents in Viet Nam sought out An because he was a man of uncommon insight and had the best sources. An surely fed anti-American or anti-war views to the Viet Nam press corps, many of whom arrived in Viet Nam profoundly opposed to the war. He essentially gave them what they wanted to hear. An's impact on the U.S.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on September 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Pham Xuan An was recruited by the Communist Party in Vietnam and sent to the U.S. in 1957 to learn journalism as a cover - long before the U.S. took a major role in the conflict. An quickly came to admire the U.S., did well in his studies (Orange Coast College) and internships, and was had several attractive offers for permanent work upon their completion. Yet, despite fear that he would be arrested by the South Vietnamese government upon returning to Vietnam, An returned, first reporting French troop actions, then also working for various government military figures (eg. teaching English to future VN spies; helping set up the Vietnamese spying service), and finally for various American publications - Time magazine in particular. Several times the CIA even tried to recruit An, with no success.

Early in his career An risked exposure to save the life of a Time reporter captured by the VietCong in Cambodia because he knew the reporter had saved a number of Vietnamese children's' lives from various Cambodian army massacres. This conflict between his spy role and friendship with Americans continued up to America's last day in Saigon when An helped a Vietnamese friend who had worked for the Americans escape. These actions, however, did not dull An's effectiveness - his insights and reports based on conversations and documents played key roles in VietCong/NVA tactics and strategy development. After the war ended, An was promoted to Maj. General, and collected his ten top-level medals.

An received no formal spy training - instead, he read a number of books by others who were past masters. Communications involving An were almost entirely one-way - towards nearby VietCong and much farther away NVA leaders in Hanoi.
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