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Vietnam: A History 2nd Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
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!
It depends what you are looking for...Karnow was in 'Nam as a reporter for 25 years and is probably the most qualified writer alive to write about it. He met with all of the top officials in the south and north Vietnamese Govts and had informants in our own govt to help with details. So if you are looking for a Political history of the war, 'the why we were there and what kept us there' kind of topics, then this is a five star must read. But if you are looking for details on the fighting and on individual battles then look elsewhere because this book has little to none of that. You will find out why and when soldiers were first sent to nam but you will not find out what they did or felt once they were there.
Political history = 5 stars
Military history = 1 star
Despite these advantages, the book has some real limitations. The writing is pedestrian, the characterizations (if one can say that about history) tend to be thin, and Karnow fails to convey a sense of wholeness in many chapters. The book at times feels more like a collection of dispatches from a reporter in the field (which Karnow was in Vietnam) rather than the work of a historian who has integrated fact and theory based on deep understanding and research. As comprehensive as the book tries to be, Karow's reach may have exeeded his grasp with his project.
The book also suffers from a real bias against American involvement and the American establishment, Republican and Democratic. When "Uncle Ho" commits murders in the thousands the book makes one feel like this is a natural outpouring of exuburant nationalism rather than good old fashioned absolutism. But when the admittedly corrupt and inept Diem regime or confused ARVN or American soldiers commit atrocities, the condemnation is acid and biting. Communists are presented as "golden," or "tough," while Southerners or Amercians are usually charactured as "greedy," or "arrogant."
There is also an irony in the book's approach. Karnow should be complemented for attempting to fit American involvement in Vietnam into the wider context of Vietnam's history. However, Vietnam's history is presented mostly through lense of Western or Colonial contact.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Thorough and comprehensive of Vietnam War. The war nobody won.Published 1 month ago by Koh Kang Wee
This volume by Karnow is the master work on the Vietnam War.Published 2 months ago by Thomas Morelli
A must read for those interested not only in the role the US played in the Viet Nam Conflict and how the US got there, but also in how the country of Viet Nam has evolved over the... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Michael D. Haley
This outstanding book deservedly won a Pulitzer Prize. It benefitted from the fact that Karnow was a journalist in Vietnam for several years and, in addition to being able to... Read morePublished 6 months ago by C. Overgaard
Best overall history of Vietnamese conflict and the international / colonialist / Cold War politics that led up to it (going clear back to Ho Chi Minh's 1920s travels in, and... Read morePublished 6 months ago by R. Moore