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Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 21, 2012
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“This extraordinary work of modern history combines powerful narrative thrust, deep scholarly authority, and quiet interpretive confidence.”—Francis Parkman Prize citation
“A balanced, deeply researched history of how, as French colonial rule faltered, a succession of American leaders moved step by step down a road toward full-blown war.”—Pulitzer Prize citation
“Fredrik Logevall’s excellent book Choosing War (1999) chronicled the American escalation of the Vietnam War in the early 1960s. With Embers of War, he has written an even more impressive book about the French conflict in Vietnam and the beginning of the American one. . . . It is the most comprehensive history of that time. Logevall, a professor of history at Cornell University, has drawn from many years of previous scholarship as well as his own. And he has produced a powerful portrait of the terrible and futile French war from which Americans learned little as they moved toward their own engagement in Vietnam.”—Alan Brinkley, The New York Times Book Review *Editor's Choice*
“Superb . . . penetrating . . . Embers of War is a product of formidable international research. It is lucidly and comprehensively composed. And it leverages a consistently potent analytical perspective. . . . Outstanding.”—Gordon Goldstein, The Washington Post
“A monumental history . . . a widely researched and eloquently written account of how the U.S. came to be involved in Vietnam . . . certainly the most comprehensive review of this period to date.”—Wall Street Journal
“The most comprehensive account available of the French Vietnamese war, America’s involvement, and the beginning of the US-directed struggle. . . . [Embers of War tells] the deeply immoral story of the Vietnam wars convincingly and more fully than any others. Since many of the others, some written over fifty years ago, are excellent, this is a considerable achievement.”—Jonathan Mirsky, New York Review of Books
“The definitive history of the critical formative period from 1940 to 1960 [in Vietnam]. . . . lucid and vivid . . . As American involvement escalated, Bernard Fall, the highly respected scholar-journalist of Vietnam’s wars, wrote that Americans were ‘dreaming different dreams than the French but walking in the same footsteps.’ Fredrik Logevall brilliantly explains that legacy.”—Gary R. Hess, San Francisco Chronicle
“Embers of War is simply an essential work for those seeking to understand the worst foreign-policy adventure in American history. . . . Even though readers know how the story ends—as with “The Iliad”—they will be as riveted by the tale as if they were hearing it for the first time.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“A remarkable new history . . . Logevall skillfully explains everything that led up to Vietnam’s fatal partition in 1954 . . . [and] peppers the grand sweep of his book with vignettes of remarkable characters, wise and foolish.”—The Economist
“Fascinating, beautifully-written . . . Logevall’s account provides much new detail and important new insights. . . . It is impossible not to read the book without being struck by contemporary parallels.”—Foreign Policy
“[A] brilliant history of how the French colonial war to hang onto its colonies in Indochina became what the Vietnamese now call ‘the American war.’”—Charles Pierce, Esquire
“Huge and engrossing . . . [Logevall] writes with an ambitious sweep and an instinct for pertinent detail. . . . If Logevall’s earlier work stood up well in a crowded field, Embers of War stands alone. . . . What if [Embers] had been mandatory reading for Kennedy and his policy makers?”—The National Interest
“Very much worth the read, both for the story and the writing. . . . Embers of War has the balance and heft to hold hindsight's swift verdicts at bay. . . An excellent, valuable book.”—The Dallas Morning News
“An encompassing, lucid account of the 40-year arc in which America’s Southeast Asian adventure became inevitable . . . Logevall’s prose is clean, his logic relentless, his tone unsparing, his vision broad and deep, his empathy expansive.”—Vietnam Magazine
“How easy it is to forget how it all started. The events pile on one another, new battles begin each day, demands for decisions encroach—and soon enough everything is incremental. Cornell historian Fredrik Logevall steps back from the edge and—parting from most Vietnam War studies that focus on the Kennedy and Johnson administrations—reaches back to World War II to give a fresh picture of America imagining itself into the Vietnam War. . . . [Embers of War puts] flesh on barebones assertions that occupy a few sentences or paragraphs in many Vietnam accounts. . . . startling.”—The VVA Veteran
“A superbly written and well-argued reinterpretation of our tragic experience in Vietnam.”—Booklist
“[Logevall] masterfully presents the war’s roots in the U.S. reaction to the French colonial experience.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Fredrik Logevall has gleaned from American, French, and Vietnamese sources a splendid account of France’s nine-year war in Indochina and the story of how the American statesmen of the period allowed this country to be drawn into the quagmire.”—Neil Sheehan, author of A Bright Shining Lie, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award
“Fredrik Logevall is a wonderful writer and historian. In his new book on the origins of the American war in Vietnam, he gives a fascinating and dramatic account of the French war and its aftermath, from the perspectives of the French, the Vietnamese, and the Americans. Using previously untapped sources and a deep knowledge of diplomatic history, Logevall shows to devastating effect how America found itself on the road to Vietnam.”—Frances FitzGerald, author of Fire in the Lake, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award
“In a world full of nascent, potentially protracted wars, Fredrik Logevall’s Embers of War is manifestly an important book, illuminating the long, small-step path we followed into the quagmire of Vietnam. But I was also struck by the quality of Logevall’s writing. He has the eye of a novelist, the cadence of a splendid prose stylist, and a filmmaker’s instinct for story. Embers of War is not just an important book of history, it is an utterly compelling read.”—Robert Olen Butler, author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“Embers of War is a truly monumental achievement. With elegant prose, deft portraits of the many fascinating characters, and remarkable sensitivity to the aspirations and strategies of the various nations involved, Logevall skillfully guides us through the complexities of the First Indochina War and demonstrates how that conflict laid the basis for America's war in Vietnam.”—George C. Herring, author of America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975
“In this vividly written, richly textured history, Fredrik Logevall demolishes the fiction, too long indulged by too many Americans, that the Vietnam War appeared out of nowhere to besmirch the 1960s. Here we have the full backstory—the uneasy collaboration between France and the United States that paved the way for epic tragedy. Embers of War is a magisterial achievement.”—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War and Professor of International Relations and History, Boston University
“For too long, Americans have debated the Vietnam War as though it started in the 1960s. As Fredrik Logevall masterfully demonstrates in Embers of War, the American imbroglio has deep roots in the 1940s and 1950s. This is a deeply researched, elegantly written account that will instantly become the standard book on a poorly understood and decisively important event in world history.”—Mark Lawrence, author of The Vietnam War: A Concise International History, and Associate Professor of History and Senior Fellow at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at The University of Texas at Austin
About the Author
Fredrik Logevall is John S. Knight Professor of International Studies and professor of history at Cornell University, where he serves as director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.
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Top Customer Reviews
Individual players are given brief introductions that give us a feel for who they were. There are no caricatures. All of the players are seen as human beings, with strengths and weaknesses. Particular events of importance, such as the battle of Dien Bien Phu, are given careful attention, letting the events unfold with novelistic power.
The book is immensely readable; the prose flows and carries the reader along. The story described in the book is obviously important, both in terms of (1) understanding American history after World War II and (2) for the lessons that can be gleaned from the collapse of colonialism and America's expansion of its power. The book does not preach, but lets the reader reach his or her own conclusions from the rich, complex history that unfolds in its pages.
This is an outstanding work of history that is exceptionally well written. The story itself is powerful. Like a Greek tragedy, we see each step that leads to the ultimate tragedy. Anyone interested in how America came to be entangled in Vietnam should read this book. Anyone interested in understanding the pitfalls of a foreign policy that ignores complex, multifaceted local realities, would benefit as well.
I tend to be open to a new slant provided by Lien-Hang Nguyen, Ph.D. from Yale, who writes [in August 2012], "One of the greatest misconceptions of the Vietnam War is that Ho Chi Minh was the uncontested leader of North Vietnam. In reality, Ho was a figurehead while Le Duan, a man who resides in the marginalia of history, was the architect, main strategist and commander in chief of North Vietnam's war effort. The quiet, stern Mr. Duan shunned the spotlight but he possessed the iron will, focus and administrative skill necessary to dominate the Communist Party. . . Mr. Duan constructed a sturdy militarist empire that still looms over Hanoi today. Their hawkish policies led North Vietnam to war against Saigon and then Washington, and ensured that a negotiated peace would never take the place of total victory. Mr. Duan ruled the party with an iron fist and saw Ho and Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, renowned for defeating the French at Dien Bien Phu, as the greatest threats to his authority. He sidelined Ho, General Giap and their supporters when making nearly all key decisions." However Eisenhower and his hard-line Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles were convinced that Ho Chi Minh was aligned with Moscow and Red China, and thus represented a burgeoning communist expansionism that posed a threat to the Free World. This view has been shown in later years to not be entirely true. Eisenhower had pledged, during his campaign, to adopt a more aggressive anti-communist policy, and thus move beyond the passive containment policy of the Truman Administration, which many conservatives alleged had resulted in the loss of China to the communists in 1949, which in turn had encouraged the North Korean communists to invade South Korea in 1950. During 1954, Eisenhower's second year in office, the United States commissioned the world's first nuclear-powered submarine in order to confront the Soviet nuclear threat while also funding nearly 80% of France's total military costs in Indochina. It was during April of 1954, while the battle of Dien Bien Phu was still raging, that President Eisenhower made use of a powerful metaphor, referred to as the domino theory, to effectively convey his belief that if Vietnam were to fall to the communists, it would set off a domino effect, whereupon the other countries of Southeast Asia would also fall to the communists -- like "a row of dominos." After the spilling of so much American blood in Korea, Eisenhower came to the conclusion that the United States should avoid the expenditure of American manpower to fight any more land wars in Asia, while alternatively emphasizing the strategic nuclear deterrent. Nevertheless, in 1955 Eisenhower approved the dispatch of U.S. military advisors to Vietnam to assist the South Vietnamese Army in its fight against the communists. Ironically, when Eisenhower briefed Kennedy during January 1961, just before leaving office, he was more concerned about communist Pathet Lao expansionism in Laos than anything going on in Vietnam. For Laos, which had been granted full independence in 1954 as a result of the Geneva Conference, was in the midst of civil conflict between the Royal Laotian Army and the communist Pathet Lao that had broken out in 1959 and would continue into 1962, ending with the formation of a coalition government and the declared neutrality of that country. Now that there was a U.S. military presence in neighboring South Vietnam, President Kennedy felt obliged to increase military aid to South Vietnam during 1961. There is no denying that Kennedy was a World War II military veteran and a true-blue Cold War warrior who viewed communism as a global threat, against which he was prepared to use military force. Years later McNamara claimed that President Kennedy had begun to have doubts about U.S. involvement in Vietnam and was determined to pull the military advisors out just as soon as he was elected for his second term, which would have commenced during January 1965. Unfortunately we will never know about this potential turn of history, because Kennedy was assassinated during his first term after less than three years in office. In one sense, we were not truly at war until after Kennedy was gone, and Johnson had been elected in his own right and began sending combat troops, in large numbers, to Vietnam during the spring and summer of 1965.
Logevall has written a superb book that illuminates a sizable slice of history that begins with the Japanese occupation of Indochina during 1940 and proceeds through the liberation, the commencement of hostilities between the Vietminh and the French in 1946, up through the culminating Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, which essentially ended the first Indochina war during which French Union Forces (made up of Frenchmen, French Foreign Legionnaires, and French Colonial troops from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) suffered more than 74,000 deaths, of which 20,685 were Frenchmen, the best soldiers that France could put in the field, and they were beaten soundly. Logevall goes on to detail American involvement up through 1959, ending with an epilogue that extends to 1965. And through it all, there is Ho Chi Minh, who Logevall brings to life, while fleshing out this complex and mystifying character. A remarkable historical achievement of a subject that is of continuing interest to those who are still striving to better understand America's involvement in Southeast Asia. The book is extremely well written and can be enjoyed by academics and by the casual reader who wishes to have a broader understanding of actions that led up to America's Vietnam War.
A. T. Lawrence, author of Crucible Vietnam
1. This is very well written and reads easily, almost as a work of political intrigue. I guess it is.
2. There is virtually nothing out there on the French-Indochina War available in English. There are a few books on Dienbienphu, and most books on the U.S. conflict discuss the French experience it the first chapter. An entire book on the French War is incredibly rare, and that alone makes this worthwhile.
3. If you look at the endnotes, Logevall mostly cites previously published works. Many are in French -- which I cannot read, so I appreciate him using these sources -- but none are in Vietnamese. There is almost no archival work. He spent some time at the British National Archives, so there are a few British sources cited. I saw one footnote citing the U.S. National Archives, and none from Vietnamese archives.
4. Lastly, his treatment of both sides strikes me as very reasonable. There are a few reviews here that criticize Logevall for not painting Ho Chi Minh as a Stalinist, but that's largely because he wasn't. If anything, Logevall seems hesitant to fully flesh out Ho's understanding of communism, which was very sincere.
All in all, this is a terrific book, well-written and packed with things that I didn't know before. Just be aware that the research is almost entirely from English and French secondary sources. The resulting viewpoint describes a conflict with "US going over THERE," rather than "THEM coming HERE."
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Provides historical perspective of how/why France controlled the Vietnamese people for more than a century.Read more