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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

4.6 out of 5 stars 263 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“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

“Magisterial.”—Foreign Affairs

“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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (August 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375504427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375504426
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (263 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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The twilight of colonialism -- during which the French really did very little to improve the lot of the Vietnamese other than educate a small percentage of the indigenous population to assist them in their exploitation of that Asian country. Under the Truman Administration, when colonialism was on the wane in India, the United States did not want to alienate the French, whose help was needed to confront the Soviet threat in Europe. It was also believed by U.S. officials that even if the Vietnamese were to obtain independence from France, they would be susceptible to Chinese and Soviet communist influence. Hence the United States, under President Truman, lost an opportunity to adopt a softer tack in its dealings with Vietnam at the end of WW II. Fredrik Logevall thoroughly and extensively covers these issues in a masterly style. In the days of the French, there was as yet no North or South Vietnam. The country would only be split in half, as a result of the Geneva Conference of 1954, following the battle of Dien Bien Phu, when the defeated French were striving to extricate themselves from their debacle, while saving what little face remained to them; each half contained 16 million people, and each half was slightly smaller than the State of Florida. In essence the French were still striving to hold on to some small pseudo-colonial bastion in the south while vacating Hanoi in the north, which had become untenable, primarily because the Vietminh in the north, around Hanoi, were less than a hundred and fifty miles from the Chinese border, and thus they could more easily obtain their supplies, as well as seek sanctuary in China, not to mention the Soviet Union, both of which were supporting their cause. The French were able to count on American fear of communism to elicit U.S.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a phenomenal book, both in the scope of its scholarship and the ease of its reading. One of the strong points of the book is the balanced and respectful approach to all of the participants in the story. Works of History which demonize the players have a cartoon quality. This book respects the richness of human existence and its complex, multivalent quality.

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.
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Americans tend to approach the Vietnam War with simplistic sound bites. Those who opposed the war use words like "futility, quagmire, credibility gap." Those believe the war should have been fought decisively are prone to saying, "The politicians didn't let us win." Of course our involvement in Vietnam was infinitely more complex than either set of sound bites.

Henry Kissinger, in his book ENDING THE VIETNAM WAR, pointed out that every American president from Harry Truman to Richard Nixon made an effort to keep Vietnam from falling to the Communists, but that the effort always fell just short of being decisive. Whereas Kissinger's book gives just a hint of the myriads of complex issues that brought the United States to war in Vietnam, this book unwinds the complexity in all its details.

The primary question author Fredrik Logevall seeks to answer is whether a broader vision during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations could have settled the fate of Vietnam without U.S. intervention. The book pivots around that glorious time in late 1945 when the U.S. defeated the Japanese and became the only power that mattered in Southeast Asia. It celebrates the alliance between U.S. intelligence officers and Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh who collaborated to defeat the Japanese occupiers. It argues that Ho saw the United States as the great anti-colonial power that would guarantee Vietnam from re-conquest by its former French colonial masters.

It argues that if FDR and Harry Truman had focused as much on Southeast Asia as they did on Europe and the Middle East, that with U.S.
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