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Understanding Vietnam (Philip E. Lilienthal Book.) Paperback – March 10, 1995
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The best part of the book for me was the extensive use of excerpts from Vietnamese literature and editorial pieces to illustrate Vietnamese thought. This gave life to the concepts he was describing, it gave me a first hand account by letting me hear from the Vietnamese people themselves.
The author's overall thesis, relating societal changes to the oriental concept of yin and yang --a continually adjusted balance between structure and feeling, duty and compassion -- is clearly delineated throughout the story (yes, it really reads like a story), and is quite compelling. By all means, read this book!
During my time in Hanoi, Jamieson's office was just down the street - I wish I had gone in, as I often thought of doing, and said thanks for the great book.
The history is instructive and concise, with little excess prose. Jamieson writes in an eminently readable style, and focuses on the most interesting events in order to keep the reader from being bored. He does a pretty good job of giving both Northern and Southern Vietnamese viewpoints, although he does focus a little more than would be preferable on South Vietnam, especially in the later parts of the book. The twentieth century chapters do a better job than almost any book on the market in focusing on the Vietnamese, rather than on the multi-decade war in which they fought.
My only complaint is that the extended yin/yang analogy used to explain societal trends was not very helpful. On the whole, though, I'm really impressed.
The author sets out to demonstrate that Vietnamese society, history, and culture from 1700 to 1990 revolve around the yin and yang system. While harmony derives from a balance between these two elements, an imbalance on the other hand results in revolution and war. The forces, which have been pulling the Vietnamese community apart since 1920, came to a head-on battle in 1945-50.
During the 1954-1975 war, the northern yang being stronger and more refined than the southern one led to a northern invasion and collapse of South Vietnam. The hegemony and repression of the north, however, caused a violent reaction of the southern yin during the post 1975 years: exodus of hundreds of thousands of boat people, and refusal of farmers to participate in the collectivization of the agriculture causing a decrease in productivity. Those who could not escape survived by peddling their belongings at flea markets, which over a period of time grew into a vibrant capitalistic system thanks in part to the money sent home by relatives abroad, especially in the U.S. A decade later, the southern economy rebounded while the northern counterpart floundered. This led to a reversal of the dogmatic northern policy and implementation of the "doi moi" policy in 1985.
The author also suggests that happiness and prosperity cannot come to Vietnam unless true freedom and basic human rights are respected.
The American Library Association has voted "Understanding Vietnam" the 1994 Outstanding Academic Book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Interesting book, but as much unnecessary detail and less
you are making a very very intricate study of the entire history of Vietnam
This is a very dry and academic book that I simply could not get through. It's my fault perhaps for picking an anthropological book rather than a history book. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Liam H Dooley
Its very title, Understanding Vietnam, urged me to rate it anything but five stars. But if any Vietnam book merits five stars, Neil Jamieson’s does. Read morePublished on May 15, 2014 by S. Darragh
This book gives a great wide view of Vietnamese culture and where some of these thoughts and ideas come from. Read morePublished on March 16, 2014 by Robert J
"Understanding Vietnam" is a book about the mutual effects between the Vietnamese people and events shaping up the country in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Read morePublished on June 16, 2012 by HistoryBuff
Understanding Vietnam is an insightful but tough read. It is an adaptation of a Ph.D. dissertation and reads as such at times. Read morePublished on February 14, 2012 by Traveler
When I was a student back in UCLA in '06, this was the textbook for the class. It is exceptional in explaining the thoughts and feelings of the Vietnamese people, their rationale,... Read morePublished on December 7, 2011 by L.Hart
This is an excellent book which not only details the history of Vietnam but also shows how the people have developed to where they are today. Read morePublished on June 13, 2010 by Peter Murphy