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Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America into the Vietnam War Hardcover – February 23, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Pulitzer-winning journalist Morgan (Reds) synergizes a comprehensive spectrum of overlooked sources in this magisterial analysis of the 1954 French defeat at Dien Bien Phu and its consequences. The battle ended French colonial rule in Indochina and set the stage for American involvement in Vietnam, as unwanted initially as it was tragic in the end. The French, in November 1953, decided to establish a base in the remote valley of Dien Bien Phu. They were convinced the garrison could be supplied and supported by air, and Vietminh reaction thwarted by the roadless mountains and impenetrable jungles. Both assumptions were mistaken. Morgan, himself a veteran of the French army, eloquently describes the envelopment, the strangling, and the crushing of the French garrison by a people's army of Vietnamese peasants in the face of no less determined defenders. Reframing the battle, often viewed as a French folly, Morgan calls Dien Bien Phu one of the great epics of military endurance by both sides. His book is a fitting tribute to the men who wrote that epic. 16 pages of b&w photos, 2 maps. (Feb. 23)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This absorbing account of the prelude, battle, and aftermath that ended the “first Viet Nam War” is a sad tale of misconception, missed opportunities, and massive blunders by French and even American military and civilian officials. Morgan, whose given name is De Gramont, served as a French lieutenant during the Algerian war and has an understandably jaded view of French imperial pretensions. He illustrates how the arrogance of French imperial masters embittered Vietnamese and made a smooth transition to independence unlikely. Morgan eloquently illustrates the deceptions and maneuvers between France, Britain, and the United States over the fate of Indochina as World War II ended. Sadly, President Truman, reversing Roosevelt’s policy, supported the restoration of French control. The actual battle of Dien Bien Phu is recounted in brutal detail as French forces bravely but futilely fought off advancing Viet Minh, led by wily General Giap, who had deeply personal reasons to despise French imperialism. This is a superb chronicle of a sad and avoidable conflict that led to an even more destructive one. --Jay Freeman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (February 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400066646
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400066643
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.9 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #742,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Todd Bartholomew VINE VOICE on February 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
For a pivotal battle that marked the end of France's colonial ambitions in Indochina and America's increasing involvement there, there's been surprisingly few books that focus on it exclusively. Most of the historiography on Dien Bien Phu has incorporated it into the larger framework of the overall efforts at Vietnamese liberation from even before the Second World War to the collapse of Saigon in 1975. Earlier books such as Henri Navarre's "Agonie de l'Indochine" (1958), Bernard Fall's Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu (1985), Jules Roy's The Battle of Dienbienphu (2002), David Stone's DIEN BIEN PHU: (Battles in Focus) (2004) and Martin Windrow's The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (also 2004) covered this pivotal battle to varying degrees of success, and each with their own particular perspective on it. While it would appear Morgan could have little to add, the reality is there is much that has been recently declassified or overlooked by previous researchers, especially within the French archives. As a veteran of the French army, Morgan has the potential to show bias, but adeptly avoids that.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ted Morgan has written an excellent book about the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Actually, it starts in 1940 and takes about a third of the book just to get to the commencement of the battle because it covers the background on the French and Vietminh sides (and the American involvement too). Morgan is an excellent writer who can shift very easily from conferences at the Presidential/Foreign Ministry level to the viewpoint of troops in the field. The interplay between soldiers and politicians in France is fascinating and sometimes revolting if you believe, as I do, that it is obscene to send young men into battle unless you are serious about the war aims and prepared to see them through to the end. The details of the French involvement before the battle and the consequences of the defeat at DBP and how they played out afterward are thought-provoking and fascinating. The popular view is sometimes that the American vs. NVA/VC Battle of Khe Sanh in 1968 was just Dien Bien Phu Part II with the Americans substituting for the French; this book definitively shows why this was not so. Morgan has written another excellent book called "My Battle of Algiers" about his experience as a conscript in the French army during the equally unpopular Algerian war and his very mixed - to say the least - feelings about his military service there. He is uniquely qualified to write on these topics because he was born French (as Sanche de Gramont) but moved to America when young and has since become very Americanized. Anyone interested in what happened before the US got involved in Vietnam will like this book.
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For anyone even remotely interested in how we went to war in South-Vietnam this is a MUST study. This book brilliantly captures the politics,culture and frustrations we faced by a leadership who too willingly committed us to war without exploring the unintended results. As an Infantry Officer who served three tours on the ground in SVN, this book provides a seminal study on how we should NOT be deluded into future conflicts without a national debate.
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Format: Hardcover
This was a very nice history of Dien Bien Phu. It starts with a brief overview of Vietnam during WWII, from the Japanese coercion of basing rights from the Vichy colonial administration, through their outright seizure of the colony, to Ho Chi Minh's resistance to the Japanese and his post war efforts to gain American recognition.

This is followed by a very concise survey of the post WWII French attempts to regain their former colony. By sketching out the chronology of the French involvement, Morgan provides the context for Navarre's decision to attempt to recreate the French success at Na San by creating another "air land base" to interdict Viet Minh supply lines and prevent their invasion of Laos. The book intersperses a basically "battalion level" account of the operations with the political machinations going on behind the scene. Both stories are told chronologically, with a chapter on the military operations, followed by a chapter on the politics.

Morgan provides a decent, but not exhaustive, level of detail on the military operations. But where the book really shines is in the political realm. It gives a very detailed, sometimes day by day, account of the political maneuverings involving the US, Britain and France, with only a slightly less detailed look at what was going on politically with the Viet Minh leadership and the Peoples Republic of China. Overlaying all the political intrigues is the prospect of the 1954 Geneva Conference on Indochina which, in some measure motivated both Giap's and Navarre's military operations in the Winter 1953 and Spring 0f 1954.

The book is very well written and engaging.
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