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tlabach has commented on (2) products.

Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu by Bernard B Fall
Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu

tlabach, November 13, 2009

Western troops a far way from home, surrounded by hostile guerrillas, a sullen populace, propping up a weak central government, beset by long supply lines and suicide bombers, being worn down with no end in sight, and with leadership whose hubris assured them that technological superiority would surely triumph - not just a story of today, but the story of Dien Bien Phu.

Bernard Fall's history of the siege of Dien Bien Phu over 1953-54, Hell in a Very Small Place, explains the tragedy of that far-off battlefield. A French garrison set up camp at the village of Muong Thanh to try and draw Communist Viet-Minh forces into a set-piece battle to decide the future of Viet Nam. The village, in a valley and referred to as Dien Bien Phu ("Seat of the Border County Prefecture") instead became a death trap. Limited natural cover and resources, surrounded by mountains, with resupply possible only through hazardous air drops, put the French forces in a near-impossible situation, and Viet-Minh leaders skillfully used their advantages to encircle, collapse and conquer the fortress.

Fall describes the incredible courage of the defenders, some of whom volunteered to parachute in as reinforcements the day before the garrison surrendered. We read how their efforts were hampered by Viet-Minh fire, poor decisions by higher echelons, and always, the lack of sufficient ammunition, equipment, troops, food and (they were French!) wine. The struggles on the Viet-Minh side are also described, as Fall interviewed combatant from both camps. We learn of the shrewdness of their leader General Giap, the cruel determination of their Communist cadres, and even the chivalry of the Viet-Minh regular troops to their fellow warriors on the French side.

The story is fascinating, told by a masterful historian and journalist, who himself died in Viet Nam in 1967 at the age of 40. It is also a cautionary tale, although the lessons it teaches were ignored in subsequent conflict in Indochina and indeed, seem to be ignored still today, when they could profit the West in the conduct of our current wars.
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The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine by Benjamin Wallace
The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine

tlabach, January 22, 2009

We are not mystified to think of wine as a drink that raises passions, or as a cornerstone of economies from California to Italy. Thinking of wine as a commodity to be traded like stocks in beyond the experience of most of us, as is the consideration that wine might be the target of fraudsters.

But the desire to possess wine - preferably ancient -- with links to the famous and infamous created a market in which wines were unearthed in forgotten cellars and then changed hands in some of the world's most prestigious auction houses. This unknown world is dissected in The Billionaire's Vinegar.

Benjamin Wallace focuses on bottles of wine purported to have belonged to American hero Thomas Jefferson. As the wines change hands, some owners, auctioneers, and vintners become uneasy and skeptical of the source of many of the discovered treasures - wine expert Hardy Rodenstock. Wallace traces the passage of the wines around the world and the debate in the wine community about whether the wines are authentic. There is no "eureka!" moment here, but a slow journey to the most likely answer to the mystery of The Billionaire's Vinegar.
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