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Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnamby Fredrik Logevall
2013 Pulitzer Prize for History
Synopses & Reviews
The struggle for Vietnam occupies a central place in the history of the twentieth century. Fought over a period of three decades, the conflict drew in all the world’s powers and saw two of them — first France, then the United States — attempt to subdue the revolutionary Vietnamese forces. For France, the defeat marked the effective end of her colonial empire, while for America the war left a gaping wound in the body politic that remains open to this day.
How did it happen? Tapping into newly accessible diplomatic archives in several nations and making full use of the published literature, distinguished scholar Fredrik Logevall traces the path that led two Western nations to lose their way in Vietnam. Embers of War opens in 1919 at the Versailles Peace Conference, where a young Ho Chi Minh tries to deliver a petition for Vietnamese independence to President Woodrow Wilson. It concludes in 1959, with a Viet Cong ambush on an outpost outside Saigon and the deaths of two American officers whose names would be the first to be carved into the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In between come years of political, military, and diplomatic maneuvering and miscalculation, as leaders on all sides embark on a series of stumbles that makes an eminently avoidable struggle a bloody and interminable reality.
Logevall takes us inside the councils of war — and gives us a seat at the conference tables where peace talks founder. He brings to life the bloodiest battles of France’s final years in Indochina — and shows how from an early point, a succession of American leaders made disastrous policy choices that put America on its own collision course with history: Harry Truman’s fateful decision to reverse Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s policy and acknowledge France’s right to return to Indochina after World War II; Dwight Eisenhower’s strenuous efforts to keep Paris in the fight and his escalation of U.S. involvement in the aftermath of the humiliating French defeat at Dien Bien Phu; and the curious turnaround in Senator John F. Kennedy’s thinking that would lead him as president to expand that commitment, despite his publicly stated misgivings about Western intervention in Southeast Asia.
An epic story of wasted opportunities and tragic miscalculations, featuring an extraordinary cast of larger-than-life characters, Embers of War delves deep into the historical record to provide hard answers to the unanswered questions surrounding the demise of one Western power in Vietnam and the arrival of another. This book will become the definitive chronicle of the struggle’s origins for years to come.
"Cornell University's Logevall specializes in the Vietnam War's international aspects. His latest work masterfully pre-sents the war's roots in the U.S. reaction to the French colonial experience. And that experience was inextricably linked to the global changes wrought by WWII, the beginning of the cold war, and America's new role as the pre-eminent power in Asian and world affairs. Without neglecting the military aspects of the Franco-Indochina War and its aftermath, Logevall concentrates on political and diplomatic aspects. He presents 'a contingent , full of alternative political choices.' Initially, the odds were against the Viet Minh — but France could never decide to seek a compromise. With Vietnam's division after the Franco-Indochina War's end in 1954, Ngo Dinh Diem dominated South Vietnam's politics. But his limited concept of leadership and facile resort to repression alienated anticommunist nationalists. That was America's problem as well. Logevall makes a detailed case that America's Vietnam involvement replicated the French experience: the U.S. was fighting against an anticolonialist revolution and giving the Democratic Republic of Vietnam legitimacy that would be neither discredited nor defeated in 10 more years of war. 43 photos, 13 maps. Agent: John Dawkins & Associates." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“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 from the end of World War II to the beginning of the second Vietnam War in 1959. 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
“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
“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 skilfully 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
“An excellent, valuable book.” The Dallas Morning News
“[Logevall] masterfully presents the war’s roots in the U.S. reaction to the French colonial experience.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A superbly written and well-argued reinterpretation of our tragic experience in Vietnam.” Booklist
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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