Hailed as a "pithy and compelling account of an intensely relevant topic" (Kirkus Reviews), this wide-ranging volume offers a superb account of a key moment in modern U.S. and world history. Drawing upon the latest research in archives in China, Russia, and Vietnam, Mark Lawrence creates an extraordinary, panoramic view of all sides of the war. His narrative begins well before American forces set foot in Vietnam, delving into French colonialism's contribution to the 1945 Vietnamese revolution, and revealing how the Cold War concerns of the 1950s led the United States to back the French. The heart of the book covers the "American war," ranging from the overthrow of Ngo Dinh Diem and the impact of the Tet Offensive to Nixon's expansion of the war into Cambodia and Laos, and the final peace agreement of 1973. Finally, Lawrence examines the aftermath of the war, from the momentous liberalization"Doi Moi"in Vietnam to the enduring legacy of this infamous war in American books, films, and political debate.
Lawrence (history, Univ. of Texas, Austin; Assuming the Burden: Europe and the American Commitment to War in Vietnam) has written a fine brief history of the Vietnam War that relies primarily on a wide reading of secondary sources but also employing newly accessible archival materials from China, Russia, and Vietnam. Lawrence focuses on U.S. policy, yet he provides an international context, offering a healthy dose of information on the role of other major players, including North and South Vietnam, the USSR, the People's Republic of China, and several European nations. He subtly incorporates major interpretations of the war and presents a balanced, nonideological narrative. If he has an overall thesis, it is that the war was an enormously complex phenomenon that does not lend itself to simplistic analysis and simple answers. Because of the book's brevity and focus on policy, Lawrence devotes relatively little space to actual combat from the ordinary soldiers' perspective. Nonetheless, this important book will be of great value to educated lay readers as well as college students looking for a readable overview. Recommended for major libraries.