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Embers Of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam

4.42  ·  Rating Details  ·  732 Ratings  ·  151 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 ...more
Hardcover, First Edition, 864 pages
Published August 21st 2012 by Random House (first published January 1st 2012)
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Pulitzer Winners: History
27th out of 90 books — 63 voters
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6 Best of 2012
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Community Reviews

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Matt
May 14, 2014 Matt rated it really liked it
Fredrik Logevall’s Embers of War is not the first book I’ve read about the First Indochina War. However, it is the first book that doesn’t deal specifically with the infamous 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu, which pitted the dying empire of France against the insurgent-nationalist Viet Minh.

Reading solely about Dien Bien Phu, without any accompanying context, is the historical-reading equivalent of eating all the frosting off a cupcake. In order to avoid relative habits currently practiced with ze
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Joseph
May 22, 2013 Joseph rated it it was amazing
Fredrik Logevall's The Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the making of America's Vietnam takes Vietnam's struggle for independence to its very beginning and carries it through the beginning of America's “real” involvement in the war. It is clearly written and written in great detail. Logevall backs up his book with eighty-three pages of bibliography, roughly one page for every ten written.

At the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, a young Vietnamese man in a rented morning coat comes to
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Jerome
Dec 26, 2013 Jerome rated it it was amazing
A comprehensive, well-organized, engrossing and very well-written history of the French war in Indochina that led to the beginning of US involvement in that region. Logevall begins with the Japanese occupation during the world war up to 1959.

Logevall’s coverage of US involvement with the Diem regime is very good, and he does a great job explaining the remarkable number of ill-formulated and sometimes unrelated decisions made in this time period. One of Logevall’s points is that pretty much every
...more
Jimmy
Aug 19, 2014 Jimmy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war
I had the good fortune of hearing the author speak and then talking to him a bit about the Vietnam War. The book won the Pulitzer Prize. Excellent, especially in its "what if" tendencies.

In June 1919, a young man from Vietnam set out to approach the world leaders gathered in Paris to present them with a petition entitled "The Demands of the Vietnamese People." He especially hoped to reach Woodrow Wilson whose fourteen points seemed to promise self-determination for all people. The petition spok
...more
James Wilhelm
Aug 12, 2013 James Wilhelm rated it it was amazing
Embers of War explains the forty year history of Vietnam leading up to the debacle of U.S. involvement. It is a captivating and important book that I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in history or the Vietnam War.
John
Nov 22, 2012 John rated it really liked it
"Embers of War" is a page-turning account of how the United States became enmeshed in Vietnam after the Second World War and how those entanglements led to the Vietnam. What makes the book especially interesting to American readers, is how Longevall, a historian at Cornell University, tells the story through the lens of the France's war in Indochina after World War II, so in that sense the book is really two stories: a gripping account of the French war that lasted from between 1945/46 to 1954 o ...more
James Murphy
Feb 26, 2013 James Murphy rated it it was amazing
Readers love to discover books which articulate what they've always known and understood. Embers of War fits my ideas of America's involvement in Vietnam. For that reason it's not surprising I'd like the book and consider it important in that it voices perspectives long needing to be made clear.

Logevall's huge book is a comprehensive history of the French return to Indochina following the defeat of Japan in 1945, how it found there a burgeoning nationalism and a free Vietnam already proclaimed u
...more
Stan
Sep 08, 2012 Stan rated it it was amazing
This book is fascinating. How many of we Americans knew that Ho Chi Minh had tried to see President Wilson in Paris in 1919 to try to get the USA to help Vietnam gain her independence from France? My guess is not many. Professor Logevall leads us through the history of Ho Chi Minh and his attempts to gain freedom from Vietnam's colonial ruler, shows us how it may have been much different had Roosevelt lived, and takes us through Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations as no one ...more
Converse
Got to about page 399 of this history of (mainly) the French war in Indochina after the Second World War. By this point in the narrative many French politicians wanted out but they were not sure how to do this given the enthusiasm of the new Eisenhower administration in the United States for continuing the war. The author emphasizes that the steps that American adminstrations saw as necessary for a successful (i. e. non-communist) outcome in Vietnam required steps, such as a path for Vietnamese ...more
Tom Culhane
Sep 23, 2015 Tom Culhane rated it it was amazing
Excellent detailed analysis of the First Vietnam War 1945-1954. FDR wanted to place Vietnam in international trust at the end of World War II similar to the more successful handling of The Philippines. But then he died. And his successors Truman and Eisenhower failed to keep the French from reclaiming their their SE Asian prize even though they had been roundly defeated by Japan there in 1940. Logevall describes in bloody detail the climactic 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu when the French got smac ...more
Susan
Aug 22, 2012 Susan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those involved in the 60s, military people, history buffs w/ interests in Southeast Asia
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Well researched and sweeping in scope, this book was provided to me by the publisher as part of Goodreads.com First Reads program.

Embers of War: the Fall of an Empire and the making of America's Vietnam is a rather large book; covering the years from 1919 to 1959, before the US enaged the Viet Cong in many years of a war that was divisive both at home and within the military ranks. The amazing amount of research it contains demonstrates that a shocking history of errors and miscalculation served
...more
Steven
May 26, 2014 Steven rated it it was amazing
A First Reads giveaway:
Embers of War is the most exhaustive account of America’s failure to learn from France and its futile decade-long military involvement in Vietnam. Complete with maps and rare photographs, Logevall’s text, lively and detailed, chronicles all the pretexts and miscalculations of what George F. Kennan called “the most disastrous of all America’s undertakings over the whole 200 years of its history.”
Brandi
Nov 07, 2015 Brandi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fredrik Logevall's "Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam" is an exceptionally well-written account of the events and causes of the war.

My reluctance to read this book is certainly no reflection of the author or his work, as Mr. Logevall is an exceptionally gifted author. Rather, it has to do with the length of the book itself, as few books can keep my interest long enough to keep me reading for over 800 pages. Mr. Logevall's book would be a great gift for hist
...more
Mcgyver5
Nov 16, 2015 Mcgyver5 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
The first part of the book provides such a rush of "the history before the history" that it brought tears to my eyes. Here is Ho Chi Minh petitioning Woodrow Wilson for independence at the end of World War I. Here he is living in Paris and loving French culture. Here he is writing an outraged letter to a French magazine for allowing "Franglaise" expressions (like "Le Knockout") into their writing and corrupting the French language. Here he is having high hopes in American influence bringing inde ...more
Jordyn
Aug 30, 2012 Jordyn rated it really liked it
* I won this in the FTC giveaway

This book is a phenomenal choice for any history buff, it was gripping and kept you interested until the end. I would absolutely recommend it :)
Rick
Jan 15, 2016 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Embers of War” tells the backstory of America’s involvement in Vietnam…what events happened that drew the United States into a long war on the heels of Korea. The narrative quickly moves to the beginning of World War II…where France lost control of her colony of Vietnam, and then segues to the end of the Great War…where France worked and designed to retake her former colony. In doing so, the French suppressed Ho Chi Minh and his emerging nationalist group that wanted Vietnam for the Vietnamese, ...more
Andrew Tollemache
Jan 10, 2015 Andrew Tollemache rated it really liked it
The American experience in Vietnam from 1940 to 1975 is one of the most intriguing tales in U.S. foreign policy. Logevall's book documents how the US went from FDR's ardent opposition to France keeping its colonies in SE Asia once WW2 ended to the Truman and Ike years when the U.S. began to see French Indochina as the lynchpin in the fight to halt global communism. Logevall documents how the French fight to regain and maintain its Asian colonies morphed into the US's fight.
What is so jaw dropp
...more
Jon Frankel
Jan 05, 2015 Jon Frankel rated it it was amazing
I cannot praise this book enough, both as a major contribution to the understanding of the debacle (moral, political, military, and cultural) we call the Vietnam War and more generally, as a work of history. The Embers of War is first and foremost a grand, detailed narration of events. It is a long book, but remarkable still for how much he packs into its pages. Few historians can manage the level of narrative complexity Logevall achieves. Beginning in the early years of the 20th century, he qui ...more
Max
Apr 15, 2015 Max rated it it was amazing
How did America become involved in Viet Nam and why was American policy so dysfunctional? Logevall lays it all out from French colonization in 1873 to 1959 with the killing of the first Americans to later have their names engraved on the Viet Nam War Memorial. He covers Ho Chi Minh’s lifelong nationalism from his attempts to meet President Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 through the decision in 1959 as President of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam to help the Viet Cong in the Sou ...more
Julian Haigh
Apr 20, 2013 Julian Haigh rated it it was amazing
Logevall weaves so many narratives together connecting with characters on both a personal level, as well as placing their histories in a larger context of the 'international' movement to 'save' Vietnam.

From the overcompensating Charles De Gaulle for Frances embarrassment in WW2 attempting to 'save' their imperialist civilization mission to Ho Chi Minh's international political understandings of the importance of the American position, even as early as 1919, and the American position hardening f
...more
Mike Kershaw
Sep 13, 2013 Mike Kershaw rated it really liked it
Embers of War by Fredrik Logevall is subtitled The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam. It could probably be better subtitled "Kicking the Can Down the Road". Logevall spends 700 pages demonstrating that successive American administrations, from Truman's to Kennedy's, acted in a manner which almost inexorably led America to war in Vietnam. He does this by focusing at the strategic and diplomatic level, with just enough of the French combat experience in Vietnam to provide conte ...more
Arjun
Jan 24, 2016 Arjun added it
Shelves: my-love
Started with the big question "Why on earth America got itself involved in some place so distant and unrelated like Vietnam" Got my answer and how! This is the best to begin with if you are interested in cold war politics, domino theory or McCarthyism. Quality stuff!
Dan
Jul 12, 2013 Dan rated it it was amazing
You know a book about Vietnam is going to be thorough when it starts in the mid-1800s. This is an incredible story, beginning with the initial French colonial rule and ending in 1960, just when most U.S.-focused books on the war begin.

It is an outstanding telling of French and American involvement in Vietnam. That said, it is a massive book, and a commitment to sit down and read. Some of the nitty gritty diplomacy details get a little tiring, while other parts of the book (like the battle of Die
...more
Harrison Kessel
May 02, 2015 Harrison Kessel rated it it was amazing
This book is about America's slow slide into involvement in the Vietnam conflict, and how the French handled their conflict. After the French came to Vietnam to reclaim its colony. After repeatedly refusing independence in negotiations, a war breaks out, and the French fight the Viet Minh in North and South Vietnam. After the French convince consecutive American administrations that the Vietnamese were part of a broader effort by communism to fight capitalism in the cold war, America provides su ...more
Carrieg
Mar 30, 2014 Carrieg rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
If you are really, really interested in the Vietnam war, you should read this book; it's fascinating. If you aren't and 700 pages of non-fiction is not your thing, then stay away. It's long and detailed, and the pay-off is a new understanding of the long slide into war.

I'm quite interested, and I loved it. As a Baby Boomer (born near the end of the boom years), the Vietnam war was the backdrop to my childhood. My father, a military doc, spent a year there, and the war or war protests were alway
...more
Tom Marshall
Jun 11, 2014 Tom Marshall rated it it was amazing
Simply an outstanding book. Insightful, colorful, expertly researched (with ample citations which lead to numerous websites with tremendous videos and linked works) and exceptionally well-written with an engaging narrative style.

If you are going to read only two works on the Wars of Vietnam (but don't just limit yourself to two!), it's this and Neil Sheehan's "A Bright Shining Lie."
The two best narrative histories on the Indochina Wars, and two exquisite works of history.
Jerome
Sep 27, 2012 Jerome rated it it was amazing
This book was especially interesting to me because I was enlisted in the USMC the fall of 1954. At the time, even though I was stationed in Japan, we knew nothing about Vietnam or what was going on in Washington DC or how close we came to going into North Vietnam. Armed forces radio, the only radio station available kept us in the dark. Thanks to Winston Churchill England would not play along with the American Commie phobic war mongers and we stayed where we were for ten years.
Steve
Nov 04, 2015 Steve rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book. A very good description of the events and individuals that shaped not only the 20th century but a wonderful and detailed account of the machinations behind the war in Indochina. Having been drafted into the Army during the first Nixon presidency I saw immediately the reasoning behind our government's continued support of the debacle that came to be known as Vietnam. It is also interesting to see the parallels in this country's and our government's mindset that are quite appa ...more
Stevemid
Aug 20, 2014 Stevemid rated it it was amazing


Along with the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam war was the seminal event of my life. Although our ability to help to end the war gave us a sense of power, the disillusionment regarding America's involvement in the war hangs like a cloud over my generation. Why were we there? How did we get is so wrong? What could we have done differently?

Embers of War answers those questions with in depth, documented research into history of the war and all the players on Vietnamese, French, and US sides, and
...more
Kelly
Aug 23, 2013 Kelly rated it it was amazing
Fredrik Logevall covers the rise of Ho Chi Minh, the First Indochina War, and the political intrigue that eventually led to America’s full military commitment in Vietnam. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel like an expert after you’ve read it; comprehensive, authoritative, lucid, and tight as a drum.
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Why didn't Ho Chi Minh abandon Communism 1 4 Nov 18, 2015 08:16AM  
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“Even those who saw only a part of the country witnessed so much that was new to them—the vast deltas, the astonishingly eroded limestone peaks, the sand-dune coastal forests, the forest mosaics and savannalike grassland. Many wrote home with vivid descriptions of the flora and fauna, the countless species they had never seen before. Many commented on the sheer luster of the place, of the seemingly infinite number of shades of green, in the rice paddies, the grasses, the palms, the rubber trees with their green oval leaves, the pine trees on faraway hills.” 1 likes
“It will be a war between an elephant and a tiger. If the tiger ever stands still the elephant will crush him with his mighty tusks. But the tiger does not stand still. He lurks in the jungle by day and emerges only at night. He will leap upon the back of the elephant, tearing huge chunks from his hide, and then he will leap back into the dark jungle. And slowly the elephant will bleed to death. That will be the war of Indochina.”39” 0 likes
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