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Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam
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Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam

4.04  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,388 Ratings  ·  65 Reviews
This landmark work, based on Frances FitzGerald's own research and travels, takes us inside Vietnam-into the traditional, ancestor-worshiping villages and the corrupt crowded cities, into the conflicts between Communists and anti-Communists, Catholics and Buddhists, generals More... and monks -and reveals the country as seen through Vietnamese eyes. With a clarity and auth ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published July 17th 2002 by Back Bay Books (first published August 1972)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,732)
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Sep 19, 2007 Ronando rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Vietnam buffs
Shelves: history
This book is like drinking from a firehose!

I am taking the entire year of 2007 to study Vietnam. "Fire in the Lake" is my 7th book and thank god I read the other ones first. There is so much information in this book that you will be blown away by just the shere volume of the history and politics surrounding Vietnam.

Frances Fitzgerald does a thorough job of dissecting Vietnam and presenting it to the reader all the way down to the perspective of the captured NLF soldier, the peasant villager tha
May 25, 2015 Kay rated it liked it
Oh, how I wish this was not the first history I read of the Vietnam war. Having lived through the era, I had a naive hope that I would have some basic understanding of events and would be able to follow the author's arguments reasonably well. I was wrong. Another reviewer here likened reading Fire in the Lake to drinking from a fire hose, and I wholeheartedly agree. FitzGerald unleashes a torrent of statistics, quotes, and scholarship embedded in a rigorous sociological perspective and never let ...more
Michael Brady
Jul 28, 2013 Michael Brady rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, leadership
One day in the late 1970s, while attending the University of North Dakota, I was told by an older student who had spent his youth and his innocence as an American GI "busting his hump" across South Vietnam, that this was the best book ever written about America's involvement in Southeast Asia. Here I am, some 40 years later, much older than he was then, finally learning the truth of his sage advice. "Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam" is thoughtful, incisive, and pass ...more
David Fox
Jun 28, 2015 David Fox rated it it was amazing
Nam’s Bad Habit

I first became aware of Fire in the Lake shortly after it received the 1973 Pulitzer Prize. Knowing that it was the definitive political/social/cultural history of modern Viet Nam I purchased it immediately. I then proceeded to carry it around with me, packing & un-packing it for the next 20 years, without once cracking it open to even purview it. Disappointed with my resolve I sold it in a garage sale. Move forward another 15 years or so & I see it marked down in a book s
Dec 23, 2015 Monica rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian, historical, vietnam

"Frances FitzGerald was not quite 32 years of age when her first book, Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (1972), was published to immediate and extraordinary praise. Fire in the Lake was hailed for its "stunning clarity" by one reviewer and as "one of the best descriptions and analyses of Vietnam ever published in English" by another. TIME magazine was impressed that she had achieved "so fresh a blend of compassion and intelligence," and even the co
Jan 27, 2015 James rated it it was amazing
Written as the Vietnam War was ongoing, it takes the time to examine the Vietnamese and their national psyche without losing perspective. I assumed that it would reflect the immediate bias and make assumptions of reader knowledge, but the author avoided that.
Oct 29, 2014 Tripp rated it it was amazing
An outstanding book of history that remains relevant years after it was published. Fitzgerald skewers the American approach to war in Vietnam. She shows how poorly the country understood the war it was fighting. They misunderstood the role of the S Vietnamese government, the role of ARVN and the motivation to join the NLF. In a severe case of mirror imaging, they acted as if the Vietnamese were just itching to turn into Junior Americans. The subservient role is critical, as the the Americans und ...more
Roxanne Russell
This was slow, dense going for me because I'm so ignorant about the Vietnam "war". We never could get that close to contemporary in history class. Even though I majored in American History in undergrad, I never took a class on it or covered it in much depth. So this is the first non-fiction book I've ever read about it. (The Things They Carried- a short story collection by Tim O-Brien about soldiers in Vietnam is one of the best books I've ever read.)
Fitzgerald taught me a lot with this book and
Czarny Pies
Aug 30, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those interested in the Viet Nam War
Recommended to Czarny by: Won the Pulitzer Prize and received extensive press coverage.
I added one star to my review of this book after reading several of the Good Read reviews below. It is my belief that this book will not age well because it was written at a time when all the relevant archival material would have still been classified. Eventually a better history will be written. However, this book opened the discussion with brilliance and thus has done us all a great service.

The great virtue of "Fire in the Lake" which appeared while the Viet Nam war was still going in is that
Julian Friend
Aug 01, 2011 Julian Friend rated it really liked it
Parts of this are extremely satisfying. Her understanding of the Buddhist resistance is lucid...from its early verve to its suicidal dissipation. Her use of the Prospero and Caliban analogy is very compelling. Parts get tediously mired in detail. Good on her for being thorough, but some of this stuff doesn't age so well. Vietnamese politics is not so interesting when dissected so, and she is at times redundant.

She's remarkably impartial in describing American behavior, but less so when describin
Feb 08, 2010 Ben rated it it was amazing
This book is superb. I hesitated for a moment to give it five stars because it's so dense that at times I had to motivate myself to keep plowing through, but how could an in-depth analysis of the cultural, political, economic, military and other aspects of the relationship between the U.S. and South Vietnam in the Vietnam War era not be heavy reading? I'd never heard of the book or of Fitzgerald before (not my fault, he says hopefully: I was born in 1983), but picked it up in advance of a 3-week ...more
Jun 24, 2016 Kenneth rated it really liked it
This impressive, magisterial book on the Vietnam War seems like a suitable end, for now, to this particular reading phase of mine. It's quite a remarkable book and incredibly information-rich but you pay a price: it's very dense and not a straightforward read. It does strike me as entirely worthy of its Pulitzer.
Jun 16, 2015 P. rated it really liked it
Absolutely fascinating. I'm glad I didn't look at the title page prior to completely reading the book -- my "priors" might have changed my reading of the book had I realized when it was written. I can certainly see how this informed the design of the eponymous game by GMT.
Jan 07, 2014 Nate263 rated it liked it
There is a lot of high quality, first hand information here obscured by a cloud of pretension and overly indirect language. She is not is a very friendly writer. I was also underwhelmed by her overly cultural interpretation of Vietnamese actions during the war. Often things that could easily be explained by mere rational self-interest were chalked up to the utterly foreign and un-Western way of thinking of the Vietnamese. On the other hand I appreciated her uncompromising condemnation of US poli ...more
David Barie
Nov 20, 2013 David Barie rated it it was amazing
This landmark history details Vietnam from the cultural, historical and sociological perspective of the Vietnamese, beginning with its patriarchal, Confucian, collectivist beginnings in traditional villages, through its lack of any national identity through the French colonial period , continuing through the power vacuum left by the defeat of the Japanese in World War II that led to the establishment of North Vietnam, and the de facto creation of a corrupt South Vietnamese civilian and military ...more
Apr 01, 2016 Joanne rated it it was amazing
This book is so important to all of us whose lives were changed by Vietnam and our involvement. It is non-fiction and complex, but gives us insight into current involvements, like Iraq. It is not an easy read at all, and is very disturbing. Recommendation came from Jo Taylor.
Jim Brennan
Mar 12, 2014 Jim Brennan rated it it was amazing
I was in the Marine Corps at the same time she was writing about Viet Nam. I realize now that I knew next to nothing about the country or its culture. I guess 40 yrs late is better than never!
Jun 14, 2011 Anthony rated it really liked it
This forgotten classic is an example of "journalistic" history done right. Once upon a time American journalists were well versed in history and not sycophants to those in power (See American media during running up of Iraq War). Despite claims of bias from conservative critics, I found that Fitzgerald was actually were pretty objective in her analysis of American foreign policy in Vietnam. It's funny how conservatives (and conservative readers on this site) slam Fitzgerald for attacking America ...more
Robert Morganbesser
Aug 14, 2014 Robert Morganbesser rated it really liked it
An excellent look at the people of Vietnam and how the US, in a ham handed way, never understood the people they were trying to help.
Aug 07, 2013 Emillybeth rated it liked it
This book had some interesting points but desperately needed an editor. So many typos and grammatically odd sentences, or sentences that start with prepositions. She frequently uses the exact same sentence format which becomes monotonous. While her thesis is interesting she has a habit of describing the Vietnamese peasant in a "noble savage" motif which is slightly... Uncouth. Otherwise, it was refreshing to read a different perspective on the war, which opens up new questions for American inter ...more
Aug 08, 2014 John rated it really liked it
I lived throughit and it's surprising how little of this I knew before I read this. Wow!
Mar 12, 2013 Witkinddavis rated it it was amazing
A superbly written analysis of what went wrong for the United States in the Vietnam War. That is to say, everything. Fire in the Lake was published in 1971. I was an anti-war student at the time and have often wondered if I misunderstood something at the time about our government's policy. Maybe there was justification I was not aware of. Nope. Frances Fitzgerald documents our ignorance, stupidity and ultimately our brutality against a people we were supposed to be defending from bad guys.
Dec 14, 2015 Dale rated it really liked it
The Vietnam War was the most significant event in that generation's lifetime. Thinking about it and looking back at it is like the inability of an individual not to stare at an accident. It also reflects a basic lack of understanding that cultures have developed as part of man's survival. Their individuality relates to different ways to cope with the environment. Not recognizing that uniqueness or difference does not reflect inferiority is key to us all being able to get along.
Aug 19, 2013 Esther rated it really liked it
A fascinating book. There were moments when I found some of it repetitive, but the points she makes bear repeating. I was disappointed that there's been no updating since the book was published in 1972; I imagine life in Vietnam is somewhat different now, and I wonder how, and how far back to or farther away the Vietnamese have come from where they were when they were forcibly divorced from their history.
Pachuban Picasso
May 09, 2011 Pachuban Picasso rated it it was amazing
This is a non-fiction, dispassionate, thorough telling, that made me cry in places and laugh, too, at the monumental absurdity. The book, bought second hand at a fantastic place called Once Read Books, in Mankato, Minnesota, literally fell apart as I read it. This was entirely due to the humidity of a Thai summer and my sauna of a sleeping room. One of the very, very best books I've ever read.
Jan 29, 2015 Sima rated it it was amazing
If you want to learn about Vietnam - culture and philosophy of life - and how the Vietnam war happened, this is THE book.

Beautifully written. And historically fascinating

I see why it won a Pulitzer....
Jul 15, 2010 Dr. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: general-history
Seriously eye opening history of the cultural, political, and diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and South Vietnam in the war years. A truly damning account that could almost be about what is happening now in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's almost eery in that respect.

It's pretty dense too, but not dry. Just a whole lot of info and a whole lot of pages. Be prepared.
Aug 06, 2015 Lanier rated it it was amazing
There is so much we misconstrued about the people, culture and historical bounds before the main negative interactions with Vietnam. This book has not only taught me a great deal about a country I loved living in, but about my next destination, China. The more you learn about Vietnamese history, inevitably the more you gain insights into China.
Jun 29, 2013 Willem rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Fascinating read even after more than forty years since publication. In 1972 the author couldn't foresee the disappointment and misery (not to mention death toll) the take-over by North Vietnam would later cause. So politically it seems sort of naive left wing, although the rest of the book, the historical and cultural content is very sophisticated.
May 04, 2011 Cindy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Learned a lot when I read this book and did not find the information dated at all. When US went to war in Iraq my first thought was that we're repeating the mistakes of Vietnam all over again, especially when it comes to not understanding the cultural history of the people we're supposedly defending. Are we defending them? Or are we colonizing them?
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“... a real program of social and economic reform [in Vietnam] would have involved a real conflict ... between the peasants ... and the landlords and the city people... [it] was difficult ... because it required a concern for the peasants ... it was those capacities ... its American supporters lacked.” 2 likes
“In his failure Nhu had withdrawn so far into himself that in the end his face was a mask that no longer opened onto the real world.” 1 likes
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