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 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  969 ratings  ·  52 reviews
This work, based on FitzGerald's own research & travels, takes us inside Vietnam into the traditional, ancestor-worshiping villages & the corrupt crowded cities, into the conflicts between Communists & anti-Communists, Catholics & Buddhists, generals & monks & reveals the country as seen thru Vietnamese eyes. With a clear authority unrivaled by othe...more
Hardcover, 505 pages
Published August 1972 by Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown & Company (Boston/Toronto)
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Michael Brady
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
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...more
Sep 19, 2007 Ronando rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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...more
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
Czarny Pies
Jul 28, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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...more
Julian Friend
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...more
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
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
Jim Brennan
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!
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
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.
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
I lived throughit and it's surprising how little of this I knew before I read this. Wow!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
An in-depth look at the key figureheads and their influence on the outcomes of the Vietnam war. The first chapter on Vietnamese culture was very good, but the rest of the book was much more difficult to get through. Some of the prose is very nice, but sometimes it is very dull. A hit and miss book I think. But overall, has very good insight on the war.
It's hard to rate this book - it's very well written, and engaging, and thought-provoking. But it's really really long, and not as timely as it was when it first came out. At the time, I'm sure I'd rate it higher, but now it's a book I put down, having exhausted my interest in the inner workings of small Viet Nam villages in the 1960s after 400 pages.
An excellent study of Vietnamese history and traditional culture and the many ways the USA misunderstood and ignored them. An insightful analysis of what happened before and during American involvement in Vietnam, all the more compelling and impressive when you realize that FitzGerald wrote the work before we exited from Saigon and the country.
This is good in so far as a History Lesson, but for the most part it comes off as stuffy and too much about statistics and strategy than telling the "story" of what happened. I felt like I was reading stereo instructions during many points in this book. I wouldn't call it bad, but I would only recommend this one to hardcore history/war buffs.
Jim Talbott
This is an excellent book. Each time I thought the author was going to head into some kind of east vs. west essentialism, she caught herself, and tempered the judgement. The insights into social organization still seem fresh, and it is hard not to read the book without thinking of recent US engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan in mind.
You have the read about the 1st Vietnam War to understand how we ended up there. This book gives your all the culture details why neither the French or the Americans whas going to make any significant changes there, and why the Vietnam people seemed indifferant sometimes to our helpl. A must read.
Let me second the remarks of my astute friend and colleague, Melissa Slaymaker. Fitzgerald's book seems to have been forgotten by this generation's scholars on Vietnam. That's a shame. The book demonstrates conclusively how and why the United States was on the wrong side of history in Indochina.
It is a calm and rational look at the vietnam conflict showing how the culture of the people and ignorance there of played a huge role in the debacle. She also makes some interesting analasis that are valid for West Africa and I bet most countries that were under colonial rule.
UWCSEA Libraries
Published in 1972 - before the war was even over - an amazing account of the clash of cultures engaged in conflict in Vietnam in the 1950s and 1960s. Fitzgerald was only in her 30s when she wrote this, but she was well placed to write this perceptive and detailed history.
Wonderfully insightful and engagingly written book about the delusions that led US leaders to commit American ground and air forces to war in Vietnam.
Triple Crown winner: Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and Bancroft Prize. Not too many of them.
Adam Koebel
1) Confucianism is so alien to the way my western brain thinks.

2) The Vietnam war was some fucked up shit in ways I didn't even know. Like, surreal culture-ignorant ways.

3) This book was dense as fuck.
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“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.” 2 likes
“... 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
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