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

4.44  ·  Rating details ·  1,258 Ratings  ·  202 Reviews

Written with the style of a great novelist and the intrigue of a Cold War thriller, Embers of War is a landmark work that will forever change your understanding of how and why America went to war in Vietnam. Tapping newly accessible diplomatic archives in several nations, Fredrik Logevall traces the path that led two Western nations to tragicall
Paperback, 864 pages
Published January 14th 2014 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published August 2012)
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Michael Finocchiaro
It is entirely unsurprising that Logevall swept nearly every history award with Embers of War. It is highly readable and incredibly enlightening. Having had a stepdad who was a Vietnam vet, I have become increasingly interested in the history of the war and this book provides a peerless view of the context and origins of the conflict. Each of the primary actors is described in realistic detail. I learned a lot about the country itself of which I was completely ignorant and I was fascinated by th ...more
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vietnam-war
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
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Christopher Saunders
Many books and documentaries explore the origins of America's tragic involvement in Vietnam, but few as thoroughly (and damningly) as Fredrik Logevall's Embers of War. Unlike most other historians of the conflict, Logevall successfully adapts a multinational perspective, giving insight into not only American but Vietnamese, French, British and Chinese perspectives on Indochina's "10,000 Day War." Logevall shows France's ill-advised, blundering efforts to reinstate colonial hegemony after WII; th ...more
James Wilhelm
Oct 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sean Smart
Jul 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating history of the last decade of the French Empire in Indo-China and the beginning of the American involvement. Very good section on the Battle of Dien Bien Phu
Apr 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: war-vietnam
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
Dec 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Oct 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Columbia Warren
Apr 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a tremendously well-written, well-researched, and well-argued book. For an American audience, this is a valuable "prequel" to our Vietnam War. The writing is excellent and the book lays out the story of the French involvement in Vietnam, culminating in the devastating war, all the while weaving in the story of the growing American involvement. The book also presents multiple perspectives, giving the reader a greater understanding of why and how the Viet Minh were successful in winning ov ...more
Chin Joo
Mar 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vietnam
The Vietnam War has received extensive studies and spawn a great many books. Most of them focus on the USA's involvement in what the Vietnamese called the Second Vietnam War. Much less emphasis has been given to the First Vietnam War, that between the French and the Vietnamese. This excellent book goes a long way in adding to the small body of literature and does it with style.

The story started in the Second World War. Then, the French had to content with the Japanese. The Japanese wanted to be
Mike Kershaw
Dec 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tom Culhane
Sep 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those involved in the 60s, military people, history buffs w/ interests in Southeast Asia
Shelves: non-fiction
Well researched and sweeping in scope, this book was provided to me by the publisher as part of 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
May 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.”
Stan Smith
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Encyclopedic treatment of the Vietnamese independence movement during the period from 1945 to the end of the Kennedy presidency. The lesson both the French and the Americans seemed to fail in understanding was that the war had to be won politically if it would ever be won at all. A good read, but kind of depressing considering the incalculable cost in lives and treasure that got paid out for this misunderstanding in a place of (in hindsight) questionable strategic importance.
Jonathan Parts
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Detailed and impartial account of the French involvement, and eventual United States involvement in Vietnam War. Beautifully written.
Jon Frankel
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Andrew Tollemache
Jan 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
“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
Bryn Dunham
Apr 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Very good book about the origins of America's involvement in Vietnam. My only complaint is the author's personal political attitudes occasionally seep into the writing- a tad overly critical of French colonial policies; America's anti-communist expansion stance and his quasi sympathy for Ho Chi Minh and other Commies. Otherwise very enlightening. Glad I read it for I feel more educated on how Vietnam became such a quagmire.
Julian Haigh
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Don Thompson
Apr 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent book that deserved the Pulitzer Prize Fredrik Logevall won in 2013. I've read many books about the Vietnam War, but most have dealt with the war during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. This book examines the decades that led to the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Logevall writes about the opportunities Ho Chi Minh offered the U.S. to support Vietnam's quest for independence from France and the conundrum that presented to FDR's administration. While supportive of the quest ...more
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Why didn't Ho Chi Minh abandon Communism 1 10 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
“Try as U.S. officials might to get him to broaden his government, to show more sensitivity to the needs of his people, to show greater tolerance for the expression of political opposition, they got nowhere. Instead Diem, his utter confidence in his own political instincts wholly unimpaired, turned increasingly inward, relying almost exclusively on an ever-shrinking circle of confidants headed by his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu. More than ever, personal loyalty, rather than ability and efficiency, became the criterion for promotion and reward.” 1 likes
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