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Vietnam: A History

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  6,705 ratings  ·  285 reviews
“A landmark work…The most complete account to date of the Vietnam tragedy.” –The Washington Post Book World

This monumental narrative clarifies, analyzes, and demystifies the tragic ordeal of the Vietnam war. Free of ideological bias, profound in its undertsanding, and compassionate in its human portrayals, it is filled with fresh revelations drawn from secret documents and
Paperback, 784 pages
Published June 26th 1997 by Penguin Books Ltd. (first published October 1983)
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Peter I agree on the Ken Burns series--too little and too late. There are lots of great books on Viet Nam.

I found Francis FitzGerald's 1972 "Fire in the La…more
I agree on the Ken Burns series--too little and too late. There are lots of great books on Viet Nam.

I found Francis FitzGerald's 1972 "Fire in the Lake" a very helpful history of Vietnam. Its full of information of philosophy, political history, differences between the US and Vietnamese ways of thinking. It is less about the war than about what created the war.

On the war front, I found Mark Bowden's "Hue 1968" to be a powerful description of perhaps the most important battle of the war.

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May 31, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: vietnam-war
The bookshelves lining every wall of my office attest to the many different historical topics that have interested me over the years. There are books on the Romans, the Zulus, and the Irish. A history of Israel leans against a biography of Woodrow Wilson. An entire shelf is sagging beneath my recent fascination with World War I. There are more books about Nazis than I’m proud to admit.

Curiously lacking from what I humbly perceive to be a wide-ranging selection of topics, are books about the Vie
Mar 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war-vietnam
This book is probably the essential one for any person interested in learning the history of the Vietnam War. It's a reread for me. I also recommend the PBS series that goes along with it. The saddest part is all of the missed opportunities, many that I had forgotten about.

General Giap had been embittered by the death of his young wife in a French jail along with her infant child. Her sister was guillotined in Saigon for terrorism during the war with the French.

The Cao Dai cult was founded in
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Is this a good book? It depends on what you're looking for. This book has many merits: It is comprehensive, it attempts to explain Vietnamese history, and it is full of on the spot interviews and remembrances. This remains the basic history text of record on American involvement in Vietnam. There is a breadth of perspective here that is lacking in many accounts of this most up-close and personal of wars.

He spends more time discussing North Vietnam's "insane" economic policies and the Communist m
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
Karnow presents a spectacular historical look at the War in Vietnam and how things got out of hand for numerous US Administrations. It also gives an excellent historical context of where things went wrong and how the war that seemed so simple on paper went so wrong. It was, truly, one that tore a nation apart and divided generations of Americans, still healing from the Second and Korean Wars. Karnow uses his journalistic abilities to properly place Vietnam in the larger scale of things and to sh ...more
Nov 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I recently watched the excellent Ken Burns PBS Documentary on Vietnam and wanted to learn more about the war. This book was written by a journalist who covered Asia from 1959 thru 1974. Due to his honest, thorough reporting of the Vietnam War, he gained a place on Nixon's "Master List of Nixon's Political Opponents". He began writing this book in the 1980's and, as part of his research, interviewed many of the key players on both sides of the conflict. It's a very well written book and a great o ...more
Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam; A History is a monumental undertaking for both the author and the reader tracing the history of Vietnam and its quest for freedom through the ages up until the 1980’s when the book was published.

Karnow is well qualified to write this text, with a career reporting on Vietnam that dates back to the 1950’s . I was impressed with the interviews he did to write the book in many cases interview people who fought on both sides of a battle. It was enlightening to read the Nort
Nov 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
At around 270,000 words, Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam – A History is something of a monster, as is its subject. Even those who did not live through the era when reports of the conflict dominated most international news, the title itself is still probably recognised as something iconic, something that sums up the third quarter of the twentieth century. The word iconic would be inaccurate, however. Icons are small images that suggest something bigger. Vietnam, as a subject, as a reality, was always a ...more
Erik Graff
Apr 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: US citizens
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Although I grew up during and was significantly affected by the invasion of Vietnam by the USA, although I had been substantially active in opposing the war and had read a great deal of material on the subject, this is the first real history of Vietnam I have completed.

It is not a perfect history. Based on research Karnow had conducted for a multipart, award-winning television documentary, it is too focused on the United States to constitute a real history of Vietnam. Further, his treatment is s
This is a big one. It was the basis of one of the best documentary series' ever broadcast: "Vietnam: A Television History" on PBS in the early '80s. It was one of the great multi-part limited series, like Ken Burns' "The Civil War" or "Eyes on the Prize (I&II)".
I had this book in my collection for at least 15 years before finally tackling it almost two years ago. I found the earlier parts of the book more fascinating, the long history of Vietnam, its culture and rulers and politics and the unfor
Jul 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to David by: an expert
Shelves: read-history
When I asked an expert for the best book about Vietnam, this is the one he recommended. It is great. It has the full sweep and pageantry of history. However, if you are the type of person who gets a headache when they watch a country do something incredibly stupid in slow motion, then DON'T read this book. ...more
James Steele
Jul 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
"Colonial policy is the daughter of industrial policy." --Jules Ferry

"I respect those who have fallen bravely, but they have reaped what they have sown. ... They attack the Vietnamese, violate their rights, then call them murderers when they defend themselves." --contemporary of captain Henri Rivière, 1883

You only have to read the first two chapters to understand the origins of the conflict in Vietnam, and why it should never have happened.

Most if not all of the world's present conflicts have th
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very impressive journalistic piece of work that is very well written. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to get an overview of the subject.

It is just mindboggling to think, as painful of an experience the Vietnam War was for the United States, what the toll was like on Vietnam. Vietnam was a battlefield at the end of WW2, went through a war with France for another 8 years, then with varying levels of American involvement was at war for another 20 years. Between 1 and 2 million Vietnamese l
Nov 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, appalling, and all too relevant. Karnow begins with the earliest colonial era in Indochina, and takes you all the way up to the last helicopter leaving Saigon. Written in an engaging, polished prose that nonetheless lets some passion through as Americans again and again can't let go of illusions and walk away from a bad situation of their own making.

I learned many things I hadn't understood at all before - how deep French cultural roots ran in Viet Nam, role of Catholics, Buddhists
Ian Kemp
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A very detailed study of not just the military dimension but the underlying political motivations and manoeuvers which created and sustained the 'vietnam war'. The author has a mature but never cynical position which not surprisingly exposes the unprincipled actions of the few that created suffering for the many.

Only one thing about this book shocked me - the resonance and even clear parallels with actions in our own decade with the US offensive in Iraq. The book exposes a litany of distortion,
M.L. Rio
A more accurate subtitle for this book might be 'A Political History.' Nonetheless epic, Karnow manages to chronicle the conflicts that culminated with the North Vietnamese takeover of Saigon in 1975 with impressive narrative clarity. For anyone hoping to make sense of how the undeclared Vietnam war came about and eventually unraveled, this is essential reading (and Karnow makes no bones about it: intractable political egos were largely to blame). However, the more harrowing conflicts on the gro ...more
Feb 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: hookah
for a war with as much impact on the national consciousness as Vietnam, it's amazing to discover here on Goodreads that this is The--not 'A'--history of the Vietnam War. one would think given all the television, movies, national discourse about the subject, that there are several histories, but apparently this is it--one book. how do we explain an America that was officially segregated, confident, "winner of two world wars" of the 1950s, (if, externally, gray-flannel suited and Organization Man- ...more
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, war
This is an amazing book. I loved how it started at the end--in this moment in history when Vietnam is something we see the effects of casually every day. Karnow opens with a series of observations about how Vietnam has colored the political view of Americans today. There are photographs of the VN Memorial, veterans marching on (and at) Washington, families fleeing VN and American families fostering VN people... I remember growing up with Vietnamese kids in class and wondering what their deal was ...more
Oct 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Stanley Karnow was a journalist before and during America's war in Vietnam, so he comes at his subject with all the biases of his era, his job and his country (and admits as much in his Prologue), yet he still manages, for the most part, to present a balanced view of the history he is undertaking -- a history of Vietnam's wars rather than America's Vietnam War.

The title suggests that the book is going to be a history of Vietnam, an informative overview of its entire history. The title is mislead
Dec 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is very thorough and well-written history of Vietnam, although it is largely presented in the context of America's involvement in the Vietnam War. While there is some great background about Vietnam's deeper history and a good overview of the French involvement in Indochina, this book's strength lies in the incredible information provided about the political and military decisions and actions of the U.S., the South Vietnam regimes, the Viet Cong, and the North Vietnam government. For anyone ...more
Dec 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The concluding line of the Goodreads/publisher's blurb, "Vietnam: A History puts events and decisions into such sharp focus that we come to understand – and make peace with – a convulsive epoch of our recent history," does a fair job of summing up the work for me. I was taken back repeatedly to snippets of the evening news and comments from my Air Force brethren that, from time to time, made us all wonder whether our country could stand up to the stresses. A half century later it is probably fai ...more
Larry Bassett
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, history, audio
I listened to this book in the audible format. I have read a lot of books about Vietnam but this one is quite different from most of them. This is not about the fighting in the jungles. The author was a journalist in Vietnam throughout the period when the US was fighting there. He has access to many of the events that he covers and the people who were a part of those events. He talk to many north Vietnam people in 1981. He covers what for most of us is the long-ago history of Vietnam to give som ...more
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Beginning with an informative history of Vietnam that goes back centuries and ending very abruptly with the fall of Saigon in 1975, this bulky tome predominantly deals with the internal disputes and intrigues within the United States government during America's involvement (administrations from Eisenhower to Ford). And that tends to be repetitious, and often not very interesting. A huge portion of this book details Lyndon Johnson's dealings. Only approximately 80 pages at the end focus on Nixon, ...more
Derek Blanchard
Jun 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Although I only started reading this for a history project, I loved to just keep reading it even though I didn’t need it anymore for the project. This book talked about how tough the Vietnam war was on soldiers and civilians. Powerful book that shows accurate descriptions with first hand accounts of what happened.
*only read up to page 595*
Shawn Gray
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it
But what happened afterward? How is Vietnam today impacted by this war? How is the US inpacted?
I've had this book on my shelf for years, and every time I would hear a newsman or politician draw parallels between the Vietnam War and our latest international entanglements I would think, "I really need to read that book..." It is clear that this conflict of 40 years ago has a great impact on foreign policy decisions of today, and I've always felt that my understanding of current affairs was compromised by my foggy notions about the Vietnam War.

Having spent a week studying this 700-page "monu
Jeff Jellets
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction

But the entire history of Vietnam is a series of lost opportunities that might have averted the worst.

Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History is a monster of a book, a dense 700-plus-page comprehensive history of the region that offers an overview of some 175 years of Vietnamese history before focusing in meticulous detail on the period from 1945 to 1975 when the Communist revolution began against the French and culminated in the defeat of the American-backed regime in Saigon some thirty years later
Elia Princess of Starfall
"They made a wasteland and called it peace"


The Vietnam War was a tragedy.

This was a war that no one won and that caused untold misery and agony for all involved from the PTSD stricken and traumatised soldiers of the US Army to the civilian populations of both the North and South regions of Vietnam who bore the true brunt of war time hardships, cruelties and deaths. This complex and bitter war, born from Vietnamese desire for independence for their long-oppressed country in 1945 and the
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
Substantial and erudite but splendidly and accessibly written. I was engrossed from the first page to the last. And I'm not a big of military history. Which is something I keep saying every time I review the book on military history that I've just voluntarily read. Might be something to the apparent discrepancy.

I'm not sure when I'll give a better review of this. I just set it aside about 4 minutes ago and it ends with the communists rolling into Saigon. I cannot stop thinking about a scene from
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it

Oct 3, 2012

I bought this book when i was in Hanoi traveling Vietnam for the first time. There was a used-book store on the Old Quarter.
My father had joined the Vietnam war before i was born. I had a remote memory about it.

"You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours, but even at those odds, you will lose and I will win." Ho Chi Minh
This aptly summarizes the war which actually started when Vietnam people started fighting against their French colonizers decades earlier.

The US was
May 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
A good book, giving an overview history from the first missionaries to the North Vietnamese/Vietcong taking Saigon. It gives a good background of the nationalistic feeling of the Vietnamese along with the French and American involvement in the country. Like all books it isn't perfect, leaving more questions than it answers, but it does give you a more balanced look at Vietnam and the war. It doesn't say either side was right, and gives information about how many missed opportunities there were t ...more
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VietNam 1 3 Feb 05, 2019 05:13PM  
How to Know all History of Vietnam 1 8 May 18, 2018 11:35PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Page Count - Stanley Karnow's 'Vietnam' (ISBN: 978-0-7126-5965-9) 3 179 Jun 20, 2016 05:33AM  

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Stanley Karnow was a well-respected American Journalist and Historian whose book "In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines" won him the coveted Pulitzer Prize for History. Karnow was a World War II veteran who graduated from Harvard and began his journalism career in the early 1950s. He is probably best known for his coverage of the Vietnam War.

Stanley Karnow died of congestive heart fail

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