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Publisher's Summary

Like Gettysburg, Stalingrad, Midway, and Tet, the battle at Dien Bien Phu - a strategic attack launched by France against the Vietnamese in 1954 after eight long years of war - marked a historic turning point. By the end of the 56-day siege, a determined Viet Minh guerrilla force had destroyed a large tactical French colonial army in the heart of Southeast Asia. The Vietnamese victory would not only end French occupation of Indochina and offer a sobering premonition of the US' future military defeat in the region but would also provide a new model of modern warfare in which size and sophistication didn't always dictate victory.

Before his death in Vietnam in 1967, Bernard Fall, a critically acclaimed scholar and reporter, drew upon declassified documents from the French Defense Ministry and interviews with thousands of surviving French and Vietnamese soldiers to weave a compelling account of the key battle of Dien Bien Phu. With Fall's thorough and insightful analysis, Hell in a Very Small Place has become one of the benchmarks in war reportage.

©1966 Bernard B. Fall (P)2016 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"A thorough account of a brave, sanguinary battle that has since turned out to have immense historic importance." ( The New Yorker)

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Arius
  • Annandale, VA United States
  • 09-30-16

The complete story of Dien Bien Phu

Would you listen to Hell in a Very Small Place again? Why?

It's likely I'll listen to this again - it's easy to miss something in a complex history, and this one more so than others. It's hard to remember what each unit is - something that is easily remedied in print and one of the few downsides of audiobooks.

What did you like best about this story?

The battle is famous but not well-discussed in most other sources. The detailed research is excellent and the analysis generally pretty good. It's the completeness of the relating of the battle's events that really makes this book worthwhile.

Which scene was your favorite?

Since there's very little to feel good about in this history, there really isn't a "favorite scene".

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

France's Stalingrad

Any additional comments?

The book's weaknesses as an audiobook include a non-adherence to linear time. Some parts of the story are told until the end and then we're returned to a point in the battle without quite recognizing how it meshes with what we just heard. This is less a problem when reading, but in an audiobook makes it hard to follow at times.

Still, it's not nearly as dry as it could have been and one appreciates the comprehensive nature of the book.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A tragic battle deliberately blundered into

What made the experience of listening to Hell in a Very Small Place the most enjoyable?

It was a memorable debriefing of a terrible affair, full of facts and tidbits and explanations as well as telling you if a certain point isn't known for certain, or if it is just believed to have happened in a certain way. I understood, witnesses to a massacre are hard to come by.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Hell in a Very Small Place?

I would say the most memorable moment for me, was that the USA was being asked to perform interdiction bombing around Dien Bien Phu, and we didn't.
We were the only ones who could have saved this disaster created by the French, and we didn't, and yet look what it cost us in the end.
Our reasons for not doing so seem shortsighted, as if our current politicians never, ever bother to learn from the mistakes that came before.

Which character – as performed by Robertson Dean – was your favorite?

I can't say which character was my favorite, I was well pleased from start to finish, although the story was deeply troubling whenever inaction or incompetence began to cost lives.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

It was stated that the soldiers had all along believed that the government of France with all it's resources, would help them defeat the Communists rebels, until the day when they realized they wouldn't.
To be gallant, patriotic and brave is one thing, and to die needlessly is quite another. In the face of one's imminent demise, that is a terrible dose of reality to try to deal with.

Any additional comments?

A tragic tale told without malice, telling of a battle that was deliberately blundered into.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • David
  • Spring, TX, United States
  • 08-08-17

awesome book

Very good account. I felt like I was there. the Author really brought it all together

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Dien Bien Phu

What made the experience of listening to Hell in a Very Small Place the most enjoyable?

The detail. Made you feel you were right there.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Hell in a Very Small Place?

The surrender. Poignant and what a shame so terrible a conflict brought on by imperialism.

Which scene was your favorite?

Sadly, it was the march to confinement and the horrible casualties rendered thereby. Previously, I had not known about this aspect of the battle.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Arresting and frustrating. In Viet Nam we made many of the same mistakes. What hubris not to have learned from this war what to do and what not to do.

Any additional comments?

One detail of interest missing: The Viet Ming executed the prostitute-nurses. The nurses were heroes. They should be honored with a memorial.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Robertson Dean is on point like always

Loved it. I read the Valley of Death a few years ago and this still seemed to have more information.

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A first rate chronicle of events...

most Americans, including this listener, seem to have only a name recognition familiarity. “Dien Bien Phu? Oh yeah, didn’t the French screw up and get hammered?” Well, thanks to Bernard Fall I now know that for sure...and so much more. Including the fact that they gave as good as they got. Most interesting to me was the incredible tenacity - and diversity- of the soldiers fighting for France. And as a career soldier myself, Few things stir the martial spirit more than a noble last stand against a determined and similarly courageous enemy. Hell in a Very Small Place delivers exactly that narrative. Excellent for both the serious student of military history or someone just wanting to dive into a Alamo/Thermopylae like struggle. Either way, I finished the book re-educated and now know this somewhat obscure but ferocious battle had world changing ramifications.

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Well written.

Well written story of the French battle in Viet Nam. Excellent narration too.

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    4 out of 5 stars

Great book! Sometimes difficult to follow.

This is a great book for the scholar or historian. Sometimes difficult to follow with the multitude of details but still worth the read. It is a gripping true story of not just the battle but of the higher echelons and views from the other side.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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History little known by Americans

This is a superb book i love history and finding this gem. I had heard of the battle and what it repressed but not the whole story. If you are a history buff this is a great addition to your library.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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Chien Thang Dien Bien Phu!

Had a hard time feeling bad for the French colonial forces. Really picked up towards the end as the fortress fell.

0 of 3 people found this review helpful