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Publisher's Summary

In this comprehensive history, Stanley Karnow demystifies the tragic ordeal of America's war in Vietnam. The book's central theme is that America's leaders, prompted as much by domestic politics as by global ambitions, carried the United States into Southeast Asia with little regard for the realities of the region. Karnow elucidates the decision-making process in Washington and Asia, and recounts the political and military events that occurred after the Americans arrived in Vietnam. Throughout, he focuses on people: those who shaped strategy and those who suffered, died, or survived as a result.

Panoramic in scope, and filled with fresh revelations drawn from secret documents and from exclusive interviews with hundreds of participants on both sides, Vietnam: A History transcends the past and contains lessons relevant to the present and future.

©1997 WBGH Educational Foundation and Stanley Karnow (P)1998 Blackstone Audio Inc.

Critic Reviews

"This is history writing at its best." (Chicago Sun Times)
"[T]he best journalist writing on Asian affairs." (Newsweek)
"Even those of us who think we know something about [the Vietnam War] will read with fascination." (New York Times)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

As stunning as it was engaging

Having been born in the mid 70’s almost no one ever wanted to discuss the Vietnam war in my household. As a result, my entire knowledge of Vietnam prior to reading this book came from Hollywood movies. Yet no movie could capture the mystery, intrigue, confusion and frustration of the real story. Karnow’s point of view is clear and objective. Having listened to the entire book, I still can’t tell you his personal opinions about Vietnam. His research includes interviews and commentary from American, South and North Vietnamese. His treatment of all sides appears to be firm, but not hypocritical. He does not indulge himself in Monday morning quarterbacking, but instead illuminates the reasoning at the time for the actions that were taken.

The book is also comprehensive. Starting with ancient Vietnam and leading up to the modern age, the listener experiences the whole of Vietnam’s history. Having listened and reflected on the book for a long time, it is one of the most satisfying I have ever heard.

35 of 36 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A Must Read Even For a Vet.

I learned so much from this book, even though I lived through it (1967-1969)and at one of the big pushes by the viet cong against the whole country - 'The Big '68 'TET' offensive'. I have listened to all 4 parts over and over and have learn something new every time. The amazing history of this country and the way this country (USA) just kepted on getting in deeper and deeper. The author has done a "fantastic job" on putting together the history of a place I knew so little of at the young age of 20 - Thank you.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Excellent Narrator

First I should say that the narrator does an excellent job of evoking the speaking styles of various real personalities - LBJ, Nixon, Kissinger, etc. - without stooping to an imitation of their accents.

At one point the book quotes an American in 1990s Vietnam saying, "Vietnam is a country, not a war." Despite its title this book is a history of the US war in Vietnam, not the country itself. The author takes care to switch back and forth between different perspectives - the US government, the North Vietnamese leadership, US soldiers, and occasionally the Chinese and Soviet governments. But these are detours; the focus generally stays on the US presidents and their top advisors from start to finish. Not having been alive at the time, I felt that I learned quite a bit about the reasons for the US actions from start to finish. By claiming to stick to the perceptions of the White House, the author often avoids making his own interpretations. For example, he describes at least four occasions over several years when Robert McNamara visited Vietnam and each time reported that the US military was making no progress despite the enormous amount of money spent, ordinance expended, and Vietnamese killed. This is basically the central message of the book, but Karnow presents it not as his own view, but as that of successive White House cabinets. It's an approach with advantages and disadvantages, but it works overall.

I was irritated at first at how much time the "updated" first chapter of the book spends on discussing the first Gulf War - which the US had carried out just before this revised edition was published. Now I appreciate the out of date introduction: it shows that even the revised edition came out before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, so that the listener can be sure that the author didn't alter this Vietnam book to create parallels with the latest conflicts. Listening to this, I found the parallels going much further then I'd imagined possible.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • DavidGinger
  • Mountain View, CA, United States
  • 11-22-12

Definitive History of Vietnam - Outstanding!

I am an avid history buff, and most of my "listening" reading is historical. I first read Stanley Karnow's history of Vietnam when it was first published years ago, and it was terrific. So I was interested to reread it via Audible. I find myself learning different things when I listen to a historical work after reading it. I am even more appreciative of Karnow's work after my second go around! If you want to understand what Vietnam was all about, this is by far your best source.
Karnow was a journalist who spent a great deal of time in Vietnam, before, during and after the war. He gives the history and background of the country, going back centuries and including all the external forces that have plagued Vietnam through the ages. He spent lots of time with the people, and his interviews with major political and military figures from all sides - French, South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, Cambodian and of course American - are fascinating. His understanding and insights into the military and political strategies and machinations of all factions are amazing. This is an extremely well-researched book that is so well written that it is hard to put down. The narrator (Edward Holland) does a great job, too. He reads at a comfortable pace with a good story teller's involvement that has me convinced he is genuinely immersed in the material. One of the best histories I have experienced through Audible.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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

very well writen history by an eyewitness

What made the experience of listening to Vietnam the most enjoyable?

The author was a Vietnam correspondent beginning in 1959. He was there! He managed to get personal interviews with many of the top key players before and after the fall of Saigon laying out an extraordinary vista from the initial intercourse with Europeans to the deluge at the USA's ignoble retreat there. Beautifully done, verging on poetic at times. I may not agree with many of the conclusions he leads towards in this tome but it is well thought out and clearly expressed. Bravo! Well done!

The reader does an excellent job as well.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Adam
  • IRVING, TX, United States
  • 03-07-12

Good book

Overall the book was good. I especially liked the earlier part of the book that discussed the history of the region. I would have liked the book to have included more on the military (tactical and strategic) component and less on the diplomatic component, though this might be asking too much from a book on the Vietnam War. I definitely recommend this, as it may be one of the best books on the Vietnam War.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Armen
  • BROOMALL, PA, USA
  • 02-04-08

Expected More

I have read a great deal about the Vietnam War - and lived through it. So, I always wanted to read this book. I am sad to say that the book falls short of its reputation. So mch of it is official issue and even worse, there is hardly any historical context. Try the book by Neil Sheehan.

22 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Comprehensive, but not a complete history.

The new edition of this classic is a welcome update to the original, adding insightful color from interviews and observations from the 80's and 90's. Karnow focuses primarily on the American period, with the French era playing second fiddle, a nod to early Chinese days, and nothing at all about post-1975 China and Cambodia engagements. The original text, whilst maintaining a basis of structure for the new edition, has been almost entirely re-written.
The first few chapters provide a look at Vietnam as seen by Karnow during the two decades after the American war.

The American narrator has a pleasing voice and reads at a comfortable pace, however he has, in most cases, not learned the correct pronunciation for Vietnamese people and place names before taking on this project. This is grating right from the very beginning, and significantly impacted my listening experience. I imagine this matter would not be an issue for most non-Vietnamese, though.

Whilst serious students of Vietnamese history and culture should access a great many different sources to fully understand this country and its people, Stanley Karnow's Vietnam is without doubt THE essential primer for anybody wishing to offer a credible opinion in public forums where continued debate about the "Vietnam War" rages on.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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

Definitive

Would you consider the audio edition of Vietnam to be better than the print version?

Yes it is, very easy to listen to, the names and places are difficult to read, but easy on the ear.

What other book might you compare Vietnam to and why?

Any WWII books by Martin Gilbert, or Stalingrad, Stanley Beevor

Have you listened to any of Edward Holland’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Good grief no, way too long. Best ingested in small doses.

Any additional comments?

Absolutely the definitive history of Vietnam, up to 1975ish

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Know History - or be doomed to repeat it

Karnow's book is a masterpiece. Sweeping in scope, it takes the listener from the earliest known history of Vietnam through colonialism's darkest times and up through the years immediately after the Vietnam War (with the United States). It is deeply detailed and draws intimate and moving portraits of many of the important people over the last 100 years - Vietnamese, American and French. Karnow's journalistic credentials serve his telling well. The interviews are amazingly revealing of motivations and character. One wonders if the Bush White House had only really understood this history if the United States would have made the serious foreign policy mistakes of the last 8 years. The reader does a superb job of capturing the passion of this story. Highly recommended.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful