Valley of Death: Book summary and reviews of Valley of Death by Ted Morgan

Valley of Death

The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America into the Vietnam War

by Ted Morgan

Valley of Death by Ted Morgan X
Valley of Death by Ted Morgan
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Book Summary

Pulitzer Prize–winning author Ted Morgan has now written a rich and definitive account of the fateful battle that ended French rule in Indochina—and led inexorably to America’s Vietnam War. Dien Bien Phu was a remote valley on the border of Laos along a simple rural trade route. But it would also be where a great European power fell to an underestimated insurgent army and lost control of a crucial colony. Valley of Death is the untold story of the 1954 battle that, in six weeks, changed the course of history.

A veteran of the French Army, Ted Morgan has made use of exclusive firsthand reports to create the most complete and dramatic telling of the conflict ever written. Here is the history of the Vietminh liberation movement’s rebellion against French occupation after World War II and its growth as an adversary, eventually backed by Communist China. Here too is the ill-fated French plan to build a base in Dien Bien Phu and draw the Vietminh into a debilitating defeat—which instead led to the Europeans being encircled in the surrounding hills, besieged by heavy artillery, overrun, and defeated.

Making expert use of recently unearthed or released information, Morgan reveals the inner workings of the American effort to aid France, with Eisenhower secretly disdainful of the French effort and prophetically worried that “no military victory was possible in that type of theater.” Morgan paints indelible portraits of all the major players, from Henri Navarre, head of the French Union forces, a rigid professional unprepared for an enemy fortified by rice carried on bicycles, to his commander, General Christian de Castries, a privileged, miscast cavalry officer, and General Vo Nguyen Giap, a master of guerrilla warfare working out of a one-room hut on the side of a hill. Most devastatingly, Morgan sets the stage for the Vietnam quagmire that was to come.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Book of the Week. Pulitzer-winning journalist Morgan (Reds) synergizes a comprehensive spectrum of overlooked sources in this magisterial analysis of the 1954 French defeat at Dien Bien Phu and its consequences." - Publishers Weekly

"This compelling narrative shows how the American-led Vietnam War repeated many of France's earlier mistakes. Highly recommended for all serious readers of military history." - Library Journal

"Starred Review. A superb portrait of battle and its reverberations beyond the fields of fire." - Kirkus Reviews

"In Valley of Death, Ted Morgan has made a significant contribution to the bookshelf of both history buff and general reader. Done in an easy, readable style, thoroughly researched, it is a story of the incredible blunders made by the French in their effort to maintain their colonial status in Indo-China from 1940 to mid 1954. It stands as a reminder of how easy it is for the Western countries to underestimate the will of "backward" peoples to fight for their freedoms both with self-sacrifice and intelligence. At the same time it is a very human story. It tells of people – of generals, diplomats, and most of all the soldiers and nurses on both sides at Dien Bien Phu who did the fighting and suffering. I was familiar with this story from the days when I assisted my father in writing his memoirs of the White House years. Nevertheless, Valley of Death game me insights and made the grim facts come to life." - John SD Eisenhower

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Author Information

Ted Morgan

Ted Morgan is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and the author of biographies of FDR, Churchill, and Maugham, the last of which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He is also the author of Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America, A Shovel of Stars: The Making of the American West—1800 to the Present, and Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of The North American Continent. He lives in New York City.

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