Embers of War: Book summary and reviews of Embers of War by Fredrik Logevall

Embers of War

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

by Fredrik Logevall

Embers of War

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Book Summary

The struggle for Vietnam occupies a central place in the history of the twentieth century. Fought over a period of three decades, the conflict drew in all the world's powers and saw two of them—first France, then the United States—attempt to subdue the revolutionary Vietnamese forces. For France, the defeat marked the effective end of her colonial empire, while for America the war left a gaping wound in the body politic that remains open to this day.

How did it happen? Tapping into newly accessible diplomatic archives in several nations and making full use of the published literature, distinguished scholar Fredrik Logevall traces the path that led two Western nations to lose their way in Vietnam. Embers of War opens in 1919 at the Versailles Peace Conference, where a young Ho Chi Minh tries to deliver a petition for Vietnamese independence to President Woodrow Wilson. It concludes in 1959, with a Viet Cong ambush on an outpost outside Saigon and the deaths of two American officers whose names would be the first to be carved into the black granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In between come years of political, military, and diplomatic maneuvering and miscalculation, as leaders on all sides embark on a series of stumbles that makes an eminently avoidable struggle a bloody and interminable reality.

Logevall takes us inside the councils of war—and gives us a seat at the conference tables where peace talks founder. He brings to life the bloodiest battles of France's final years in Indochina—and shows how from an early point, a succession of American leaders made disastrous policy choices that put America on its own collision course with history: Harry Truman's fateful decision to reverse Franklin Delano Roosevelt's policy and acknowledge France's right to return to Indochina after World War II; Dwight Eisenhower's strenuous efforts to keep Paris in the fight and his escalation of U.S. involvement in the aftermath of the humiliating French defeat at Dien Bien Phu; and the curious turnaround in Senator John F. Kennedy's thinking that would lead him as president to expand that commitment, despite his publicly stated misgivings about Western intervention in Southeast Asia.

An epic story of wasted opportunities and tragic miscalculations, featuring an extraordinary cast of larger-than-life characters, Embers of War delves deep into the historical record to provide hard answers to the unanswered questions surrounding the demise of one Western power in Vietnam and the arrival of another. This book will become the definitive chronicle of the struggle's origins for years to come.

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music, 2013

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. [Logevall] masterfully presents the war's roots in the U.S. reaction to the French colonial experience." - Publishers Weekly

"A superbly written and well-argued reinterpretation of our tragic experience in Vietnam." - Booklist

"Editor's Choice. [A] powerful portrait of the terrible and futile French war from which Americans learned little as they moved toward their own engagement in Vietnam." - The New York Times Book Review

"Superb ... penetrating ... Embers of War is a product of formidable international research. It is lucidly and comprehensively composed. And it leverages a consistently potent analytical perspective. . . . Outstanding." - The Washington Post

"A monumental history . . . a widely researched and eloquently written account of how the U.S. came to be involved in Vietnam . . . certainly the most comprehensive review of this period to date." - Wall Street Journal

"[Embers of War tells] the deeply immoral story of the Vietnam wars convincingly and more fully than any others. Since many of the others, some written over fifty years ago, are excellent, this is a considerable achievement." - New York Review of Books

"Magisterial." - Foreign Affairs

"The definitive history of the critical formative period from 1940 to 1960 [in Vietnam]. ... lucid and vivid ... Fredrik Logevall brilliantly explains that legacy." - San Francisco Chronicle

"Embers of War is simply an essential work for those seeking to understand the worst foreign-policy adventure in American history. . . . Even though readers know how the story ends—as with "The Iliad"—they will be as riveted by the tale as if they were hearing it for the first time." - The Christian Science Monitor

"A remarkable new history ... Logevall skillfully explains everything that led up to Vietnam's fatal partition in 1954 ... [and] peppers the grand sweep of his book with vignettes of remarkable characters, wise and foolish." - The Economist

"Fascinating, beautifully-written . . . Logevall's account provides much new detail and important new insights. ... It is impossible not to read the book without being struck by contemporary parallels." - Foreign Policy

"[A] brilliant history of how the French colonial war to hang onto its colonies in Indochina became what the Vietnamese now call 'the American war.'" - Esquire

"Very much worth the read, both for the story and the writing. ... Embers of War has the balance and heft to hold hindsight's swift verdicts at bay. . . An excellent, valuable book." - The Dallas Morning News

"An encompassing, lucid account of the 40-year arc in which America's Southeast Asian adventure became inevitable ... Logevall's prose is clean, his logic relentless, his tone unsparing, his vision broad and deep, his empathy expansive." - Vietnam Magazine

"How easy it is to forget how it all started. The events pile on one another, new battles begin each day, demands for decisions encroach—and soon enough everything is incremental. Cornell historian Fredrik Logevall steps back from the edge and—parting from most Vietnam War studies that focus on the Kennedy and Johnson administrations—reaches back to World War II to give a fresh picture of America imagining itself into the Vietnam War. ... [Embers of War puts] flesh on barebones assertions that occupy a few sentences" - The VVA Veteran

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Fredrik Logevall is John S. Knight Professor of International Studies and professor of history at Cornell University, where he serves as director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.

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