cover image Vietnam: A New History

Vietnam: A New History

Christopher Goscha. Basic, $35 (592p) ISBN 978-0-465-09436-3

Goscha (Indochina: An Ambiguous Colonization, 1858–1954), associate professor of history at the Université du Quebec à Montréal, prioritizes the Vietnamese perspective in this sterling history of the Southeast Asian nation. This is a substantial and accessible volume that starts in ancient times and runs to the 21st century. Combining trustworthy secondary sources with documents, letters, and other recently discovered or released primary sources, Goscha succeeds in emphasizing “Vietnam’s own role in shaping its history” and highlighting “the country’s extraordinary diversity and complexity.” He positions Vietnam as a multiplicity rather than a political entity unified over time, and addresses the effects of imperialism and colonialism. Goscha devotes just two chapters (of 14) to the Second Indochina War (known to his fellow Americans as the Vietnam War), and his relatively short but illuminating narrative of the war foregrounds Vietnamese history, society, culture, and politics. Refreshingly, he barely mentions American presidents, politicians, generals, and war-policy makers. The latter parts of the book, addressing modern Vietnam, are replete with references and comparisons to what came before in Vietnamese history, primarily events related to the roles of the Chinese and French conquerors of Indochina. After reading this book, even dyed-in-the-wool American exceptionalists will surely think of Vietnam as a country, not a war. Maps & illus. (Sept.)