Book review: Vietnam: A History of the War, by Russell Freedman

Freedman, Russell. Vietnam: A History of the War. Holiday House. 2016. $20. 160p. ISBN 9780823436583. Ages 12-15. P7Q10

freedman-vietnamThe United States left the Vietnam War almost a half-century ago, but its influence of the “greatest single error made by America in its history” (former State Department official George Ball) still lies heavy on the nation. The Newbery medalist begins with the tiny country’s attempt for independence moves from the Chinese invasion in the first century BCE and moves through the French colonization that led to the rise of Communist North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh. John F. Kennedy, assassinated soon after the U.S. involvement in the struggle in Vietnam, continued President Dwight Eisenhower’s attempt to restrict the extension of communism in Southeast Asia, and was followed by three other presidents whose terms were marked by a war that supposedly would have an “easy” victory, a war marked by horrific guerrilla warfare in the jungles and angry antiwar protests in the U.S. Iconic black and white photos and clear text explain a complicated history of U.S. involvement in Asian revolutions, showing such mistakes as Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalation of the war after an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin that may have been fabricated and the My Lai massacre which destroyed the U.S. reputation throughout the world. He also covers the Kent State shootings, Martin Luther King Jr.’s antiwar activism, and Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal which led to his resignation and the end of the war under President Gerald Ford. The author finishes with an optimistic perspective on the reconciliation between the former bitter enemies and U.S. Ambassador Peter Peterson’s position that “the war could have been averted had we made the effort to understand the politics of the place.” An important history filled with political and ethical lessons for all libraries. Timeline, source notes, glossary, bibliography, picture credits, and index.

Fall 2016 review by Nel Ward.

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