In This Review

Our Vietnam: The War, 1954-1975
Our Vietnam: The War, 1954-1975
By A.J. Langguth
Simon & Schuster, 2001, 766 pp

Langguth covered Vietnam for The New York Times in 1964-65, visiting again for special stories in 1968 and 1970. He never lost interest but he did gain ambition, and with this book he attempts a one-volume history that is truly international, including the perspectives of Americans and Vietnamese, both North and South. The author finds that the North Vietnamese fought bravely and capably for national independence and a bad system, whereas the South Vietnamese fought for a good cause that was "betrayed by ineptitude and greed." Langguth avoids making strong interpretive arguments, opting instead for "a straightforward narrative that would let readers draw their own conclusions." That useful goal is attained. Lacking much analytical structure, the narrative can seem like a string of episodes, just one after another. But the episodes touch on so many impassioned memories that Langguth does well to hold on to a reasonably balanced perspective. A tougher problem is that his ecumenical method cannot compensate where his sources are weak or misleading, such as those from behind the scenes among the North Vietnamese, the Soviets, and the Chinese.