Logevall's book describes how the United States' role in former French
Indochina developed during the 1950s; it is, in essence,
pre-histories of the Vietnam War. The work is magisterial. It focuses on the American response to the steady deterioration in France's position leading up to its calamitous defeat at the hands of the Vietminh at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and the awkward compromises produced by the Geneva Conference later that year. Logevall ponders the dilemmas faced by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, who was reluctant to be seen as giving an inch to the Communists yet anxious to avoid committing ground troops to yet another East Asian conflict so soon after achieving a cease-fire in Korea. If there was to be any direct U.S. intervention on behalf of France, Eisenhower insisted that it have British support. But the United Kingdom, in the twilight of its own tenure as an Asian power, intended to steer clear of any Vietnamese (or Laotian) entanglements. The poor relationship between U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his British counterpart, Anthony Eden, aggravated a basic disagreement between their two countries over how hard a line they ought to take, with the British more ready to make deals with the Communists. Logevall draws on a vast range of sources, cleverly analyzing the writer Graham Greene's journalism and his novel The Quiet American, and the controversies they generated, to illuminate the tension between British cynicism and American idealism.