In This Review

Viet Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present
Viet Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present
By Ben Kiernan
Oxford University Press, 2017, 656 pp

This ambitious survey is pathbreaking not only in its chronological scope (from prehistory to the present) and the breadth of its sources but also in its thematic reach. Kiernan explores Vietnam’s ecological diversity, from mountains to lowlands to coastal regions; the country’s environmental changes and their effects on Vietnamese society; Vietnam’s evolving literary genres; and the changing role of its women. He emphasizes Vietnam’s complexity as “a series of homelands” for more than 50 distinct ethnic groups that forged a common identity as Vietnamese only in the last couple of centuries and that even now only partially adhere to that identity. The territory was divided and redivided by successive chiefdoms and kingdoms; invaders came and went. Languages and religions were formed and reformed by migration, trade, and conquest. Although the war against the United States is an important part of Vietnam’s story, it takes its place in the broad sweep of history as just one episode in a long series of struggles that people have waged over this piece of land.