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Viet Nam

A History from Earliest Times to the Present

Ben Kiernan



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Oxford University Press
31 March 2017
For many Westerners, the name Vietnam evokes images of a bloody televised American war that generated a firestorm of protest and brought conflict into their living rooms. In his sweeping account, Ben Kiernan broadens this vision by narrating the rich history of the peoples who have inhabited the land now known as Viet Nam over the past three thousand years.

Despite the tragedies of the American-Vietnamese conflict, Viet Nam has always been much more than a war. Its long history been characterized by the frequent rise and fall of different political formations, from ancient chiefdoms to imperial provinces, from independent kingdoms to divided regions, civil wars, French colonies, and modern republics. In addition to dramatic political transformations, the region has been shaped by its environment, changing climate, and the critical importance of water, with rivers, deltas, and a long coastline facilitating agricultural patterns, trade, and communications.

Kiernan weaves together the many narrative strands of Viet Nam's multi-ethnic populations, including the Chams, Khmers, and Vietnamese, and its multi-religious heritage, from local spirit cults to Buddhism, Confucianism, and Catholicism. He emphasizes the peoples' interactions over the millennia with foreigners, particularly their neighbors in China and Southeast Asia, in engagements ranging from military conflict to linguistic and cultural influences. He sets the tumultuous modern period - marked by French and Japanese occupation, anticolonial nationalism, the American-Vietnamese war, and communist victory - against the continuities evident in the deeper history of the people's relationships with the lands where they have lived. In contemporary times, he explores this one-party state's transformation into a global trading nation, the country's tense diplomatic relationship with China and developing partnership with the United States in maintaining Southeast Asia's regional security, and its uncertain prospects for democracy.

Written by a leading scholar of Southeast Asia, Viet Nam presents an authoritative history of an ancient land.
By:   Ben Kiernan
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 236mm,  Width: 173mm,  Spine: 42mm
Weight:   1.069kg
ISBN:   9780195160765
ISBN 10:   0195160762
Pages:   592
Publication Date:   31 March 2017
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Benjamin Kiernan is the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History at Yale University. He is the author of The Pol Pot Regime, Genocide and Democracy in Cambodia, and Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur.

Reviews for Viet Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present

Kiernan's dispassionate recording of the behaviour of the regional powers--Champa, Cambodia, China, India--should help to make Viet Nam: A History from Earliest Times a durable work. --Sophie Quinn-Judge, Times Literary Supplement In Viet Nam, Ben Kiernan synthesises three millennia of history in a beautiful book that aids the reader with numerous maps and over a dozen photographs documenting the daily life of the Vietnamese people. It is a work full of insights for students of Southeast Asia generally and, more specifically, for comparative historians and political scientists interested in nationalism, anti-colonialism, US foreign policy, and the reform and modernisation of socialism. By taking the long view, the author successfully liberates the history of Viet Nam from the reductionist view of a US military misadventure, revealing long-term trends in political organisation, culture and environmental changes. -- Vicken Cheterian, University of Geneva and Webster University Geneva, Europe-Asia Studies Comprehensive yet readable ... It will serve the needs of both experts in Vietnamese history and general readers interested in Vietnam.... Viet Nam's ability to integrate ecology into political, cultural and economic history is truly impressive. -- Michael G. Vann, Asian Studies Review Kiernan departs from nationalist narratives to investigate the changing cultural, political, and ecological relations of the multiethnic communities that inhabited the diverse regions of Vietnam. His deep historical study exposes the folly of reducing Vietnam to a war, a metaphor of US imperialism, or the experiences of one ethnicity. Adopting a long-term approach that combines microhistory and macrohistory to decipher the multicausal forces driving historical processes, the author examines a time span of 3,000 years, beginning with the first Bronze Age chiefdoms and ending with the changing fortunes of the contemporary nation-state....The analysis is innovative for incorporating the roles of climate, water, and geography in explanations of historical continuity or change and for making ample use of archaeological and textual source materials. Valuable for both newcomers and experts in Vietnamese history. Highly recommended. --CHOICE 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....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. --Andrew J. Nathan, Foreign Affairs [In] this major new history of the country...Kiernan makes the actualities of Vietnamese life and landscape a central focus...Where Kiernan excels is in his engagement with the complex cultural and environmental factors that make the country so distinctive. In particular, he highlights the country's 'aquatic culture' from prehistoric times right up to this day...[He] makes sure that Vietnamese women themselves are heard in his narrative and are not simply defined by men...Kiernan's readiness to detect and define the significant details lurking in the sweeping historical panorama, make Viet Nam a major contribution to contemporary Southeast Asian scholarship...[A] sympathetic study of a tenacious and capable people. --Robin Gerster, Australian Book Review This is a remarkably evocative, multifaceted, sophisticated, and original study not only of those groups who haltingly coalesced as Vietnamese, but also of the many peoples with whom they interacted, and indeed of an entire region during two millennia. This book, I suspect, will become a classic in Asian as well as Southeast Asian historiography. --Victor Lieberman, University of Michigan An audacious book, Kiernan's Viet Nam presents the country's long history to new, global audiences, eloquently showing how the deep past continues to shape and inform the present. --David Biggs, author of Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta This outstanding book shows that 'Viet Nam has always been much more than a war.' By making his themes the perennial continuities and changes in the vital ecologies and polyethnic cultures of the country, Ben Kiernan tells a story of shifting layers that is lucid and rich. His work is a kaleidoscope of Vietnamese history. --Greg Lockhart, author of Nation in Arms: the Origins of the People's Army of Vietnam Kiernan offers a comprehensive overview of Vietnamese history from prehistoric times to the 21st century...A distinctive quality of this work is its inclusion of environmental and linguistic history. The author effectively explains how geography and changing weather patterns (droughts, etc.) impacted historical development and demonstrates how changes in language over time provides information about Vietnam's past...Essential for all students of Vietnamese history. Extensive descriptions of Vietnam's relations with its neighbors also make this valuable reading for those interested in Chinese or Southeast Asian history. --Library Journal

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