History of the Vietnamese

K. W. Taylor, A History of the Vietnamese

Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xvi, 696; bibliographic essay, figures, tables, maps, index.

Reviewed by Norman G. Owen.


Let us begin by stipulating that no one is better qualified to write this book than Keith Taylor. He first went to Vietnam with the US Army almost half a century ago; upon his return he got his PhD in Vietnamese history at the University of Michigan, with his dissertation later revised and published as The Birth of Vietnam (1983). Ever since then he has continued to study and teach Vietnamese history, most recently at Cornell University, somehow managing to avoid being sucked too far into administration or into teaching the History of Civilization, which sidelined so many of us over the years. He is bright, he is skilled in the necessary languages, and he is tenacious. He is the scholar we all intended to be. We can only endorse the blurb (by Peter Zinoman) on the back cover that this “elegant, erudite and stunningly comprehensive” book “is, by a wide margin, the finest general survey of Vietnamese history ever produced in any language.”

Having conceded that I am in no position to challenge Taylor’s knowledge of his subject (and nothing that follows should suggest otherwise), it remains for me as reviewer to raise some questions about this massive volume and its implications for readers, for Vietnam, and for Southeast Asian history as a whole.

The remainder of this review is accessible here.