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Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, country located on the eastern coast of the Indochinese Peninsula. Vietnam is bordered on the north by China, on the west by Laos and Cambodia, and on the south and east by the South China Sea. Hanoi is the capital, and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is the largest city.

Vietnam is relatively long and narrow, with a varied terrain. The far north and much of central Vietnam are hilly to mountainous. In the north, the highlands slope gradually toward the eastern coast, forming broad plains intersected by numerous streams. The plains are intensely cultivated, and over centuries the Vietnamese have built many dikes and canals to irrigate crops and control flooding. In central Vietnam, the narrowest part of the country, the mountains and highlands extend nearer to the coast, in a few places jutting into the sea and elsewhere dropping sharply to a narrow coastal plain. Southern Vietnam is very low lying, containing the broad, fertile delta of the Mekong River. Like the northern plains, much of the Mekong Delta is cultivated, and there are vast tracts of rice paddies.

Vietnam developed as an agricultural society, and the population is still predominantly rural. In 2005, 27 percent of the population lived in urban areas. People are increasingly migrating to cities, however, swelling the populations of Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and other places.

Vietnam has about 50 ethnic and language groups, but ethnic Vietnamese, or Viets, constitute the vast majority of the population. The original homeland of the Vietnamese people was in the valley of the Red River, a river that originates in southern China and flows through northern Vietnam before entering the Gulf of Tonkin. China conquered the region in the 2nd century bc, but the Vietnamese successfully restored their independence in ad 939. During the next 1,000 years, Vietnam became one of the most dynamic civilizations in Southeast Asia and expanded southward along the coast.

France invaded Vietnam in the late 19th century. The French divided the country into three separate regions; joined the regions with Cambodia and Laos into the Indochinese Union, known as French Indochina; and exploited Vietnamese resources to benefit France. After World War II (1939-1945), anticolonial groups led by the Indochinese Communist Party revolted against French rule. In 1954, after Vietnamese forces defeated the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam was temporarily divided into two zones: North Vietnam, led by a Communist government, and South Vietnam, headed by anti-Communists. For the next 20 years the government in the South, supported by the United States, sought to defeat a growing insurgent movement led by the North to unify the country. The United States withdrew its combat troops in 1973, and South Vietnam fell to a Communist offensive two years later. In 1976 a unified Communist state was established with its capital at Hanoi. Although Vietnam remains under Communist rule, its leadership has begun implementing aspects of a market economy in order to promote economic development.


For younger readers

Hansen, Ole Steen. Vietnam. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1996. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

O'Connor, Karen. Vietnam. Lerner, 1999. For readers in grades 3 to 5.

Seay, Audrey. Vietnam. 2nd ed. Benchmark, 1996. For readers in grades 3 to 6.

Willis, Terri. Vietnam. Children's Press, 2002. In the Enchantment of the World series, for readers in grades 4 to 8.

Ho Chi Minh

Bui Tin. Following Ho Chi Minh: The Memoirs of a North Vietnamese Colonel. University of Hawaii Press, 1995.

Halberstam, David. Ho. McGraw-Hill, 1986. Brief portrait, plus analysis of Vietnamese nationalism.

Lacouture, Jean. Ho Chi Minh. Random House, 1968. Life and times of the Vietnamese revolutionary.

Southeast Asia: History and Culture

Barnes, Gina. The Rise of Civilization in the East: The Archeology of China, Korea and Japan. Thames & Hudson, 1999. Ancient history and archaeology of Southeast Asia.

Cox, Christopher R. Chasing the Dragon: Into the Heart of the Golden Triangle. Holt, 1996. Portrait of the illegal drug trade in Asia.

Gibney, Frank. The Pacific Century: America and Asia in a Changing World. Scribner, 1992. Survey of modern East Asia.

Girard-Gesian, Maud, and others.Trans. J. A. Underwood. Art of Southeast Asia. Abrams, 1998. More than 250 illustrations accompanied by text.

Guilick, John, ed. Adventurous Women in South-East Asia: Six Lives. Oxford University Press, 1995. Fascinating accounts of the experiences of six 19th-century women in Southeast Asia.

Hall, D. G. E. A History of South East Asia. 4th ed. St. Martin's, 1993. A modern classic.

Keay, John. Empire's End: A History of the Far East from Colonization to Hong Kong. Scribner, 1997. Historical account of the decline of Western colonial powers in Asia.

Leifer, Michael. Dictionary of the Modern Politics of South-East Asia. Routledge, 1995. Begins with brief essays on ten Southeast Asian countries, followed by useful entries covering each region's history, personalities, and institutions.

Osborne, Milton. Southeast Asia: An Introductory History. 7th ed. Allen & Unwin, 1998. General survey presents the region as a coherent whole.

Pluvier, Jan M. Historical Atlas of South-East Asia. Brill, 1995. Well-written presentation of complex data. Includes 64 maps and 72 period descriptions of history.

Reid, Anthony. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680. 2 vols. Yale University Press, 1990-1995. Continuities in the economic and cultural history of Southeast Asia.

Sardesai, D. R. Southeast Asia: Past & Present. 4th ed. Westview, 1997. Southeast Asia from ancient to modern times.

Schmidt, Karl J. An Atlas and Survey of South Asian History. Sharpe, 1995. Includes 96 maps.

Viesti, Joseph F., and Diane Hall. Celebrate! in Southeast Asia. Lothrop, 1996. Portrays customs surrounding 11 Southeast Asian festivals; for younger readers.


Broyles, William, Jr. Brothers in Arms: A Journey from War to Peace. Knopf, 1986. Reprint, University of Texas Press, 1996. Ex-Marine returns to Vietnam.

Condominas, Georges We Have Eaten the Forest: The Story of a Montagnard Village in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Hill & Wang, 1977. Reprint, Kodansha, 1994.

Dillon, Katherine V., and Donald M. Goldstein. The Vietnam War: The Story and Photographs. Brassey's, 1999. An illustrated survey of the war that includes American and Vietnamese photographs.

Fall, Bernard B. Street Without Joy. Rev. ed. Schocken, 1994. History of revolution in Vietnam and French defeat; originally published in 1961.

Fitzgerald, Frances. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. Vintage, 1989. History and culture of Vietnam and analysis of American conflict; won a Pulitzer prize.

Langguth, A. J. Our Vietnam: The War, 1954-1975. Simon & Schuster, 2000. An account of the role of United States in Vietnam.

Kamm, Henry. Dragon Ascending: Vietnam and the Vietnamese. Arcade, 1996. Readable, insightful analysis of Vietnam and its people, in cities and in tiny hamlets.

Karnow, Stanley. Vietnam: A History. 2nd. Ed. Penguin, 1997. Classic review of Vietnamese history with special emphasis on the Vietnam War; companion volume to a PBS series on the Vietnam War.

Kolko, Gabriel. Vietnam: Anatomy of a Peace. Routledge, 1997. Vietnam since the end of the war with the United States.

Summers, Harry G. The Vietnam War Almanac. Presidio, 1999. A concise guide to the Vietnam War.

Templer, Robert. Shadows and Wind: A View of Modern Vietnam. Viking, 1998. Important insights into the Vietnamese point of view.

Vietnam: In Pictures. Lerner, 1994. For middle school readers.

Vietnam War

Halberstram, David. The Best and the Brightest. 20th anniversary ed. Fawcett, 1993. Classic saga of how America became involved in the Vietnam conflict.

Herring, George. America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. 4th ed. McGraw Hill, 2001. Why the United States entered the war, and why the war went on for so long.

Kutler, Stanley I., ed. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. Macmillan, 1997. Fair-minded articles detail the major concepts of this important era in history.

Langguth, A.J. Our Vietnam/Nuoc Viet TA: A History of the War 1954-1975. Simon & Schuster, 2000. A narrative from a New York Times journalist who covered the war.

Moore, Harold G., and Joseph L. Galloway. We Were Soldiers Once... and Young: Ia Drang—The Battle that Changed the War in Vietnam. HarperCollins, 2002. A gripping account of infantry combat in a pivotal battle, one that opened the massive ground war in Vietnam.

O'Nan, Stewart, ed. The Vietnam Reader: The Definitive Collection of American Fiction and Nonfiction on the War. Doubleday, 1998. An anthology of poetry, fiction and non-fiction depicting the war and its aftermath.

Page, Tim, and others. Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side. National Geographic, 2001. Compelling images from North Vietnamese photographers reveal a war never seen on America's televisions.

Sheehan, Neil. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. Random House, 1988. This 1989 Pulitzer Prize-winning work presents a view of the war from the perspective of an American officer.

Tucker, Spencer C., ed. Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History. Oxford University Press, 2001. A solid single-volume reference. Suitable for high school readers.

Wallace, Terry. Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans. Random House, 1984. Reprint, Ballantine, 1989.


Duiker, William J., B.A., B.S.F.S., M.A., Ph.D. Liberal Arts Professor Emeritus of East Asian Studies, Pennsylvania State University. Author of Historical Dictionary of Vietnam and other books.

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