Joshua Kurlantzick at The Guardian:
Goscha has provided quite simply the finest, most readable single-volume history of Vietnam in English. He takes on some persistent myths about the country. First, that Vietnam has been constantly preyed on. In the pre-colonial period, southeast Asia’s own empires constantly colonised each other. A series of Vietnamese empires conquered parts of modern-day Laos and Cambodia between the 15th and 19th centuries, while alternately fighting and placating China’s rulers, who saw Vietnam as a vassal state.
Second, Goscha shows that Vietnamese dynasties were actively modernising the country before French colonisation began in the mid to late 19th century. The Nguyen dynasty was establishing new tax and irrigation systems, new schools and a modern bureaucracy when France declared its rule over Indochina.
Under the Nguyens, the French and the two governments of South and North Vietnam, the country was hardly monoethnic, though the pictures most Americans saw of Vietnam were of ethnically Viet people. Vietnam, as Goscha argues, has long been influenced not only by the majority ethnic Viet and by Chinese Confucian culture, which spread south over centuries, but also by a far broader range of cultures and peoples.