A Brief History of Vietnam: Colonialism, War and Renewal: The Story of a Nation Transformed. By Bill Hayton.

AuthorHoang, Vu Minh

A Brief History of Vietnam: Colonialism, War and Renewal: The Story of a Nation Transformed. By Bill Hayton. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing, 2022. Softcover: 288pp.Bill Hayton has produced a probable bestseller on Vietnamese history that is, in equal measure, impressive and frustrating. Impressive in that the entire history of Vietnam, from prehistoric times to the present day, is elegantly condensed into just under 300 pages, while also drawing on the latest scholarship by Vietnam specialists. Frustrating, however, in that it attempts to make such a complex history easily digestible for the curious holiday-goer or discerning expatriate and, at the same time, able to stand up to the scrutiny of the stern academic. In the end, it accomplishes as much as can be expected from such a mammoth task.As Hayton readily admits in the Bibliography, A Brief History of Vietnam does not intend to make an original contribution to the literature on Vietnam. It relies almost entirely on secondary sources, mostly from Anglo-American academia. There are no groundbreaking discoveries unearthed from the archives or archaeological sites, nor detailed endnotes that pinpoint the author's sources for his many vignettes, which makes it difficult to assess the information using conventional academic methodology. Moreover, the central narrative of the book--Vietnam's history is not simply shaped by resistance to outsiders (particularly China) but, instead, is a product of diverse external factors interacting with local actors and conditions in a series of historical contingencies--has been the opinion of scholars such as Keith Taylor, Christopher Goscha and Liam Kelley for more than a decade. In fact, it is now quite difficult to find a serious historian who thinks otherwise. Hayton rightly takes issue with the nationalistic accounts found in Vietnamese history textbooks, but that is too convenient a foil. After all, one would be hard-pressed to find state-approved national history textbooks of any country that are unproblematic in their nationalist interpretations of the past.However, A Brief History of Vietnam does remarkably well in weaving a coherent and balanced narrative out of the extensive collection of scholarly material that has been produced in recent decades. Although the structure of the book is largely chronological, some conscious historiographical choices are revealed by its periodization. Pre-900s Vietnam is covered in two chapters, the first of which focuses on...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT