In chronicling the adventurous life of legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale, The Road Not Taken definitively reframes our understanding of the Vietnam War.
In this epic biography of Edward Lansdale (1908– 1987), the man said to be the fictional model for Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, best-selling historian Max Boot demonstrates how Lansdale pioneered a “hearts and mind” diplomacy, first in the Philippines, then in Vietnam. It was a visionary policy that, as Boot reveals, was ultimately crushed by America’s giant military bureaucracy, steered by elitist generals and blueblood diplomats who favored troop build-ups and napalm bombs over winning the trust of the people. Through dozens of interviews and access to neverbefore-seen documentsincluding long-hidden love lettersBoot recasts this cautionary American story, tracing the bold rise and the crashing fall of the roguish “T. E. Lawrence of Asia” from the battle of Dien Bien Phu to the humiliating American evacuation in 1975. Bringing a tragic complexity to this so-called “ugly American,” this “engrossing biography” (Karl Marlantes) rescues Lansdale from historical ignominy and suggests that Vietnam could have been different had we only listened. With reverberations that continue to play out in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Road Not Taken is a biography of profound historical consequence.
A renowned military historian and Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign
Relations, Max Boot is a regular contributor to the New York Times, Foreign Policy, the Los
Angeles Times, and other publications. The author of The Savage Wars of Peace and the New York
Times best-selling Invisible Armies, he lives in New York.
Military historian and neoconservative commentator Boot (Invisible Armies) outshines everything ever written about the legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale (1908–1987) in this exhaustive, fact-filled, and analytical biography. Lansdale was initially an OSS man who was instrumental in defeating a Communist insurgency in the Philippines known as the Huk Rebellion in the early 1950s. He then headed the first undercover U.S. operation in the nascent nation of South Vietnam in June 1954, remaining an important voice in Vietnam War policy until the early 1960s as the debate raged over how to stop North Vietnam and the Vietcong. According to Boot, Lansdale consistently advocated what has come to be known as counterinsurgency—winning “hearts and minds”—and strongly opposed bringing in massive numbers of U.S. combat troops. Throughout, Boot argues forcefully that ignoring Lansdale’s advice was a big reason that the Vietnam War turned out to be a disaster. In his afterword, Boot urges American leaders to adopt a form of “Lansdalism”—learn, like, and listen—and apply it to foreign interventions as was done in 1980s El Salvador and 2000s Colombia. This is a detailed, warts-and-all examination of Lansdale’s complex professional and personal lives. Maps & illus. (Jan.)
“A superb history of the Vietnam conflict and includes fascinating military detail and a firm grasp of both American and Vietnamese politics. Boot’s expertise in counterinsurgency makes his arguments compelling, and his rich portrait of Lansdale as a creative if unpredictable maverick adds a new level of understanding not only to Lansdale himself, but also to the entire Vietnam era. This important booksubstantially enhanced by excerpts from Lansdale’s own writing and augmented by outstanding mapsdeserves to be read alongside Neil Sheehan’s award-winning A Bright Shining Lie (1988).”Mark Levine - Booklist
“A brilliant biography of the lifeand a riveting description of the timesof Edward Lansdale, one of the most significant figures in post-WWII Philippines and then Vietnam. Just as David Halberstam did in The Best and the Brightest, Max Boot uses superb storytelling skills to cast new light on America's agonizing involvement in Vietnam. The Road Not Taken not only tells Edward Lansdale's story with novelistic verve but also situates it wonderfully in the context of his tumultuous experiencesand offers important lessons for the present day.”General David Petraeus (U.S. Army
“Max Boot, one of the premier military historians writing today, has created a fascinating portrait of Edward Lansdale, a maverick in the mold of T.E. Lawrence. But The Road Not Taken is much more than a biography, begging comparison with monumental narratives like Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie. Boot gives us a compelling look back on the Vietnam tragedy, showing that it was by no means the inevitable result of forces beyond the control of our political and military leaders.”Philip Caputo
“I couldn’t stop reading this engrossing biography of Edward Lansdale, a man who loved his country’s ideals and who secretly fought for them in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Washington, DC. Lansdale’s story is relevant today, because he was a key figure in the debate over how and how not to use military force to achieve American foreign policy aims. Through Lansdale’s efforts we got it right in the Philippines, but no one listened to him in Vietnam. He was forgotten by the time we moved into Afghanistan and Iraq. I fervently hope our policy makers read this book.”Karl Marlantes
“As one of the last few links to Lansdale, who was also one of his closest on-the-ground collaborators, I can attest that this biography of him is the best, most accurate, revealing and complete portrait yet produced. Even with all I knew, I learned a great deal more that was new which broadened my understanding of this extraordinary man. The very human way he helped the Filipino and Vietnamese people defend their inalienable rights is a shining model to be followed by current and future generations of Americans assigned abroad to assist fragile nations.”Rufus Phillips
“A remarkable piece of work, superbly researched and documented. In an ideal world, it would be required reading for all senior American diplomats being posted to underdeveloped nations. Having worked with Lansdale during an important period in his career, I particularly noted how Max Boot skillfully dissected his modus operandi.”Lieutenant General Samuel V. Wilson (U.S. Army
★ 2017-09-24Kirkus Reviews
A probing, timely study of wrong turns in the American conduct of the Vietnam War.A historian of America's "small wars" with a keen eye for the nuances of counterinsurgency, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Boot (Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, 2013, etc.) finds a perfect personification of America's Vietnam in Edward Lansdale (1908-1987), much as Neil Sheehan did with John Paul Vann 30 years ago with his book A Bright Shining Lie. Lansdale was even less inclined than Vann to make nice with the top brass; as Boot writes, "he viewed the bureaucracy as an enemy and, by so doing, turned it into one." Never underestimate the power of a bureaucrat to thwart one's aims. But Lansdale, an architect of the policy shorthanded "hearts and minds," had a number of convictions hard won in the field, including the truth that no insurgency can be resisted if it has popular support. The idea, then, is to battle official corruption—no easy task given that Boot's narrative takes off during the coup that, to John Kennedy's consternation, ended in the assassination of Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem—and to make sure that the leaders of villages, military cadres, and so on are worth following. Fighting corruption and bureaucracy were battles enough, to say nothing of a huge communist army. Furthermore, the American military, mistrustful of South Vietnam and packed with careerist officers, took over the fight from the people whose war it was, making it "an increasingly Americanized war" as early as 1965. Like Lansdale, Boot understands the role of nation-building in such struggles as Iraq and Afghanistan, and he takes to heart Lansdale's pointed lesson in shunning vast compounds of invading foreigners that "overwhelm the recipients" of American aid, as happened in Vietnam and beyond.Controversial in some of its conclusions, perhaps, as Lansdale's arguments were in their day, and essential reading for students of military policy and the Vietnam conflict.
★ 11/15/2017Library Journal
Air Force officer Edward Lansdale (1908–87) remains a controversial figure in the history of the Vietnam conflict. In their books, David Halberstam and Michael Herr excoriated him. He's a hero in Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer's The Ugly American. Here, military historian Boot (Invisible Armies) argues that Lansdale's ideas offered our best attempt at success in this new kind of war. While in the Philippines (1950–53), Lansdale orchestrated reformer Ramon Magsaysay's victory at the polls, which led to peace with the Communist Party. But in Vietnam, he faced tougher adversaries. Lansdale was recalled from Vietnam in 1957. Six years later, South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown with U.S. support. Rule by the military ensued, with each new leader as corrupt as the previous one. Lansdale never regained his old touch. His approach of building friendships with indigenous leaders lost out to advocates of big guns and blanket bombing. VERDICT Boot has done a masterly job resuscitating the reputation of a man whom CIA director William Colby called "one of the ten greatest spies of all time." A solid military history and biography, this book will appeal to lovers of both genres.—David Keymer, Cleveland