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Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu Paperback – 28 Mar 2002


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Product details

  • Paperback: 568 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press Inc; Reprint edition (28 Mar. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030681157X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306811579
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 13.8 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 58,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Bernard B. Fall was forty when he was killed in South Vietnam in 1967. The author of the classic Vietnam account, Street Without Joy, he wrote for the New York Times and the Washington Post.

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"CASTOR" was probably the first and last airborne operation in history in which the leading aircraft contained three generals along with the paratroop pathfinders. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 10 Sept. 2002
Format: Paperback
Part tragedy,but equal parts farce - this book tells in imense detail the destruction of not only the French army at Dien Bien Phu, but also the end of the French Imperial Dream in Indo-China.
The book is a superb military history, neccessrily written from the French side; but Fall's position as a French academic gave him access to military archives that had been previously closed. But it goes beyond simple military history; through interviews with survivors Fall is able to piece together the horror that the defenders went through. It becomes a story of a failed project; gathering its own insiduous momentum. The archives also show the political apsect to the conclusion - old men arguing in wood panelled rooms as young men died in the fields.
The coverage of the Foreign Legion coup d'etat within the surrounded camp is amazing - Fall graps the desperation of the professional soldier when he knows someone in command has fouled up.
This is the best work of military history I can recommend. It was required reading by the beseiged US Marine officers at Khe Sahn in 1968. If you are at all interested in the Vietnam war I can also recommend "Street without Joy", also by Fall, and "Dispatches" by Micheal Herr.
Unfortunatly Fall was diagnosed with cancer, and in a last - prophetic ? - trip to South East Asia he was killed by a mine on the Street Without Joy, in 1967.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 Sept. 2001
Format: Paperback
I visited Dien Bien Phu this year (08/01), and had begun to read Fall's masterpiece in anticipation of my arrival there. I was still reading it (and re-reading portions of it) over the two days I spent in the valley, and without it and it's resources (especially maps) my visit would not have marked me as much as it did.
The book itself is a magnificent synopsis of extensive research and insight that charaterises its author. True, it is a detailed account, but this is hardly problematic, as many of his most interesting anecdotes (and there are many) are contained in his extensive references.
In my opinion, Fall achieves that most elusive of goals for all non-fiction writers: the combination of intrigue with fact. If more military histories demonstrated the same level of skill and dedication as this book does, the genre would not be limited to so-called "war-buffs", as is apparently the case. Its only weakness is its silence on the Viet Minh side of the battle, but there are more than enough sources out there to supplement this one.
I would recommend this book very strongly to any reader interested in Vietnam in general, French colonial history, military history generally, and to anyone thinking of doing research work who could benefit from a fine example of how to do it well.
It's a trite cliche, but it really IS one of the best books I have ever read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Robin L. Stacpoole on 23 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The story of the fall of Dien Bien Phu is expertly told by Bernard Fall. But the journey is a difficult one and you should know what you are getting into before you start it. Before deciding to read this there are four things you should consider.

Firstly Fall wrote this in 1966 at a time when the USA is increasing its commitment to Vietnam, and he is desperate that his country understand the consequences of this action. Consequently, Fall does not let an opportunity go by to point out the desperation of foreign troops fighting an unwinnable war in a foreign land. His work is littered with final paragraph sentences along the lines of "the situation was bad ... but it was about to get worse". Indeed the whole book follows this structure. It is profoundly depressing.

The style is also 1960s. Yes this is a story, but it is told through detail and facts, and lots of both. It is interesting to compare this story with the style of "Stalingrad". Bernard Fall does not impose his interpretation of the conflict on the reader, simply describing what happened, where, when. Fall understands that the story is more important than the teller whereas in reading Starlingad, I got the impression that I was seeing the conflict through the lens of the author's ego.

As a Brit I was bought up without much respect for French fighting prowess. It was something of an awakening to find that the heroism of these Frenchmen is simply huge. Fall describes acts of courage that exceeds anything i have seen Hollywood produce, and let's face it, this is saying something. But it is almost as if Fall lived through the hell of Dien Bien Phu himself and as a result he obsessively details many acts of heroism and each of the people carrying them out. By the end of the story I found myself ...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Smeghead on 24 Jun. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Simply one of the best military history books I have ever read; the story of a French example of lions being led by donkeys.

Fall takes us into the context of the battle, explaining the flawed reasoning behind creating the Base Aero Terrestriel in the first place, then describing each stage of the unfolding tragedy of Operation Castor, from initial optimism to doubt to heroic defiance and final acceptance of defeat.

The book shows the human spirit at its best on both sides; the Viet Minh's incredible logistical triumph in transporting the seige force to the valley and their courage to continue in the face of appalling losses, and the French/Colonial army's courage and tenacity in fighting a hopeless cause against huge odds for so long.

The abbreviations of the French military units can be a little impenetrable for a while, but the effort is richly rewarded as you become able to follow the fortunes and heroics of the dwindling force of defenders.

It left me profoundly moved and with a strong desire to visit the battlefield myself, if only to see strongpoint Eliane 2, which was the site of such incredible bravery and sacrifice on both sides.

A difficult proposition for British and American readers at times, as both nations are shown ultimately to have decided their geopolitical interests were best served by not intervening to save the beleaguered garrison. There must be an interesting alternative history story in waiting for someone to write, showing what might have happened if they had.
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