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The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam (Hardcover)

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Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize (Biography)

New York Times Bestseller

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 documents—including long-hidden love letters—Boot 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.

About the Author

Max Boot is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a columnist for the Washington Post, and a global affairs analyst for CNN. His most recent book is the New York Times bestseller The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.

Praise For…

Judicious and absorbing…Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, brings solid credentials to this enterprise…Here he draws on a range of material, official and personal…What emerges is a picture of a man who from an early point possessed an unusual ability to relate to other people, a stereotypically American can-do optimism, an impatience with bureaucracy and a fascination with psychological warfare.
— Fredrik Logevall - The New York Times Book Review

Superb biography.
— Mark Bowden - New York Times

The Road Not Taken is an impressive work, an epic and elegant biography based on voluminous archival sources. It belongs to a genre of books that takes a seemingly obscure hero and uses his story as a vehicle to capture a whole era.... Mr. Boot’s full-bodied biography does not ignore Lansdale’s failures and shortcomings—not least his difficult relations with his family—but it properly concentrates on his ideas and his attempts to apply them in Southeast Asia. ... The Road Not Taken gives a vivid portrait of a remarkable man and intelligently challenges the lazy assumption that failed wars are destined to fail or that failure, if it comes, cannot be saved from the worst possible outcome.

— Robert D. Kaplan - The Wall Street Journal

'The Road Not Taken'… is expansive and detailed, it is well written,
and it sheds light on a good deal about U.S. covert activities in
postwar Southeast Asia….. [Boot] believes that Lansdale's approach was
the wiser one, but he is cautious in his analysis of what went wrong…
A lot of his book is committed to restoring a sense of proportion to
his subject's image as a political Svengali, or "Lawrence of Asia."
— Louis Menand - The New Yorker

A brilliant, extremely well-written book about a forgotten figure who was one of the most extraordinary and utterly unorthodox espionage agents in history.
— Steve Forbes - Forbes

Edward Lansdale is probably the greatest cold warrior that most Americans have never heard of. Max Boot has written a fascinating account of how this California college humorist, frat boy and advertising executive evolved into a counterinsurgency expert before the term was even coined…. Max Boot has become one of the master chroniclers of American counterinsurgency efforts, and his biography of Mr. Lansdale is a tribute to a guy who recognized the threat of insurgency in a post-World War II environment where most American leaders saw only brute force as a solution to any political-military problem…. This book should be read in Baghdad and Kabul, not only by Americans, but by local leaders.
— Gary Anderson - Washington Times

Max Boot capably and readably tracks the fascinating but ultimately depressing trajectory of this shadowy figure, who, as a murky undercover operative and a literary and cinematic avatar, looms over or lurks behind some of the crucial moments in U.S. foreign policy in the decades following World War II, culminating in its greatest disaster.
— James G. Hershberg - Washington Post

Deeply researched and evenhanded, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam is a superb scholarly achievement. . . . [Boot] comes at Lansdale having already written two major books on small wars and counterinsurgency, a solid foundation that he takes to a new level here with rigorous research and dogged investigation into little-known corners of Lansdale’s life.

— Carter Malkasian - Foreign Policy

In this fine portrait of Edward Lansdale, Max Boot adds to his well-deserved reputation as being among the most insightful and productive of contemporary historians. This is a superb book. Diligently researched and gracefully written, it builds on a comprehensive analysis of Lansdale’s triumphs in the post–World War II Philippines to provide much new material, and expose old myths, about one of the most fascinating, and in many ways ultimately saddest, members of the supporting cast in the later war in Vietnam.
— Lewis Sorley - National Review

Comprehensively researched and insightfully written—Boot is, as always, an extremely talented writer.
— Christian Science Monitor

An exceptionally well-written, captivating tale of one of the most distinctive characters in American Cold War history…. The Road Not Taken is highly recommended reading for historians of the Cold War and military leaders, Foreign Service officers, and intelligence personnel wrestling with America’s current challenges in the small wars of the 21st century, as well as general readers looking for an exhilarating story of a fascinating character in American history.

— Peter Mansoor - Journal of American Greatness

A capacious biography…. The book is chock-full of operational information on Lansdale’s deeds, both quiet and ugly…. This book might work as a star vehicle for Tom Hanks or Matt Damon…. A useful addition to the literature on US foreign policy during the half century bracketed by the US occupation of the Philippines and the disastrous 2003 intervention in Iraq.
— John Reed - Financial Times

A brilliant biography of the life—and a riveting description of the times—of 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 experiences—and offers important lessons for the present day.

— General David Petraeus (U.S. Army, Ret.)

Boot marshals sharp, devastating anecdotes to show how Lansdale’s ideas were dismissed or misunderstood by his contemporaries. . . . The stories this volume tells about voluntary isolation and lack of knowledge, vision, or respect for anything outside U.S. security culture, in all its violent, self-reinforcing whiteness and maleness, have a terrible timelessness to them . . . . We are in his debt for writing a book about another time that challenges us to raise those questions in ours.
— Heather Hurlburt - Washington Monthly

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, author of Rumor of War

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, author of Matterhorn

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, author of Why Vietnam Matters

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, Ret.)

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. . . . 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.

— Kirkus Reviews, starred review

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 book—substantially enhanced by excerpts from Lansdale’s own writing and augmented by outstanding maps—deserves to be read alongside Neil Sheehan’s award-winning A Bright Shining Lie (1988).

— Mark Levine - Booklist, starred review

Boot outshines everything ever written about the legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale (1908–1987) in this exhaustive, fact-filled, and analytical biography.
— Publisher's Weekly
Product Details
ISBN: 9780871409416
ISBN-10: 0871409410
Publisher: Liveright
Publication Date: January 9th, 2018
Pages: 768
Language: English

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