In view of the currently intense controversies among many Americans over their government's policy (and the implementation of that policy) in Vietnam, an experienced and well-informed ""outsider's"" opinion on that tragically torn land and our role in it could be extremely valuable. Bernard Newman, the widely travelled British author of numerous travel books and spy novels as well as popular political commentaries, might have been that kind of ""objective"" observer. However, to anyone in quest of real alternatives or solutions, his work here can hardly be termed anything better than superficial. There are some shrewd insights provided, but these are mostly minor or else indistinguishable from those of other visitors to South Vietnam; and the same must be said of the historical data Mr. Newman furnishes. Moreover, when he attempts to give any explicit advice, it is often couched in the irritating manner of an oldfashioned colonial administrator: he even, at one point, goes so far as to suggest bounty payments to Vietcong deserters who bring in the heads of their officers. This system, he says, was used by Britain in Malaya with good effect. Not everything he has to offer is equally useless, but in the recent deluge of print on this subject selectivity is unavoidable, and Background to Vietnam is one book the reader may safely bypass.