The history of U.S. involvement in Laos (1954-71), admirably documented and interpreted in terms of bureaucratic strains, conflicting career interests, and uncoordinated implementation. The war is viewed as a series of intricate blunders -- the result of ideological prejudice and Washington's distorted image of the situation. The civil strife among Laotians is posited as an ethnic struggle conducted with political labels which the U.S. misjudged: ""The roots of the American failure in Laos lie in. . . the obsessive anti-Communism which prevented adjustments to. . . political realities""; decisions were made outside the public view and they were the wrong ones: ""the U.S. tended to side with those most willing to use the rhetoric of anti-Communism rather than those most likely to strengthen. . . the Laotian political system."" The surreptitious mechanisms of economic and military intervention are covered in great detail, e.g., which factions the CIA and State Department were backing at which moment (sometimes opposing ones) and how aid funds were used to support them; and the origins of U.S. policy are attributed to nebulous ""career policymakers,"" ""bureaucratic roles,"" and ""conflicting instructions,"" etc. Readers who want the who's and what's of the war will find this one of the very best accounts available.