A clearly written history with special emphasis on legal and political aspects of a war the author sees as a Shakespearean tragedy: begun after WW H by the French (who spent more on it than they received from the Marshall Plan); taken on by a well-meaning US under the impetus of the ""Domino Theory""; escalated beyond all reason by muddy thinking, mistakes in policy, and successive presidents' desire to save face; and fought against an enemy united by pride and stubborn nationalism. Relying chiefly on memoirs and documentary sources, Becker acutely analyzes the CIA's role, how antiwar protests became an integral part of our youth culture, how US politicians broke faith and the law, and why they ultimately failed to keep the Vietnamese from reuniting their country. She closes with a recap of recent events in Southeast Asia, noting that the US may reopen diplomatic relations with Vietnam this year, thus signaling the war's formal end. Readers wanting a visual history, or a more specific account of military campaigns, can read the Hooblers' heavily illustrated Vietnam (1990); but this intriguing look behind the scenes will help them find a deeper understanding of these crucial events. Bibliography, index.