STARRED REVIEW
January 09, 2018

A man vindicated by history

By David Orr

Max Boot’s The Road Not Taken is a page-turning story of a how a now largely forgotten figure could have turned the tide of the Vietnam War if someone in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had just listened to him.

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Max Boot’s The Road Not Taken is a page-turning story of a how a now largely forgotten figure could have turned the tide of the Vietnam War if someone in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had just listened to him.

Drawing deeply on previously unavailable archival materials, Boot deftly chronicles the life and career of Edward Lansdale, the CIA operative and Air Force officer who allegedly was the model for Alden Pyle in The Quiet American by Graham Greene. Tracing Lansdale’s sheltered childhood and youth, Boot portrays a young man fascinated by the perceived romance of Southeast Asia. Later, in his short-lived career in advertising, Lansdale developed his trademark knack for honesty, insolence and an ability to see others as equals—qualities that would lay the foundation of his successful covert work in the Philippines and Vietnam.

During the United State’s involvement in the Vietnam War, Lansdale, working as a CIA operative, argued that the U.S. could operate most effectively not by increasing firepower but by making Saigon’s government more “accountable, legitimate, and popular to the people it aspired to serve.” Boot sums up Lansdale’s policy of friendly persuasion to win “hearts and minds” with three L’s—Look: understand how the foreign society works and don’t impose outside ideas that won’t translate to the society; Like: become a sympathetic friend to the leaders of the society; Listen: hear out the leaders’ ideas.

Boot’s mesmerizing, complex biography and cultural history not only recovers Lansdale and his foreign policy strategies but also illustrates the ways that those strategies might be effective in dealing with various military conflicts today.

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The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

By David Orr
Penguin Press
ISBN 9781594205835

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