Cover image for Road to disaster : a new history of America's descent into Vietnam
Road to disaster : a new history of America's descent into Vietnam
Road to disaster : a new history of America's descent into Vietnam
First Custom House hardcover edition.
Publisher Info:
New York, NY : Custom House, [2018]
Physical Description:
xxx, 622 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
The Danger of Unquestioned Assumptions (January - April 1961) -- The Limits of Imagination (April 1961 - October 1962) -- The Failure of Anticipation (October 1962 - November 1963) -- The Peril of Short-Term Thinking (November 1963 - July 1965) -- The Hazard of Sunk Costs (August 1965 - May 1967) -- The Jeopardy of Conflicting Loyalties (May 1967 - February 1968) -- The Difficulty of Ending War (March 1968 - January 1969).
"A provocative reexamination of the "Best and the Brightest" and how and why they led us into the Vietnam War, drawing upon cutting edge research into decision making and unheard audio recordings by Robert McNamara and Clark Clifford"-- Provided by publisher.


Call Number
Material Type
959.704 VAN New or Popular Book Adult Nonfiction
959.7043 VAND Book Adult Nonfiction

On Order



"The most thoughtful and judicious one-volume history of the war and the American political leaders who presided over the difficult and painful decisions that shaped this history. The book will stand for the foreseeable future as the best study of the tragic mistakes that led to so much suffering."--Robert Dallek

Many books have been written on the tragic decisions regarding Vietnam made by the young stars of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Yet despite millions of words of analysis and reflection, no historian has been able to explain why such decent, brilliant, and previously successful men stumbled so badly.

That changes with Road to Disaster. Historian Brian VanDeMark draws upon decades of archival research, his own interviews with many of those involved, and a wealth of previously unheard recordings by Robert McNamara and Clark Clifford, who served as Defense Secretaries for Kennedy and Johnson. Yet beyond that, Road to Disaster is also the first history of the war to look at the cataclysmic decisions of those in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations through the prism of recent research in cognitive science, psychology, and organizational theory to explain why the "Best and the Brightest" became trapped in situations that suffocated creative thinking and willingness to dissent, why they found change so hard, and why they were so blind to their own errors.

An epic history of America's march to quagmire, Road to Disaster is a landmark in scholarship and a book of immense importance.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

VanDeMark, a historian specializing in the Vietnam War, investigates at length how and why the Kennedy and Johnson administrations made the decisions that set the course of the Vietnam War. Drawing from numerous, in some cases exclusive, primary and secondary sources, he all but tells his story through defense secretary Robert S. McNamara's eyes, giving the reader innumerable details about the former Ford executive's war planning processes, his trips to Vietnam, meetings with Johnson and the national security team, bitter battles with the Joint Chiefs and other military brass, and his painful disillusionment after realizing in November 1967 that the war effort he oversaw was doomed. By not speaking out to the president or publicly for years, McNamara, VanDeMark writes, "effectively placed loyalty to the presidency above loyalty to the national interest" and "implicitly, if unintentionally, supported the continuation of a disastrous war that claimed" hundreds of thousands of lives. Throughout, VanDeMark brings in the work of social scientists-decision and negotiation researchers, sociologists, cognitive researchers, psychologists, behavioral economists, and others-to illuminate McNamara's decision-making processes. Some of their ideas, such as the sunk cost fallacy, clearly apply; others, including the Ikea effect, which reputedly causes people to overvalue things they have contributed to making, seem less relevant. This book is sure to appeal to those still searching for Vietnam War answers that even McNamara, Johnson, and their best and brightest advisers never found. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

VanDeMark (history, U.S. Naval Acad.) assisted former White House adviser Clark Clifford with his autobiography and coauthored former U.S. secretary of defense Robert McNamara's In Retrospect. His dissertation, Into the Quagmire, was written under the direction of acclaimed biographer Robert Dallek. In short, VanDeMark has the credentials for a study of this magnitude, which thoughtfully examines how so many could go so wrong for so long in Vietnam. It's not a study of military maneuvers so much as political thinking, how "a tyranny of small decisions" led to one huge disaster. The historian uses the results of contemporary social psychology research to gain insight into decision-making processes. The one negative in this otherwise exceptional work, is that the author is somewhat heavy-handed in deploying information. For instance, narrative of the war is sidetracked for a half to full page to describe an experiment when its conclusions could have been summarized with no loss in clarity. Still, VanDeMark offers a valuable corrective to the Good Guys/Bad Guys theory of war making, and there's no doubt he knows his research. VERDICT Will interest military history buffs and anyone still trying to understand America's most outstanding military fiasco. [See Prepub Alert, 4/23/18.]-David Keymer, Cleveland © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Mapsp. xi
Prologue: A Very Human Culpritp. xiii
Chapter 1 The Danger of Unquestioned Assumptions (January-April 1961)p. 1
Chapter 2 The Limits of Imagination (April 1961-October 1962)p. 47
Chapter 3 The Failure of Anticipation (October 1962-November 1963)p. 113
Chapter 4 The Peril of Short-Term Thinking (November 1963-July 1965)p. 203
Chapter 5 The Hazard of Sunk Costs (August 1965-May 1967)p. 295
Chapter 6 The Jeopardy of Conflicting Loyalties (May 1967-February 1968)p. 379
Chapter 7 The Difficulty of Ending War (March 1968-January 1969)p. 457
Epilogue The Burden of Regretp. 521
Acknowledgmentsp. 543
Notesp. 547
Select Bibliography of Published Sourcesp. 593
Indexp. 603