Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent

( 3 )


During the Vietnam War, Time reporter Pham Xuan An befriended everyone who was anyone in Saigon, including American journalists such as David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan, the CIA's William Colby, and the legendary Colonel Edward Lansdale—not to mention the most influential members of the South Vietnamese government and army. None of them ever guessed that he was also providing strategic intelligence to Hanoi, smuggling invisible ink messages into the jungle inside egg rolls. His early reports were so accurate ...

See more details below
Paperback (Reprint)
$13.19 price
(Save 11%)$14.95 List Price
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (16) from $1.99   
  • New (4) from $8.05   
  • Used (12) from $1.99   
Perfect Spy

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$10.99 price


During the Vietnam War, Time reporter Pham Xuan An befriended everyone who was anyone in Saigon, including American journalists such as David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan, the CIA's William Colby, and the legendary Colonel Edward Lansdale—not to mention the most influential members of the South Vietnamese government and army. None of them ever guessed that he was also providing strategic intelligence to Hanoi, smuggling invisible ink messages into the jungle inside egg rolls. His early reports were so accurate that General Giap joked, "We are now in the U.S. war room."

In Perfect Spy, Larry Berman, who An considered his official American biographer, chronicles the extraordinary life of one of the twentieth century's most fascinating spies.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

-Bernard Kalb
“Larry Berman in his book—insightful, overdue, an authentic ‘Shock and Awe’ story—deftly humanizes the contradictions in An’s life”
Dan Southerland
“Berman has done an excellent job… There’s plenty here for both supporters and critics of the Vietnam War to ponder.”
Stanley Karnow
Praise for NO PEACE NO HONOR“Carefully researched, authoritative, and highly readable.”
Daniel Ellsberg
Praise for NO PEACE NO HONOR “A marvelous piece of work.”
Marvin Kalb
Praise for LYNDON JOHNSON’S WAR“A masterful job.”
Walter Lafeber
Praise for LYNDON JOHNSON’S WAR“Highly readable, full of telling quoted from newly opened sources.”
Townsend Hoopes
Praise for LYNDON JOHNSON’S WAR“Berman has delivered the coup de grace.”
Robert Kaiser
Berman is no literary stylist. John le Carre could have turned this story into something Smiley would have envied; Berman tells it in Joe Friday fashion. Nor did An ever relinquish control, and Berman readily acknowledges that An held back some of his secrets. An also put events in the best possible light. That said, this is an extraordinary story, one that offers new explanations of several key events of the war…Berman's book appears 32 years after the war, yet, amazingly, adds significantly to our understanding of what happened. Students of American failures—who have had so much new material to ponder—will be richly rewarded by reading this book. So will le Carre fans—not for its style but for its remarkable substance.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Historian Berman (Lyndon Johnson's War) draws on several years of interviews with Pham Xuan An before his death in 2006 for this engaging biography of the Time reporter who spied for North Vietnam throughout the Vietnam War. Pham Xuan An's deep cover began in 1957, when the Vietnamese Communist Party sent him to study journalism in California. After an internship at the Sacramento Beeand traveling around the U.S., he returned to South Vietnam in 1959. As a reporter for Reuters and Time, he was privy to classified information that made him a hero in Hanoi after the war. Amiable, fluent in English and adept at explaining Vietnam to Americans and vice versa, he was popular with reporters and officials of both nations. Readers may suspect some of An's recollections are self-serving, but the evidence in his favor is that almost everyone he befriended continued to admire him after learning his role. It's also clear An liked Americans, so much so that superiors suspected his loyalty and confined him to Vietnam after relations thawed. Without glossing over An's responsibility for American deaths, Berman portrays an attractive, sometimes tragic character. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Berman (political science, Univ. of California, Davis) here offers a remarkable blend of biography, history, and personal experience. Pham Xuan An was educated in the United States on orders of his Communist superiors and became a respected stringer for Timein 1960s Saigon, using American contacts like David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan to help shape Communist responses to overall American strategy. (He never betrayed any specific American friend.) Even when his dual role was discovered, Vietnam's Communist government having trumpeted the fact, many of the American reporters he knew still respected his journalistic skill. Drawing on extensive interviews with An and a number of his Vietnamese and American friends, Berman recounts a remarkable story. Perhaps he could have emphasized more strongly the deadly results of An's intelligence assistance to the Communists. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating account of a complex man who loved his homeland, as well as the United States and the profession of journalism. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.
—A.O. Edmonds

Kirkus Reviews
The morally ambiguous life of a respected journalist for Time who turned out to be a spy for the North Vietnamese. Viet Minh soldier Pham Xuan An was inducted into the Communist Party in 1953. The party subsequently funded his journalism education at California's Orange Coast College, where he became fluent in English and thoroughly versed in all things American. Returning to Vietnam in 1959, working for Reuters and Time for more than 20 years as correspondent, translator and "all purpose go-to guy," he earned the esteem of brilliant reporters, including Robert Shaplen of the New Yorker, Frank McCullough and Robert Sam Anson from Time and New York Times correspondents Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam. All the while, from this ideal cover, he was funneling valuable information and analysis to Hanoi. After the war, Vietnam made him a People's Army Hero for his many intelligence coups, which had enabled Hanoi to understand American tactics and battle plans. Berman (Political Science/Univ. of California-Davis; No Peace, No Honor, 2001, etc.) traveled to Saigon to get this story and appears to have had almost complete access to An, his family, friends and files. The author attributes An's remarkable clandestine success to his perfect impersonation of a reporter: There's no evidence to suggest he engaged in disinformation or biased the coverage of the newsmen he aided. Though he never knowingly hurt any of his friends, An's spying doubtlessly resulted in many American deaths. Yet An's American circle expresses almost no feelings of outrage or betrayal, but rather echoes his own view that he fought not against the Americans, but rather for his own country as a nationalist patriot. Afair-minded, consistently interesting attempt to unpack the "boxes within boxes in An's life" and a fascinating contribution to our understanding of America's defeat in Vietnam. Agent: John W. Wright/John W. Wright Literary Agency
Bernard Kalb
"Larry Berman in his book—insightful, overdue, an authentic ‘Shock and Awe’ story—deftly humanizes the contradictions in An’s life"
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060888398
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/13/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 805,031
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Larry Berman has written four previous books on the war in Vietnam: Planning a Tragedy: The Americanization of the War in Vietnam; Lyndon Johnson's War: The Road To Stalemate in Vietnam; No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger and Betrayal in Vietnam and Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An, Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent. He has been featured on C-SPAN Book TV, Bill Moyers' The Public Mind and David McCullough's American Experience. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fellow in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He received the Bernath Lecture Prize for contributions to our understanding of foreign relations and the Department of the Navy Vice Admiral Edwin B. Hooper Research Grant. Berman is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Davis and Founding Dean of the Honors College at Georgia State University. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Perfect Spy
The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent

Chapter One

Hoa Binh: Spy and Friend

For Pham Xuan An—who taught me about Vietnam and the true meaning of friendship. To you, the bravest man I have ever met, I owe a debt that can never be repaid. Hoa Binh.

—Robert Sam Anson, inscription inside his book
War News: A Young Reporter in Indochina

August 1970

The ninety-minute flight from Singapore to Saigon must have seemed like an eternity for young Diane Anson. The previous day she had received official notification that her husband, Time magazine correspondent Robert Sam Anson, was missing somewhere in Cambodia. The official "date of loss" was August 3, 1970."1 No other information was forthcoming. Bob could already be dead and his body never to be recovered, as was the status for Time's freelance photo journalist Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, working on assignment for CBS, when both disappeared in early April just outside of Phnom Penh.2

Cambodia was becoming known as the graveyard of journalists. In September alone, twenty-five journalists would lose their lives in Vietnam's neighboring country, among them several American and international reporters and crew members near the small village of Takeo, an hour's drive from Phnom Penh. Looking at her young daughter and infant son on the seat beside her, Diane refused to think that their father's name had been added to the list of those dead.

Diane Anson hated America's war inVietnam. She and her husband had met at an antiwar rally on the campus of Notre Dame University. "Vietnam was the reason we'd met," wrote Anson. "I'd seen her on a picket line at a campus demonstration protesting Father Hesburgh's annual blessing of the ROTC. Diane was one of the few girls who had shown up and the angriest of the dozen or so of us who were there. The passion on her face made her, I thought, quite attractive."3 Anson had been carrying a sign, war is good business, invest your son. A week later they eloped and were married in Las Vegas.

All of that seemed so long ago as the plane set down at Saigon's Tan Son Nhut Airport. Diane went directly to Time-Life bureau headquarters located in the Continental Hotel. Cradling her fifteen-month-old son, Sam, in one arm and holding the hand of her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Christian, she went from desk to desk, pleading for information from reporters, who had no news at all. Bob's colleagues at the bureau tried to say the right thing, but everyone felt helpless, sensing he was gone forever. She now feared the worst for her twenty-five-year-old husband, the youngest correspondent on Time's staff.

Diane was sobbing uncontrollably by the time she reached the office of her husband's good friend, Vietnamese reporter Pham Xuan An, who could not take his eyes off the two young children. An's thoughts flashed to a day weeks earlier when Bob Anson had asked to meet at Givral in order to read over a letter of resignation he planned on submitting to Time's bureau chief, Marsh Clark, known throughout Saigon for his enthusiasm for the war. Clark's father had been a United States senator; his grandfather Champ Clark had served as Speaker of the House. Anson viewed Clark as "perhaps the most American man I had ever met."4

Bob Anson thought things were going to work out so much differently when he accepted the assignment to Vietnam. He had the label of "Time Inc. comer," and like most young correspondents arriving in Vietnam, this was his opportunity to establish his reputation as David Halberstam, Malcolm Browne, and Neil Sheehan had done in the early 1960s, when the war was small. But after just a few months in-country, Anson could not get his stories into the magazine, while the two senior resident Saigon correspondents, Clark and Burt Pines, seemed to have little trouble getting their material approved in New York by Henry Grunwald, Time's editor.

The Communists' Tet Offensive in January 1968 revealed that despite 525,000 troops, billions of dollars, and an extensive bombing campaign named Rolling Thunder, the rate of the war and the capacity to sustain it were controlled not by America's superior technology, but by the enemy. In effect, the United States faced stalemate in Vietnam and was no closer to achieving its political objective than at the outset of Americanization in 1965. All of this was having an effect on the psyche of Lyndon Johnson. In a background briefing for foreign reporters, LBJ was asked about peace feelers or signals from Hanoi. "Signals," exploded the president. "I'll tell you about signals. I got my antennae out in Washington. I got my antennae out in London. I got my antennae out in Paris. I got my antennae out in Tokyo. I even got my antennae out in Rangoon! You know what signals all my antennae are picking up from Hanoi?" The world press was hushed. "I'll tell you what the signals from Hanoi are saying: 'Fuck you, Lyndon Johnson.'"5

In the aftermath of Tet, Johnson faced a request for an additional 206,000 troops. Before committing himself, Johnson appointed a task force under the direction of the new secretary of defense, Clark Clifford. "Give me the lesser of evils," Johnson instructed Clifford. When Johnson later convened a meeting of his foreign policy advisers to discuss the report, Clifford took the lead in trying to persuade the president that his current policy would not accomplish the purpose of sustaining a viable South Vietnam that could live in peace. "We seem to have a sinkhole. We put in more—they match it. I see more and more fighting with more and more casualties on the U.S. side and no end in sight to the action."6

Addressing the nation on March 31, 1968, Johnson spoke of achieving peace through negotiations and called for a partial bombing halt. He asked Ho Chi Minh to join him in working toward a peace through negotiations. The United States was "ready to send its representatives to any forum, at any time, to discuss the means of bringing this ugly war to an end." Then, in a dramatic gesture toward national unity, the president renounced his chance for reelection: "I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president."

Perfect Spy
The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An Time Magazine Reporter and Vietnamese Communist Agent
. Copyright © by Larry Berman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 2, 2014

    Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....!

    Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)