This authoritative and wide-ranging history traces events in this little-known country from ancient monarchy, through its establishment as a French colony, to independence in 1953, the People's Democratic Republic, and the present one-party authoritarianism. The book highlights Laos' complex and shifting political alliances. The struggle for independence from France was followed by a struggle for unity and neutrality in the face of persistent foreign intervention, as the country was drawn into the war in Vietnam. Only with the end of the Cold War and the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops has Laos been able to reassert its neutral foreign policy and develop a market economy. This book is an impressive political, social, cultural and economic history. It will be essential for anyone wanting to understand Laos as it joins ASEAN, faces great economic challenges and struggles to maintain its cultural identity.