Take Ten: The Vietnam War

We’re seeing a renewed interest in books about Vietnam – the war and its history – with the broadcast of the new Ken Burns documentary. It’s a significant topic, and there are many, many books reflecting various points of view. The list here is a starting point, including titles by some who lived through the experience.

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NONFICTION

The Best and the Brightest – David Halberstam

  • An account of American power and politics in the 1950s and 1960s highlights the political and military figures who shaped domestic and foreign policy and who orchestrated America’s involvement in Vietnam.

A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam – Neil Sheehan

  • Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann was the one clear-sighted participant in an enterprise riddled with arrogance and self-deception, but by the time he died in 1972, Vann had embraced the follies he once decried. A journalist tells the story of John Vann … and of the tragedy which destroyed the country and squandered so much of America’s young manhood and resources.

Chickenhawk – Robert Mason

  • A former Army helicopter pilot describes his experiences during a year’s tour in Vietnam, offering an extraordinary portrait of the terror, banality, stupidity, and waste of war.

Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam – H.R. McMaster

  • Outlines the policies and decisions that embroiled the U.S. in the war in Southeast Asia.

Father, Soldier, Son: A Memoir of a Platoon Leader in Vietnam – Nathaniel Tripp

  • A Vietnam platoon leader describes his challenges with taking care of and being a role model to his men as a son from a fatherless family, in a memoir that considers the realities of war and dysfunctional families.

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FICTION

Matterhorn – Karl Marlantes

  • Lieutenant Waino Mellas and his fellow Marines venture into the mountain jungle of Vietnam as boys and fight their way into manhood, confronting external obstacles as well as racial tension, competing ambitions, and underhanded officers.

The Quiet American – Graham Greene

  • This novel is a study of New World hope and innocence set in an Old World of violence. The scene is Saigon in the violent years when the French were desperately trying to hold their footing in the Far East. The principal characters are a skeptical British journalist, his attractive Vietnamese mistress, and an eager young American sent out by Washington on a mysterious mission.

The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen

  • Follows a Viet Cong agent as he spies on a South Vietnamese army general and his compatriots as they start a new life on 1975 Los Angeles.

The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien

  • Heroic young men carry the emotional weight of their lives to war in Vietnam in a patchwork account of a modern journey into the heart of darkness.

Tree of Smoke – Denis Johnson

  • The lives of Skip Sands, a spy-in-training engaged in psychological operations against the Vietcong, and brothers Bill and James Houston, young men who drift out of the Arizona desert into a war, intertwine in a novel of America during the Vietnam War.

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