Best overview book on the Vietnam War?
October 4, 2009 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Looking for an essential nonfiction overview (among many available) on the Vietnam War. Any suggestions?
posted by snap_dragon to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
De Groot, A Noble Cause
posted by A189Nut at 1:43 PM on October 4, 2009

Seconding right above, Halberstam and Sheehan. Halberstam in particular for the high level political machinations.
posted by vito90 at 2:54 PM on October 4, 2009

Just to sell De Groot, written after the war and by a non-American, non-participant.
posted by A189Nut at 2:54 PM on October 4, 2009

I would argue that the most comprehensive overview is going to be David Elliott's The Vietnamese War, but at over 1500 pages might be a bit much -here's the concise edition. Or check your library. Another excellent book not yet mentioned is: David Kaiser's American Tragedy: Kennedy, Johnson, and the Origins of the Vietnam War which I think does an excellent job of answering most of the big questions of the conflict that the average young American may have - assuming this description applies to you.

I will also second the Sheehan book - and I cannot let the Kissinger book go by - it is little more than tired revisionism written by a liar, and if you are interested in books written by folks who right in it - I would suggest Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg.
posted by zenon at 4:08 PM on October 4, 2009

Fire in the Lake, by Francis Fitzgerald won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.

On Strategy by Harry Summers applies Clauswitz to Vietnam to see where the US went wrong, and the book is useful when discussing Gulf Wars I and II (and Afghanistan).
posted by KokuRyu at 4:59 PM on October 4, 2009

Kissinger might be biased.
posted by ovvl at 6:47 PM on October 4, 2009

Best answer: I know you're looking for an historical overview, but I just finished a great book that I'd recommend if you're ever interested in reading a more personalized account. It's called "The Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars", by Andrew X. Pham. It's creative non-fiction, written from the perspective of the author's father, who lived through the Japanese occupation of Vietnam, the French war, and then the American War (what we call the Vietnam War). It's beautifully written and will obviously give a much better idea of what (some) Vietnamese people went through than will any of the books listed above.

Again, I know this isn't really what you're looking for -- but I just finished it and loved it and so I thought I'd take the opportunity to recommend it :)
posted by imalaowai at 7:31 PM on October 4, 2009

Best answer: I'm not an expert by any means, but I found the PBS series to be very good. There is a companion book. I expect the TV series is netflixable.

" A seminal television event when it premiered as a 13-part series on PBS in 1983, Vietnam: A Television History was edited to 11 hours and rebroadcast in 1997. The series won television's top awards, including seven Emmys, the George Foster Peabody Award, the duPont/Columbia Journalism Award, the George Polk Award, two Writer's Guild Awards, and the Erik Barnouw Award of the Organization of American Historians. The duPont/Columbia jurors noted, 'These 13 hours of spellbinding, journalistically exemplary television have deservedly been called a landmark in American broadcast journalism and the most important and most compelling documentary series ever made. The power and importance of this series will endure.' "
posted by neuron at 8:04 PM on October 4, 2009

Definitely not an overview, but Michael Herr's Dispatches is probably the best book written about Vietnam. Once you get the high level political stuff down, definitely read Herr's book. It will give you a much better sense of how out of touch with reality the American leadership was and essentially why they lost the war.
posted by Locobot at 1:03 AM on October 5, 2009

I recomend "America's Longest War" by George Herring. I read it as an assigned textbook, but I still found it an interesting read and the best overview book I've read so far. Make sure you only get the latest edition.
posted by Horatius at 1:46 AM on October 5, 2009

Best answer: Stanley Karnow's Vietnam: A History (the companion book to the PBS series).

Additional good nonfiction:
The Pentagon Papers
Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War
Mark Baker's Nam: The Vietnam War in the Words of the Men and Women Who Fought There
Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam
posted by kirkaracha at 7:48 AM on October 5, 2009

Response by poster: extra tip of the hat for recommending that series. Will get on Netflix or youtube or what-have-you. Thanks all for your input. Adding some fiction by Tim O'Brien to my list, too!
posted by snap_dragon at 10:49 AM on October 5, 2009

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