20 Must-Read Books on the Vietnam War

Nonfiction

The Best and the Brightest,’ by David Halberstam

In “The Best and the Brightest,” Halberstam sets out to discover how the United States got involved in Vietnam. It is a “valuable contribution to the literature not only on Vietnam but on the way Washington and our foreign policy establishment work,” showing us how “bureaucratic considerations triumphed over ideological or even common-sense ones.” According to The Times 1972 review, the “book’s main and most remarkable contribution is to introduce us in depth to the architects of America’s involvement in Vietnam.”

Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans,’ by Wallace Terry

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For black soldiers, fighting in Vietnam was especially bad. “Not only were they dying at a disproportionate rate — they made up 23 percent of the fatalities during the early years of the war — but they also faced discrimination within the military in terms of decorations, promotions and duty assignments.” This oral history gives the “reader a visceral sense of what it was like, as a black man, to serve in Vietnam and what it was like to come back to ‘the real world’.”

Born on the Fourth of July,’ by Ron Kovic

The Times described “Born on the Fourth of July” as a memoir about “killing and being killed on the battlefields of Southeast Asia.” Kovic came back “to a town built by veterans of a prouder war who didn’t understand the veterans of Vietnam. It is an account of one man and one community, but it could be the account of a whole generation and a whole country.”

A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam,’ by Neil Sheehan

The power of this book “lies in its anger” as it showcases the “confused or venal men in Washington and Saigon.” According to the 1988 Times review, “if there is one book that captures the Vietnam War in the sheer Homeric scale of its passion and folly, this book is it.”

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

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McMaster’s book looks at the “human failures” of President Lyndon Johnson and his advisers. “What gives ‘Dereliction of Duty’ its special value,” according to the Times review, “is McMaster’s comprehensive, balanced and relentless exploration of the specific role of the…

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