The United States intervention was critical to its efforts to stop communism from spreading. Vietnam War – The war cost American lives to achieve political and military objectives that few people understand. This event opens up a deeper understanding of the problems surrounding the war. Discover how much you know about this decades-long conflict. Continue reading these best Vietnam War books to learn more about the war.
Table of Contents
- 1 Best Books About The Vietnam War
- 1.1 An Intimate History Of Killing By Joanna Bourke
- 1.2 A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan
- 1.3 The Girl in the Picture by Denise Chong
- 1.4 The Sympathizer By Viet Thang Nguyen
- 1.5 Dog Soldiers By Robert Stone
- 1.6 We Were Soldiers Once…and Young by Lt. General Ha Moore and Joseph Galloway
- 1.7 Street Without Joy: Indochina At War, 1946-54 By Bernard Fall
- 1.8 Home Before Morning: The Story Of An Army Nurse In Vietnam By Lynda Van Devanter
- 1.9 Dispatches by Michael Herr
- 1.10 The Things They Carried By Tim O’Brien, 1990
- 1.11 Bloods: An Oral History Of The Vietnam War By Black Veterans By Wallace Terry
- 1.12 Patches Of Fire: A Story Of War And Redemption By Albert French, 1997
- 1.13 The Sorrow Of War By Bao Ninh
- 1.14 When Heaven And Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman’s Journey From War To Peace By Le Ly Hayslip With Jay Wurts
- 1.15 The Vietnam Reader
- 1.16 In Retrospect by Robert Mcnamara
- 1.17 If I Die In A Combat Zone: Box Me Up And Ship Me Home by Tim O’Brien, 1974
- 1.18 Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War In Vietnam By Nick Turse
- 1.19 Fields of Fire By James Webb
- 1.20 The Best And The Brightest By David Halberstam, 1972
- 1.21 A Rumor Of War By Philip Caputo, 1977
- 1.22 Dirty Work By Larry Brown, 1988
- 1.23 Close Quarters By Larry Heinemann, 1977
- 1.24 The Short-Timers By Gustav Hasford
- 1.25 On The Frontlines Of The Television War: A Legendary War Cameraman In Vietnam By Yasutsune Hirashiki
- 1.26 In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories Of The Lost War By Tobias Wolff
- 1.27 Fire In The Lake: The Vietnamese And The Americans In Vietnam By Frances Fitzgerald.
- 2 Other Best Vietnam War Books Considered:
- 3 Conclusion
Best Books About The Vietnam War
An Intimate History Of Killing By Joanna Bourke
Best Vietnam War Nonfiction Books
This book covers World War I, World War II, and Vietnam War. It does an outstanding job of illuminating the psychological aspects of wartime for those involved in the killing. No matter how you feel about war, the universal themes Bourke exposes, re: soldiers’ attempts to deal with combat, are themes many can relate to.
A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan
A powerful and sprawling account of the brutal Vietnam War, A Bright Shining Lie is a compelling story. Neil Sheeha, the National Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction recipient, is an excellent account of the Vietnam War.
A Bright Shining Lie focuses on the experiences of Lt. Col. John Paul Vann. He was there in 1962 to witness the corruption, arrogance, and incompetence that would eventually define the Vietnam War and American involvement in Vietnam.
Vann was against the Pentagon’s strategy for the indiscriminate bombing and forcible relocations of peasant village villages. However, his superiors ignored him, so he started leaking crucial information to Sheehan and the press corps. Vann was forced into retirement and became a hero for those who were skeptical about the war. He returned to Vietnam in 1965 and took part in the controversial Phoenix Program.
He was the first civilian to command regular troops in combat. Sheehan embarked on a 16 year mission to write A Bright Shining Lie after learning more about Vann’s private life. It was a riveting and often bitter look at war through the eyes of a tarnished hero, who represented the best and worst of the American experience in Vietnam.
The Girl in the Picture by Denise Chong
One of the most memorable images from the Vietnam War is a nine year old girl fleeing her village in South Vietnam after being badly burned by napalm. It was a sad and tragic depiction of the human toll war can cause. The Girl in the Picture is a story about how the photo was created, Kim Phuc (the girl in the photograph), and the devastating effects of war on civilians in Vietnam.
The Sympathizer By Viet Thang Nguyen
Best Vietnam War Fiction Books
This debut novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016, could be categorized into half a dozen genres, including war narrative, an immigrant story, mystery, political, historical, and even dark comedy. An anonymous North Vietnamese narrator is a soldier in South Vietnam and is sent to the U.S. as an exile community. He remains in the South Vietnamese army.
Dog Soldiers By Robert Stone
Dog Soldiers won the 1974 National Book Award for Fiction. It is a story about the Vietnam War and drug smuggling. Stone is often compared to Ernest Hemingway and Joseph Conrad. Stone’s Vietnam novel is widely regarded as one of the finest. Stone focuses on two characters. One of them is a sailor returning home from Vietnam. One is a war correspondent. Both are greatly affected throughout the novel.
We Were Soldiers Once…and Young by Lt. General Ha Moore and Joseph Galloway
Some 450 soldiers, under Colonel Harold Moore’s command, were dropped into a small clearing at the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965. Around 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers immediately surrounded them. The battle that followed, which was the first major battle in the Vietnam War’s history, was brutal and bloody. The remarkable story of military history is told in We Were Soldiers Once… and Young. It was also the basis of the 2002 film We Were Soldiers.
Street Without Joy: Indochina At War, 1946-54 By Bernard Fall
Fall was an American soldier who fought on the side of the French Resistance during World War II. He later joined the U.S. Army. He was regarded as one of the most critical scholars of the Indochina War, which resulted in Vietnam being a French colony. He wrote eight books on the French War and the origins of Vietnam War history before he was killed in Vietnam in 1967. It also contained a warning about the dangers that the U.S. military faced, which was sadly true in large part.
The book not only gives a wonderful account of a conflict that was often forgotten in the aftermath American’s war in Vietnam but also addressed the ongoing debate among military experts about the nature of Indochina’s two wars and the best ways to combat them, said George Herring, author of America’s Longest War.
Home Before Morning: The Story Of An Army Nurse In Vietnam By Lynda Van Devanter
Van Devanter is widely considered to be one of the essential Vietnam war books. She also writes vividly about the dying and wounded men she met as a nurse at the 71% Evacuation hospital from 1969 to 1970. This book covers her experiences in war and coming home and the eventual creation of the Women Veterans Project at Vietnam Veterans of America.
Dispatches by Michael Herr
Dispatches were first published in 1977. It remains one of the best examples of war reporting. It is written by Michael Herr, war correspondent, and recounts the horrors of war and the daily lives of soldiers in a combat zone. He does this in clear, concise prose. Dispatch was a classic that inspired many of the best films about the Vietnam War, including Apocalypse Now. It remains an essential read.
The Things They Carried By Tim O’Brien, 1990
Tim O’Brien’s book may be the most popular and widely read Vietnam War fiction. It is a staple in college and high school English classes. These interconnected stories tell the story of Tim O’Brien, who, after returning home from war, looks back at his life and meditates on its meaning. It is full of clever plots and memorable characters. The book also contains thoughtful discussions on death, truth, fiction, and nature war stories.
Bloods: An Oral History Of The Vietnam War By Black Veterans By Wallace Terry
The obstacles faced by American soldiers in Vietnam were numerous, and the difficulties faced by Black American soldiers in Vietnam were even more significant.
This book covers all aspects of the Vietnam war. It includes the fact that nearly one quarter of all deaths in Vietnam occurred in the first three years and the discrimination they faced when it came to promotions, duty assignments, decorations, and other duties. This book is an oral history about what it was like to serve your country in Vietnam and how you return home.
Patches Of Fire: A Story Of War And Redemption By Albert French, 1997
French vividly explains his war and postwar experiences. He also provides insights into the nature of Vietnam’s war, the treatment of returning veterans, and the persistence of post traumatic stress disorder.
In 1963, he joined the Marines and served a long, combative tour with E Company of the 2nd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment until he sustained severe injuries during Operation Harvest Moon in Chu Lai, December 1965. Terrance Maitland, a New York Times Book Review writer, said that the book was a classic tale, life affirming and updated for the modern age.
The Sorrow Of War By Bao Ninh
This fictional story of Kien, a North Vietnam infantryman, focuses on his transformation into an author, his struggle to forget his combat memories, and the horrible mess that his life has become. The Sorrow of War, an official Vietnamese publication, has been a best seller.
When Heaven And Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman’s Journey From War To Peace By Le Ly Hayslip With Jay Wurts
Hayslip’s story, which he grew up during the Vietnam War, is intimate, personal, and ultimately human. This is the story of Vietnam’s destruction, self-destruction as told through the eyes of Hayslip, a young girl who grew up in a war torn family and community. She became a refugee in Saigon as a teenager and lived among South Vietnamese and American soldiers. It is a tale of heartbreak and finding the strength to survive, and it is one of my favorite Vietnam memoirs.
The Vietnam Reader
The Vietnam Reader is the best book you could choose to study about the Vietnam War. The Vietnam Reader, edited by Stewart O’Nan, is an impressive collection covering the full scope of the Vietnam War’s impact. The Vietnam Reader draws on all media regarding the war, including fiction, poetry, song lyrics, and film. To present a vivid and easily readable overview of one of the most critical events in the 20th century.
In Retrospect by Robert Mcnamara
Nearly twenty years after the end of the war in Vietnam, In Retrospect offers an insider’s perspective on the questionable decisions made and the wrong assumptions that led the U.S. to become involved in Vietnam. Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense between 1961 and 1968. This candid memoir contains his memories of the folly and destruction that followed, supported by declassified papers.
If I Die In A Combat Zone: Box Me Up And Ship Me Home by Tim O’Brien, 1974
One of the first major publishers to publish If I Die In a Combat Zone was a Vietnam War memoir. O’Brien writes in an impressionistic style about his childhood in Minnesota, the draft, infantry training, and nine months as a rifleman in the 198th Light Infantry Brigade. O’Brien was an intelligent, sensitive, and well-read budding poet/author when he was drafted.
O’Brien struggled with mental issues before he decided to submit to the draft. He philosophized through basic training and survived a brutal tour of duty. He is faithful to his words, and the book flows naturally with the chronology of a novel.
Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War In Vietnam By Nick Turse
This history of the Vietnam War is based on classified documents and first person interviews. It contains not a single punch. Turse’s Vietnam war books and his thesis is that American violence against Vietnamese civilians wasn’t an accident and was not expected. They were part of a war, and soldiers were instructed to participate in the hate based slaughter.
Fields of Fire By James Webb
Fields of Fire is straightforward, brutal, and truthful. While it lacks the literary ambition of The Things They Carried and the psychedelic poetry of Dispatches (both of which are great), it more than makes up for this by dragging readers into the mud and heat of combat in Vietnam. James Webb is a war novelist awarded a Navy Cross for his heroic actions in Vietnam and served one year as a U.S. Senator.
The Virginia senator presents a grunt eye view of war and forgoes psychology and politics. All from very different backgrounds, his three protagonists are forced to put aside misinformed expectations and learn survival skills. These young Marines, who were native at the beginning, become battle scarred warriors throughout their tour. But at what terrible price?
The Best And The Brightest By David Halberstam, 1972
Halberstam was a Vietnam War correspondent at The New York Times and produced an engaging, well-written history of America’s involvement during the Vietnam War. He focuses on personalities, primarily the best and brightest of John F. Kennedy’s administration, including Robert McNamara, Walt Rostow, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, and General Maxwell Taylor and the many mistakes made in prosecuting the war.
Halberstam’s book, The Best and the Brightest asked the question: “What was it that allowed this tragedy? Their attitudes and, above all, the country?” Halberstam died in an auto accident in 2007.
A Rumor Of War By Philip Caputo, 1977
A Rumor of War, one of the essential Vietnam War memoirs ever written, was immediately praised by the author, a former Marine first lieutenant. William Styron wrote that Caputo’s “troubled, searching meditations about the love and hatred of war, fear, and the ambivalent discord warfare can create within the hearts of decent people, are amongst the most eloquent in modern literature.”
Caputo recounts his Marine Corps experiences starting when he joined and ending with his tour of duty in March 1965, when he was drafted into the Marines. The book’s last section is a detailed account of the North Vietnamese invasion of Saigon that Caputo reported on as a journalist in April 1975.
Dirty Work By Larry Brown, 1988
Dirty Work is short fiction that features dialogues and monologues by two severely wounded Marines in Vietnam. Brown, who was not in Vietnam but served in the Marine Corps, unwinds the action in one long night as the main characters speak to each other in a veterans’ hospital.
One patient was injured in a firefight and has been kept in hospital for 22 years. One patient, whose face was severely damaged during the war, has intermittent seizures due to a bullet lodged inside his brain. Both characters are drawn clearly and accurately. Brown weaves together their thoughts and words into a compelling story. It is told through flashbacks, monologues, and conversations. Brown passed away in 2004.
Close Quarters By Larry Heinemann, 1977
Larry Heinemann’s autobiographical novel, the first piece of fiction set during the Vietnam War, is an essential and under appreciated work of fiction. This fast paced book tells the story of draftee Philip Dosier starting with his induction. Dosier is sent on a memorable tour of duty in Vietnam and then sent home.
Close Quarters has a lot of characters that could be considered familiar doltish officers and sergeants. Still, Heinemann gives them their personalities through a book of brutal prose that captures the reality of life in the trenches. Heinemann was a member of the 25th Infantry Division between 1967 and ’68.
The Short-Timers By Gustav Hasford
Although it’s unlikely that you’ve ever heard of The Short Timers (a book currently out of print), you might have seen the film based on it: Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Hasford wrote this semi autobiographical novel about his experiences in Vietnam and intended it to be a trilogy of Vietnam war books. His death thwarted these plans shortly after the publication of the second novel.
On The Frontlines Of The Television War: A Legendary War Cameraman In Vietnam By Yasutsune Hirashiki
The author spent ten years in Vietnam. He started in 1966 as a freelancer and continued to Vietnam until 1975, when he was forced to leave. The Vietnam memoir contains many fascinating tales, close calls, and battle memories. It is primarily about the stories of soldiers who fought and died and those who were there as reporters and photographers. Hirashiki’s book is considered to be one of the most outstanding books on war journalism.
In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories Of The Lost War By Tobias Wolff
In Pharaoh’s Army picks up from Wolff’s popular memoir This Boy’s Life. Wolff spent a whole year learning Vietnamese and became a paratrooper before being stationed in the South Vietnamese Army. This memoir contains memories from the battle of the Tet Offensive as well as other events. It was one of only two Vietnam war books finalists for the National Book Award in nonfiction.
Fire In The Lake: The Vietnamese And The Americans In Vietnam By Frances Fitzgerald.
Frances FitzGerald wrote this detailed account of Vietnam’s history and the consequences of the war with the United States. It was a bestseller for over ten weeks. The book won various prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Non Fiction and the National Book Award. It was the first major American book on Vietnam War. It highlighted the ignorance of the United States about the country’s leaders and culture before invading.
Other Best Vietnam War Books Considered:
- Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (2009) by Karl Marlantes
- The Quiet American By Graham Greene
The war in Afghanistan is now America’s longest, and the debate continues over whether America should keep military operations there. This is the perfect moment to revisit America’s second longest war, Vietnam. The best Vietnam war books list above will hopefully help you to understand more about the Vietnam war.
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