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Publisher's Summary

From the award-winning historian and filmmakers of The Civil War, Baseball, The War, The Roosevelts, and others: a vivid, uniquely powerful history of the conflict that tore America apart - the companion volume to the major multipart PBS film to be aired in September 2017.

More than 40 years after it ended, the Vietnam War continues to haunt our country. We still argue over why we were there, whether we could have won, and who was right and wrong in their response to the conflict. When the war divided the country, it created deep political fault lines that continue to divide us today. Now, continuing in the tradition of their critically acclaimed collaborations, the authors draw on dozens and dozens of interviews in America and Vietnam to give us the perspectives of people involved at all levels of the war: US and Vietnamese soldiers and their families, high-level officials in America and Vietnam, antiwar protestors, POWs, and many more. The book plunges us into the chaos and intensity of combat, even as it explains the rationale that got us into Vietnam and kept us there for so many years. Rather than taking sides, the book seeks to understand why the war happened the way it did and to clarify its complicated legacy. Beautifully written, this is a tour de force that is certain to launch a new national conversation.

©2017 Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Lucid, flowing, and dramatic...robustly detailed writing...eye-opening...powerful in its own right.... In their new 'intimate' yet capacious history, the award-winning, audience-enthralling duo of historian and screenwriter Ward and documentarian extraordinaire Burns investigate the complex, divisive, and tragic Vietnam War from a unique plurality of perspectives." (Donna Seaman, Booklist)

"The melancholy tone of Ken Burns's voice exactly suits the mood of this history of the Vietnam War... Burns adds no false drama but always reads with a tone of respect for the front-line combatants and the earnest opponents.... Overall, the audio does the print version full justice." (AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Gillian
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 09-14-17

Breathtaking In Scope; Heartbreaking In Reality

I bought The Vietnam War because I respect Ken Burns and, well, I wanted to make sense of what I saw on TV and in the newspapers when I was just a little kid.
This book is mindblowing in its scope, in the detail, in the amount of research that was poured into it. It covers about every viewpoint a reader/listener could ask for: background shenanigans at the White House, a grunt's view, the war back home (from peaceful demonstrators to those who made the peace movement something Nixon's public hated/feared); Vietnamese civilians trying to live in the midst of chaos, North Vietnamese and the NLF who were willing to sacrifice everything and kill every American they could.
And much, much more.
It's all delivered in the tones of skilled documentarians who sometimes skimp on the emotion but always, always, deliver blows with dead accuracy. Sometimes devastating, sometimes heartrending, the same tones are used.
And that's the only, only flaw I could find with this audiobook.
Everything else? Well, I'm still wondering how the heartbreak I saw on TV after watching Captain Kangaroo, after hearing at my grade school about POWs, happened: It's all so very tragic, and the fact that we can find lines that trickle their way through our current actions and inactions just about rips my heart out.
Listen to this if you want great history. You won't be disappointed.

20 of 22 people found this review helpful

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Adds more detail to the PBS Documentary

I listened to this audiobook and watched the Ken Burns Documentary at the same time. Both were excellent. This audiobook tracks well with the Documentary through 1970 but it adds some more detail such as an analysis of what Kennedy would do if he wasn't assassinated which wasn't in the Documentary.
While the Documentary was excellent and by far the best I have seen on the Vietnam war - I was disappointed with the Documentary's coverage after 1970 - it appears that perhaps the TV producers ran short of funding and did a relatively cursory coverage of the last 4.5 years. That being said, the audiobook continued to have excellent coverage after 1970 and contains a lot that was obviously cut out of the Documentary and that I wish was in there. For example, the audiobook contains excellent analysis of the Vietnamese diaspora which was almost entirely missing from the Documentary.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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The usual Vietnam info delivered in the old prose

I've listened to and read many, many books on Vietnam and if you've done the same you'll likely not get many interesting new nuggets out of this book.

I also have to mention that there is a one-sidedness to this book that at times makes me visualize Burns posing right along side Jane Fonda or waiving his own NLF flag while marching down Pennsylvania Ave. When speaking of protestors and violence in the US it was common of him to say that protestors "occupied" buildings but when the construction workers took over buildings they "invaded" them. Many times the words of events were not his own but were borrowed from others but the selection of those stories was at times curious. For example, he seemed to like to advance the theory that the reason people were so mad at Jane Fonda was not as much what she said and/or where she said it but more that she was so desirable at the time her betrayal or treason was that much more pronounced. I would say that the amount of outrage any celebrity generates tends to be in proportion to his popularity and the outrageousness of his actions or statements.

As the book goes on we see things like My Lai being referred to, appropriately, as a "Massacre" but for whatever bizarre reason the massacre at Hue was (borrowing a term, again), a "stain on the rebellion." When speaking of the killing of 100 civilians by the NVA at a prayer service in An Loc he told it with a degree of flatness that would've impressed McNamara but any time the US soldiers did something it was brutal, merciless, horrific, etc. Any US action received plenty of adjectives. I certainly have no problem with speaking of the horrors of war by both sides and on equal terms as it is important to paint it as horribly as it was. One certainly appreciates that in the context of discussing the political evolution of the war back home specific US actions of war are in fact relevant but the specifics of the words that are chosen and the language that is used is terribly asymmetric.

The author's passions start to become apparent at the end when speaking of the protestors and the peace movement and he abandons any degree of objectivity at this point, though I found it amusing he worked hard to separate himself from the Weathermen.

I wanted to listen to this audiobook before watching the PBS special but now I don't think I want to watch the PBS show. Also, I take back anything bad I said about Sheehan and Halberstam. Their works stand like beacons of examples of centered analyses by comparison.

18 of 24 people found this review helpful

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An Excellent Extension of the TV Series

There is much that is hard to bear in this book, but I can’t think of anything that did not seem to need to be said or that was put in a way
that seemed unfair to me. I wish American presidents didn’t come off so badly—but it is their own words that convict them. There are, on the other hand, many moments that move one to admiration for those who did what they saw as their duty. This is a just and compassionate book. It it also very well read. I am glad no attempt was made to introduce the sounds and music that help make the film so powerful. Watch the film for that. This book will give a fuller, more detailed view.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • TAG P.
  • South Carolina, US
  • 09-12-17

HANDS DOWN BEST BOOK

Wow, I'm blown away. I listened to this 30 hour book in 4 days. It is insane. The amount of lies, corruption, deceit, loss of honor that our leaders had is hard to listen to. There is so much information provided in this book. I though I knew a lot about the Vietnam war. I DID NOT! Buy this book now!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Provacitive, compelling and often disturbing

For many who believed the Vietnam war was to contain communism this will find this a disturbing story. Hidden whitehouse doubts of four Presidents, tensions at home and abroad, unstable leadership, nuclear brinkmanship, “The Vietnam War” presents a divided USA too ready to employ the military without an end game.

7 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Absolutely Captivating!

This book was the absolute best book on the Vietnam War that I have ever read! I couldn't stop listening.

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Fantastic

I leaned a ton! I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the Vietnam war: both what was happening abroad and in the US

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GOOD, AND DISAPPOINTING AS WELL

Good narration, and good content. I was disappointed to see Hanoi Jane Fonda kind of glossed over. In fact, I don't recall hearing Fonda's nickname used at all. What she did was no less than treacherous. would have liked to hear a little bit about General Schwarzkopf's experience in Vietnam, both as a major and a Lieutenant Colonel, Battalion Commander. I didn't care to hear about those who opposed the war, and those who fled to Canada, as any kind of Heroes. Still, as a Retired US Army Veteran, I found this worth the time to listen to. Good narration on what happened during 1968, in Chicago, and with Johnson and Nixon. LBJ's Legacy as president will be forever tainted for the way in which he tried to run the war from the White House. For all of President Nixon's faults, he may have taken longer than he had originally intended, but he does deserve the credit for getting us out of the war. Still, the way in which we left those in South Vietnam to fend for themselves will forever be a disgraceful memory in our nation's history. Again, well done!

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Good accounting

Would you consider the audio edition of The Vietnam War to be better than the print version?

I have not read the print version.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Vietnam War?

Full-scale evacuation of Saigon in '75, and Nixon's blatant willingness to lie just to retain his position.

What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

Nothing special. Just a good performance.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. It is 31 hours long.

Any additional comments?

I gave the book an overall rating of 4 stars because of the interjection of the author to recite his own opinions of the war, related politics, and aftermath. I think those opinions are important and necessary (especially for a watershed event such as the Vietnam War), but it was not something I wanted or expected to hear in an objective accounting of the history of the War. Other than that, 5 stars.

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  • Mr. Alan R. Jenkins
  • 11-01-17

audio book better than documentary film

fantastic insight into the Vietnam War from begins to final collapse with both sides of the story told in great detail with personal stories of participants and those who were there but necessarily involved in the conflict. The audio book is in my opinion better than the film documentary which also watched - the book deals with more detail; however, I would recommend that both versions be considered as you can see visually what much of the audio content is describing.

Factual, unbiased, and certainly the most accurate account I have yet to come across on the War; and explains where mistakes were made on both the French, American and Vietnamese sides; and how the peace movement influenced the final outcome; and the book ultimately explains the tragedy that befell the South on the communist take-over with its unimaginable human and economic cost.

Five stars = must listen to.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Tony
  • 10-01-17

Stunning account of Vietnam War

This is a must listen account of the Vietnam War told through the people who made and experienced it. The complexities of it's beginning are clearly explained and the futility of the military actions revealed. However the it's the interweaving of secret records, personal accounts, verbatim conversations

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Paul J.
  • 06-10-18

First I am English

The information in the book is extensive and is very well presented. My issue with the book is it is biased, but strangely enough against the US government and military. Every battle is about how bad the US were, how many men died, how many mistakes were made etc. Then we hear personal stories from the other side about their struggles, their suffering, their sacrifices. The book examined any US atrocities in detail and highlighted the shooting of the prisoner by the South Vietnamese general, but skimmed over the murder squads of the Viet Cong, the executing of injured US soldiers, the ignoring of the human rights of its citizens. I could go on but then I would echo their approach ;-)

I bought this book to understand the war better, it fails in that respect. What it does do very well, is provide the history, the wider context, JFKs assassination, Lyndon B Johnson's role, Nixon, the South Vietnamese regime the failing discipline, how many people went on each peace march, what they sang … sorry fell back into it.

I was born and brought up in the British Army, even went into it for a short time. It has its faults, it has its history, which we tend to recall the bad episodes (e.g. Somme, Dunkirk etc.) and make poems out of them (e.g. charge of the light brigade). But if you take the approach adopted by the writers on the US in the second world war, they would be criticising every battle, highlighting poor decisions, questioning the quality of the US soldier and so on.

I guess I don't recommend the book for my purpose of understanding the Vietnam War better. Do I recommend it for the anti-war context? No, it is repetitive and over explores its one sided approach. I suggest you watch the films.

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  • Mike
  • 06-04-18

Just OK

The narration was very flat and in parts became tedious and difficult to listen to.
All in all i was glad when the book ended, I would not recommend this to any of my friends

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  • R
  • 05-28-18

A balanced telling of the Vietnam war

A thought provoking book about the huge consequences of war conducted for political reasons,and no consideration for the people in whose name it is supposedly conducted for.

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  • Manavendra Pathania
  • 05-15-18

exceptional and thorough

truly majestic. gets sadder and sadder. the death of the babies on that flight made me need to stop for a while. just total misery.great coverage of the common folk and the leadership. the change of voices makes this long work more interesting to listen to. poor Vietnam: what it has endured beggars belief.

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  • Farniboy
  • 03-01-18

A History Of The War That Tore Apart Two Countries

I watched the Ken Burn's documentary on BBC4 before Christmas 2017, this is the accompanying book of that superb T documentary. Please don't let having viewed the documentary put you off purchasing the audio-book, the book is a far more detailed affair and includes some moving essays too.

This is a superb book that tells the history of the colonisation of Vietnam from the late 19th century til the late 20th Century and the conflicts that this process brings to this country. It briefly outlines the early years of the French colonisation, Ho Chi Minh's early years as a revolutionary in France and WWII before covering the French and American Wars in more detail. It covers all aspects of the war and from both sides. From the grunts up to the countries leaders.It tells of the ground war,and bombing campaigns and briefly touches on the limited naval war. The POW experience, the hospitals and also the anti war movement in the US are all covered Then on to the aftermath of the war and the effects of the events of the war on the people who had to fight in it. It also includes some standalone essays, my favourite of these was by Pulitzer prize winning author of The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen bout the diaspora of Vietnamese at the conclusion of the war and life as an immigrant in the USA.

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  • tugeladiver
  • 02-23-18

Excellent

One of the most interesting and comprehensive accounts of the war in Vietnam I have followed.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-01-18

interesting read

insightful and informative. some parts I found upsetting but that's not too surprising considering the subject matter. I would definetely recommend. the only negative point is some of the narration is a touch on the slow side.

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  • Al Campos
  • 10-03-17

Long boring US hagiography

With all the hype regarding the series I thought this would finally be a un-biased History on the story of the Vietnam War. I started immediately frowning buy the constant word "Communists" to describe NLF in South Vietnam (the VC for you Yanks) and the NVA or the regular army of North Vietnam. I thought we had passed the times of primary anti communism and "commies" I guess not. Yes there were Communists but first they were proud nationalists who fought the Japanese, French and Americans. Then the Gulf of Tonkin "incident" is given reasonable doubt after this from a 2005, an internal National Security Agency historical study was declassified; it concluded that Maddox had engaged the North Vietnamese Navy on August 2, but that there were no North Vietnamese naval vessels present during the incident of August 4. The report stated, regarding the first incident on August 2, that "at 1500G,[note 1] Captain Herrick ordered Ogier's gun crews to open fire if the boats approached within ten thousand yards. At about 1505G, Maddox fired three rounds to warn off the communist boats. This initial action was never reported by the Johnson administration, which insisted that the Vietnamese boats fired first."[5]. This is important because of the resolution by Congress that led to all out war but its glossed over by the author's. The My Lai incident is not given enough time but like always its the personal stories of the poor American soldier like in all these types of projects. I find it ironic the description of an US POW about the poor food the awful conditions sleeping in the rain with no blankets disease ridden. Well the average Guerrilla of the NFL starved too and ate 1 or 2 bowls of rice when they had it and if injured he or she wasn't medevaced no he was left to die. Its sooo ironic the US soldier complaining he had no soap no toothpaste?!? I suggest reading "War Without Fronts" by Bernd Greiner (he's German) he writes about the "free fire" zones and the dozens if not hundreds of My Lai's. I would like that the 2-5 million dead Vietnamese had a wall with their names on it but no one will ever know how many of them died and were injured for life deformed by Agent Orange still being killed today not only in Vietnam but Laos and Combodia because of buried mines as the US used 10 times the ordnance of the Allied & Axis forces combined in WW2. Give this one a pass.

5 of 19 people found this review helpful

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  • Craig
  • 10-08-17

A lesson in History

I very much enjoyed listening to this book. I learnt a great deal about the war itself and the frailities ans selfishness of those in power. As an Australian I would have liked to hear a little of the role of Australians, Koreans and New Zealanders in the war - but that is only a minor criiticism. Thanks for producing this.

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  • aidan
  • 12-05-17

Amazing

This book is amazing I hate Flanders I hate Flanders I hate Flanders I hate Flanders I hate Flanders

0 of 1 people found this review helpful