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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)

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.

15 of 17 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.

9 of 11 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.

2 of 2 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Down the rabbit hole

I wanted clues about how the world got a bit reordered through the Vietnam War and how strategy and tactics developed. The audiobook delivered on that.

The authors wanted to move through time but they had to tell what different actors were doing. They made ten chronological divisions. If I didn't already know major events that would happen next, I'd never guess them.

The way the narrator performed, I somehow suspended my belief and fell into the big story. There were so many heroic individuals to know about decades later, and yet the really rare thing is to have leaders who can perceive things as they are and then make good choices.


1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Compelling

Both the book and the film were well written and directed. I served in Vietnam and was able to relate totally.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • michael
  • VANCOUVER, WA, United States
  • 10-02-17

Great detail, narration could be better.

Great detail with lots of insight. After watching the TV series, it would have been better to include the actual recordings of president's and witnesses rather than narrator reading. Primary narrator was fine, but secondary that read "essays" was creepy.

1 of 1 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.

6 of 9 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!

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Peter
  • United States
  • 12-05-17

Almost as long as the war itself

What did you like best about The Vietnam War? What did you like least?

When it ended. This book need to be edited

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

terrible war and subject

What three words best describe the narrators’s performance?

As good as you could hope for

Did The Vietnam War inspire you to do anything?

probably stay clear of burns in the future

Any additional comments?

The author talk about how worthless It was to project What Kennedy would have done- then speculates he would have ended the war

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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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  • 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.

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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.

2 of 10 people found this review helpful

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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

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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.