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Publisher's Summary

Not since his New York Times best seller Black Hawk Down has Mark Bowden written a book about a battle. His most ambitious work yet, Huế 1968, is the story of the centerpiece of the Tet Offensive and a turning point in the American War in Vietnam.

By January 1968, despite an influx of half a million American troops, the fighting in Vietnam seemed to be at a stalemate. Yet General William Westmoreland, commander of American forces, announced a new phase of the war in which "the end begins to come into view". The North Vietnamese had different ideas. In mid-1967, the leadership in Hanoi had started planning an offensive intended to win the war in a single stroke. Part military action and part popular uprising, the Tet Offensive included attacks across South Vietnam, but the most dramatic and successful would be the capture of Huế, the country's cultural capital. At 2:30 a.m. on January 31, 10,000 National Liberation Front troops descended from hidden camps and surged across the city of 140,000. By morning, all of Huế was in Front hands save for two small military outposts.

The commanders in country and politicians in Washington refused to believe the size and scope of the Front's presence. Captain Chuck Meadows was ordered to lead his 160-marine Golf Company against thousands of enemy troops in the first attempt to reenter Huế later that day. After several futile and deadly days, Lieutenant Colonel Ernie Cheatham would finally come up with a strategy to retake the city, block by block and building by building, in some of the most intense urban combat since World War II.

With unprecedented access to war archives in the US and Vietnam and interviews with participants from both sides, Bowden narrates each stage of this crucial battle through multiple points of view. Played out over 24 days of terrible fighting and ultimately costing 10,000 combatant and civilian lives, the Battle of Huế was by far the bloodiest of the entire war. When it ended, the American debate was never again about winning, only about how to leave. In Huế 1968, Bowden masterfully reconstructs this pivotal moment in the American War in Vietnam.

©2017 Mark Bowden (P)2017 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Narrator Joe Barrett's voice, always scratchy, careworn, and haggard, has just the sound this book needs to carry it forward. He sounds like an old boot and offers no quarter when detailing the battle's ravages, both in terms of men and American strategy." (AudioFile)

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I KNEW This Book Would Sting Me . . . .

What did you love best about Hue 1968?

Joe Barrett is a top shelf narrator, particularly with this genre of literature.

Who was your favorite character and why?

General Westmoreland I suppose only because he was such a common thread in this well crafted tapestry, and while I was in country 1966, Chesty Westy was my commander. I am happy that his faults and lies were portrayed as well as his grand image.

Which scene was your favorite?

The early morning breakout to the hills, being one of the three options the torn up and surrounded battalion came up with for ex-filtration. The men "Would rather die trying to live" instead of waiting to be over run.

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

As much as I could, yes.

Any additional comments?

. . . . and yet I clicked on play anyway. I was in 3rd Corps, Republic of South Vietnam for Tet 1966, assigned along with 11 other American pilots, crew chiefs, radio men and advisers to ARVN forces at Duc Hoa, Southeast of Siagon. The night sky lit up with tracers and my first reaction was that we were being over run. Not so, I was told by Captain Tompkins. It was Tet and this was their fireworks celebration. We lived in a pagoda next to a PSP air strip. Capt. Tompkins made me sleep on the top bunk with a flak jacket on. Tet 1968 became the talk of the base at Ft Stewart Georgia where I was assigned as a flight instructor. Then, I was still a believer and could not distinguish lies from fact.I want to say that I am angry in my old age because of the lack of moral values by LBJ and his posse in the 60's and 70's but it is something else. Hindsight makes me sorrowful over their misleading our country and the families of the 58,000+ that sacrificed their lives so that I could purchase a bag of frozen prawns at Costco labeled "Product of Vietnam". You have heard the debate about "Blood for Oil"? Well my war was evidently "Blood for Shrimp"!

My mother was a gifted artist when I left for MACV and she never painted again. I am told she spent the year on the sofa chewing ice cubes while watching the news. She even wrote the President asking why her son was fighting in that conflict.So even though I was an Army officer and pilot who lived in relative security while not involved in operations, the story lines here rang true as I handled many radio calls for medivac, air support, artillery and resupply. Until this week, I was naive as to the horrific battle at Hue, thinking that the battle of Ia Drang Valley in November of 1965 when I had been in country just 4 months was as bad as it got. It would be wrong to say that I enjoyed the book, however it did rivet my attention for 3 days and recalled many memories that had lain un-visited for decades.

I did not know many Marines over there as I was Army. However, I "knew" many of the characters in this book. The author took great care to be graphic . . . . to fill a reader's consciousness with the feel, sight, touch, sounds and smells of close quarter battle. I am sure Mr. Bowden took some "literary license" in portraying many of these Marines thoughts and feelings, but they did ring true for the most part. I have mixed feelings about the scene where the Vietnamese woman came to a dirty and battle weary squad of Marines wishing to trade sex for C rations. I suppose it happened, but I never heard of anything quite like that. In its own way, it was tender, and a damn sight better that men just forcing themselves on civilian women.

So if this is what you want, if you are curious as to why so many who came back from this "conflict" only to discover they can never quite get all the way back, then this book is for you. For me, I probably will not open it again. It was well done for sure, and I did learn a lot from it that I had not previously internalized about our . . . . my involvement in Vietnam. I believe Daniel Ellsberg was heroic in his actions and saved tens of thousands of lives. I believe General Westmoreland was the reverse of Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes". Rather than the crowd wanting to exclaim "Look, the Emperor has no clothes", it could have been said of Westmoreland, "Look, the uniform has no general".

43 of 47 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 05-09-18

Beware of men w/ theories that explain everything.

“Beware of men with theories that explain everything.”
― Mark Bowden, Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam

I told my kids the other day that they were both indirect results of Vietnam. My wife's father, now dead, had a draft number of one, so enlisted so that he would have a better chance of chosing HOW he would enter the Vietnam War. He came in at the end of Vietnam and became a professional soldier and officer (green-to-gold). The Army trained him with helicopters and tanks, and he retired a decade ago as a Colonel. My own father, concerned too with the draft, enlisted in the Navy. He also made a career of the military and we met my wife's family when our families were both stationed in Izmir, Turkey in the late 80s and early 90s. I doubt very much if either of our fathers would have become officers and made careers out of the military without Vietnam. It is weird to think of the imacts of Vietnam 50 years+ after the fact.

The Battle of Huế was fought 50 years ago in Jan/Feb of 1968 as part of the Tet Offensive. It was the biggest, bloodiest, and most pivitol single battle of the Vietnam War. Both sides claim success and both claims can probably be easily criticized. It was the turning point for the US in both our perception of the War. Bowden captures, through exensive interviews and research, the claustrophobia, filth, and horror of door-to-door combat. If anyone walks away from this with less stature, it is probably General Westmoreland who went to his grave over-estimating those NVA soldiers killed, and underestimating US casualties, and ignoring the civilians killed. One of the sharpest, deadliest quotes of the book summarizes my feelings about General Westmoreland:

“Never had a general so effectively willed away the facts.”

I have brothers who fought in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Everyday, I wish we paid closer attention to Vietnam so we would have avoided getting ourselves into another protracted war in a country most of our citizens know little about. Understanding Vietnam (and understanding what got us and kept us there) requires knowing DETAILS. Bowden helps to uncover aspects of this war I knew about, but at a granular level I appreciated. If this book did anything else, it made me start planning a trip to Vietnam. I'd love to see Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and of course -- Huế.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Amazing.

You know the second part of Full Metal Jacket? That was the battle of Hue. Dark humor, an NFL turned USMC infantry commander (and was interviewed for a tv report), personal accounts from both sides, DARK HUMOR that made me laugh out loud, and some true accounts of the demons that still haunt the veterans. Ever present is the famous USMC ability to be resourceful with what they have.

Legit book.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Great book

Probably the best book on Vietnam I've listened to. It described to overall brutality of the war. I highly recommend it.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Michael
  • Silver Spring, MD, United States
  • 07-22-17

Excellent history

A compelling, thoroughly researched account of the bitterness battle of the Vietnam war told from the viewpoint of those who fought on both sides.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Hue 68. Moving and balanced

Bowden captures the battle from both sides fairly. Heroism, criminalism, professionalism and amateurism are on dislpay. Like Thucididies, a great story and a warning to decision makers.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Hue 1968: A horrid, yet true and factual account

Great narration. Truth can be sickening at times, yet we must be open to these events. only thru factual accounts is there hope of non-repitition.
Along with countless other vets, I too struggle as to reasoning for our participation in this conflict.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Terrible narration

Terrible voice. Boring voice. Hard to focus on story. Please rerecord this book with a better narrator

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Worth reading/listening but a little off

What does Joe Barrett bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

At first the book as a whole didn't sit well with me (see additional comments) and I felt on top of that I was getting the story from Andy Rooney. It did bother me less as the book went on.

Was Hue 1968 worth the listening time?

Yes. I found the early parts of the book a bit of a struggle but ultimately it was worth the listen.

Any additional comments?

I can't quite put my finger on what I didn't like about this book. There was something about the author that struck me as though he was doing his best not to gush over the NVA/VC and his love for Uncle Ho. There was a lack of balance (perhaps born out of lack of information) in the criticisms of the US & (A)RVN forces, the NVA/VC, and the higher political policies of both sides. I got tired of hearing the same criticisms of Westmoreland over and over, how great and honest the press was, and in places how inept or morally bankrupt US soldiers were. It wasn't Jane Fonda level but it was noticeable. The book did end up getting more balanced as it went on but I considered not finishing it about an hour or two in. Nevertheless I am glad I purchased and completed it.

10 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Too slanted

I would have enjoyed a more balanced look at this story of the Vietnam war. The author is not able to restrain himself from his own biases. Too much talk about how the journalists were the great ones. Too must disdain for Westmoreland, who gets called the diminutive “Westy” repeatedly during the book. The author would do better to let me form an opinion of the general’s effectiveness instead of trying to lead me in one direction. I have a great deal of respect for the military folks who endured that unfortunate trial. War is hell.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Stephen
  • 08-02-17

Outstanding Military History

What did you like most about Hue 1968?

Until I read Mark Bowden's outstanding Hue - 1968, I hadn't really appreciated the significance of Tet and Hue as a turning point in the Vietnam war. This is military history at its best, combining detailed research with clear, objective and compelling analysis. In other contexts, the level of detail would be confusing but Hue was such a complex and fragmented battle that Bowden is able to assemble all the disparate elements into a coherent narrative. It is only in the detail that you see the disconnect between the higher levels of command on both sides and the tactical actions on the ground. Bowden is balanced and objective about the significant failure of US generalship at theatre commander and formation level and his indictment of Westmorland, LaHue and Tolson in particular is salutary. In Bowden's view, the indictment is not just of incompetence but of wilful and arrogant self-delusion, which they translated into unrealistic and bombastic orders which got a large number of their subordinates killed and wounded in futile attacks. Bowden's review of the military-strategic and political context is also compelling but is more familiar territory. His judgment that the Press reporting was accurate, objective and in the public interest contrasts starkly with the popular misconception in the US that the Press unfairly influenced the US people to turn against the war. This book is definitive and a landmark in the literature of Vietnam, standing with the handful of books which provide real and original insight into a tragic and misdirected war.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Hue 1968?

Bowden's account of the shock and impact of the initial Front assault on Hue and shock and disbelief it achieved amongst the US troops. His account of the early defence of the MACV compound in Hue is memorable. His later portrayal of street fighting to recover the Triangle brings to life urban combat and we see a privileged view of what it was like for both sides and for the civilians caught up in the fighting.

What does Joe Barrett bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Joe Barrett is masterful. He narrates with real understanding and sympathy for the subject, avoids melodrama, has an engaging and lively voice which draws you to the narrative and keeps your attention. You really feel his deep engagement with the personalities involved and this creates an impression of intimacy which is the strength of the audiobook format. One of the best and in stark contrast to the narrators of other audio books who have little understanding of or sympathy with their subject and an inflated view of their thespian abilities. Joe Barratt avoids both traps and is a master of his craft.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It's military history. I read it with objective and detached interest. That said, Mark Bowden has interviewed many of the personalities in the book and has an obvious rapport with them which translates into many moving and human passages.

Any additional comments?

A fine book and one that particularly suits the audio format. Thank you to Mark Bowden and Joe Barrett for many hours well spent listening to their words.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr C T Walsh
  • 07-27-17

Very insightful book

Not the usual gung ho rubbish. This book attempts to tell the story from different sides. it felt like very balanced tale, and gripping too.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr Lee Rudd
  • 01-20-18

History of a pivotal and gruesome battle

A history of one of the pivotal battles of the American war in Vietnam. As always with Mark Bowden, excellent and in depth research. Key points

Disconnect between the reality of the situation “on the ground” and the senior officers and politicians
Bravery in Alliance and American sides
Apparent total invisibility of ARVN and South Vietnamese authorities
How well planned militarily and politically the Tet offensive in Hue was, under the noses of the CIA and Military Intelligence
Survivability of American marines and troops from some very gruesome injuries

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-27-17

Brilliant and important history

This is a gripping, well written and very important book. Defines that war so well but frightening how so many lessons learnt have been ignored since then. Perfect blend of narrative, observation and context - and from all sides. The narration is perfect. Can’t wait to start this again.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • MusicMan
  • 08-23-18

Journalistically worthy, but dry and unsatisfying

Bowden is an odd author, writing the superb Black Hawk Down followed by a turgid book on Pablo Escobar. I stopped reading his books after being disillusioned by the Pablo puff-piece. At his best he's brilliant, and while this account of the battle of Hue does not have the 'real-time, as it happens' perspective that made Black Hawk Down so gripping, it is nonetheless a thorough and harrowing account of the battle. Its a good subject, but has Bowden lost his magic? The author has a journalists mentality of only reporting the facts. In Blackhawk down he used the facts to tell a 'story' as it happened, like in a novel, only each sentence was backed up with studied references and interviews. He has changed his style for this book, and not for the better in my opinion. He now tries to write as a historian, but he seems to lack the understanding that great historians (such as Max Hastings) delve deep into nuances, context and use their intuition to tease out intentions. Bowden just reports like a newspaperman, not a historian. Facts only please, gentlemen. For example, any perspective or context of the battle is given by quoting his interviewees. This is great for a newspaper, bad for a historical account. Interviewees want to seem smart with the benefit of hindsight. He criticises Westmoreland for this, but fails to see that all of the people he speaks to after the war is going to puff themselves up, given justifications after-the-fact, and want to show themselves as being smarter than they were. Particularly the Vietnamese who won the war and ended up the worse for it. He reports everything they say as 'the truth,' apart from Westmoreland who he seems to have a personal grudge against and is the only one he berates for spinning the facts. Another problem of his journalistic account is that he tends to make both sides seem equally as bad because he is afraid to take sides. Good journalists are discouraged from getting involved in the nitty gritty of context and opinion. Good historians live for the nitty gritty of context and opinion. Great historians frame the context of their subject for the rest of us - for them context, opinion and intuition are the meat and potatoes of their work. Bowden is either afraid of having an opinion, or afraid of venturing it. For example, the political murders enacted by the Communists he equates with the subsequent tit-for-tat murders by the South Vietnamese. In his journalist mind, they are one and the same. Reading between the lines, I'm not so sure that the South Vietnamese would have killed the NVA sympathisers if the NVA hadn't brutalised and murdered politicians and uncooperative civilians. Bowden simply equates the two sides, implying both were equally wicked. True, in a literal sense, but I'm not convinced the South Vietnamese would have sought bloody retribution if the Communists had not insisted on the torture and brutalisation of the civilians in the first place. Bowden ducks the issue. A good historian would examine the issue in detail and perhaps conclude that 'what goes around comes around.' He interviews the Vietnamese combatants that are still alive, but fails to ask the obvious question: "was it worth it?" The Vietnamese who fought against the Americans are proud and even boastful, but Bowden doesn't even hint that the country they live in is far worse than what may have been had they 'lost.' Modern Vietnam is no place to live compared to South Korea or Japan, both South East Asian allies of the US. He doesn't confront them with this and ask if living in a poor police-state was worth their sacrifice. Also, I would like to have him dig a little harder into the disillusionment of the NVA who expected the city of Hue to rise against the Americans. Stories, particularly factual accounts, are about real people. I want to know what those NVA felt when they realised the people weren't buying Communism. Journalism is dry, without context and open to interpretation. A good history book should be the opposite - it needs context, consideration, and a point of view. Bowden's journalistic heritage makes for an accurate, if dry read, and one that feels ultimately unsatisfying. Either he is afraid to venture an opinion because of his journalistic instincts, or because he's an American and can't face the pain of examining the war. Without context and a framing opinion, the book is lightweight and unsatisfying. But at least it isn't about Pablo Escobar. Be thankful for small mercies.

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  • G. Graham
  • 02-07-18

Fascinating .

The very honest reminiscences of veterans gave this book real value and authority I felt. It certainly increased my understanding of why this was really an unwinnable war for the U.S to be involved in, which does not detract on iota from the bravery of the veterans. So sad at so much loss of life and innocence on both sides. No winners really.

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  • Jonathan Lowenstein
  • 10-08-17

A thriller but exposes Audible problems

REads like a thriller, especially in the first half.
The Audible version is missing the maps, references and pictures. The chapters are listed as 1-56 instead of part 1 "name", chapter 1 "name", chapter 2 "name" and then PArt 2 etc. So its harder to understand where you are if there is a problem or get an overview of the book from its chapter list. Also there is an advantage to seeing names in print. It kind of needs a written reference section. I know some books have them but I didn't see one.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • 08-28-17

Good but could have been better.

A massive tomb and an epic listen, whilst rich in detail seemed to concentrate on the
trauma of war without providing pause for reflection or insight into lessons learned.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Bill
  • 02-28-18

Gritty history

My first audio book. A great, gritty, and detailed account of this battle, from the American, South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese/Viet Cong perspectives.

I hope my future audio books meet this standard.