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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.

21 of 23 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.

7 of 8 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.

22 of 29 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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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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Very Well Written

This book is well written, well narrated, broad in scope, and comprehensible. It covers all the U.S. presidents actions during the war, veterans experiences, the anti war movement, Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, and more. I think this book is fairly unbiased although I need to read more books to know for sure. It is clear this war was a mess from beginning to end. The standing presidents at the time are likely to blame as well as the deep state. The Vietnamese really suffered under all the bombing which I did not realize. I also didn't know there were multiple discussions about just nuking Vietnam to destroy supply lines and to wipe them out. What a tragedy this war was for all the troops and civilians on both sides. The interesting thing is we still have done this same thing in other countries since Vietnam and it still seems acceptable to America. Worth the money and worth the time.

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great true history

I learned a lot very detailed information very historical was very worth it loved it

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good listen.

enjoyed quite a comprehensive coverage of the war offering multiple perspectives although still biased some what

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must listen for history buffs

I loved the book. It is a long book, but does not drag a bit. It is laid out very nicely. What a detailed description of the war. So many heart wrenching stories, every story changes your feeling about this war. after reading this book, watch the documentary on PBS and you will have a much more appreciation of the work authors did.

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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.

4 of 4 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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  • Angela Mason
  • 09-12-18

An absorbing account, perfectly narrated.

As soon as I heard the final chapter, I went straight back to the start again. An enthrawling study detailing an incredible period of military and political turmoil narrated so well as to immerse the listener in the horror and intensity of the action, the front of the demonstration, the distress of the kin and the frustration of politics; the story unfurling in a torrent of interest that has kept me hooked. Fascinating.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-03-18

Fantastic book

The depth and quality was truly astonishing. I learned so much more about the conflict. Highly recommended

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  • Katja
  • 08-21-18

Totally captivating!

Don't be put of by the length of this audiobook. The meticulous detail is well integrated into personal stories and the way that Ken Burns zooms in and out is engaging all the way through. The book covers all sides of the war and does this in astonishingly neutral terms. One of the best books on this topic.

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  • C.Lawler
  • 07-19-18

A moving and eye opening exploration

As someone who didn't really know much about the Vietnam war, I found this book insightful and poignant. Using different points of view, from both sides, the book takes you on a journey through the Vietnam War, the reasons behind it, the action on the ground and it's end. I found the use of first hand accounts from both sides really moving, bringing to life the impact of the war on the people involved. The narration is excellent. Highly recommend.

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  • Paul Wj Wakeham
  • 07-08-18

A Really Good Read!

A great companion piece to a really great DVD series,highly recommend. Any series with Ken Burns name attached is going to be a something special!

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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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  • 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