Vietnam

An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975
Narrated by: Max Hastings, Peter Noble
Length: 33 hrs and 33 mins
Categories: History, Asia
5 out of 5 stars (699 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

An absorbing and definitive modern history of the Vietnam War from the acclaimed New York Times best-selling author of The Secret War.

Vietnam became the Western world’s most divisive modern conflict, precipitating a battlefield humiliation for France in 1954, then a vastly greater one for the US in 1975. Max Hastings has spent the past three years interviewing scores of participants on both sides, as well as researching a multitude of American and Vietnamese documents and memoirs, to create an epic narrative of an epic struggle. He portrays the set pieces of Dienbienphu, the 1968 Tet Offensive, the air blitz of North Vietnam, and also much less familiar miniatures such as the bloodbath at Daido, where a US Marine battalion was almost wiped out, together with extraordinary recollections of Ho Chi Minh’s warriors. Here are the vivid realities of strife amid jungle and paddies that killed two million people.

Many writers treat the war as a US tragedy, yet Hastings sees it as overwhelmingly that of the Vietnamese people, of whom 40 died for every American. US blunders and atrocities were matched by those committed by their enemies. While all the world has seen the image of a screaming, naked girl seared by napalm, it forgets countless eviscerations, beheadings, and murders carried out by the communists. The people of both former Vietnams paid a bitter price for the Northerners’ victory in privation and oppression. Here is testimony from Vietcong guerrillas, Southern paratroopers, Saigon bar girls, and Hanoi students alongside that of infantrymen from South Dakota, Marines from North Carolina, and Huey pilots from Arkansas.

No past volume has blended a political and military narrative of the entire conflict with heart-stopping personal experiences, in the fashion that Max Hastings’ fans know so well. The author suggests that neither side deserved to win this struggle with so many lessons for the 21st century about the misuse of military might to confront intractable political and cultural challenges. He marshals testimony from warlords and peasants, statesmen and soldiers, to create an extraordinary record.

©2018 Max Hastings (P)2018 HarperAudio

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent listen except for one thing, just ONE!

A great listen that I thoroughly enjoyed and kept me captivated for all 32 hours.

The in depth references and narratives from president to private provided me, the casual history buff, a much better appreciation of all aspects.

What I really liked was the in depth attention paid to the French experience. In all of my previous reading or watching, even the epic Ken Burns mini-series, they basically start by saying “and the French left, then...”. Ok, that’s a gross oversimplification, but you get the idea.

Kudos to the narrator, excellent pronunciation for the Vietnamese and French names and references.... he doesn’t skip a beat.

So, why only 3 stars? No chapter names showing on the app. WTH? There’s 70-some odd chapters numbered unoriginally starting with “Chapter 1” showing in the app. Sir Max went to all of the trouble to have chapter names and part names to set up the reader for the upcoming narrative, but none of that makes it to the audiobook..... really?

This is such a major disappointment as there are many other audiobooks that have this feature, I can’t imagine that the publisher deciding to go cheap on this. I will probably end up turning this book back in for this reason.

The audiobook is useless to go back and re-read a part because I’ve got to recall “was Tet chapter 32 or 47....”?

22 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Vu
  • 10-21-18

A more nuanced view than Ken Burns' companion book

**About the Narration***
The performance was simply thrilling. Although the introduction is done by Hastings in his thick British accent, the rest of the work is done by someone else. They don't seem to be credited on Audible so I've forgotten their name, but if you are hesitant because you're used to American English and expect a heavy British accent, the actual book's narrator speaks very clearly with an American accent. The narrator reads the book like he's telling a story. It's not monotonous at all. The inflections, emphasis and emotions imbued keep the story moving.

Max Hastings delivers a great overview of the Vietnam War, and much better than Ken Burns did in his documentary and its companion book in my opinion. I enjoyed the Burns book, but I felt like many South Vietnamese felt that it was a lacking in detailing the atrocities of the Communists. I'll admit my biases now however. My own Grandfather was an ARVN grunt who got put in a gulag for years after the war. Ken Burns deserves credit for bringing the Vietnam War back to the forefront, but more details of the beasts that the US and South Vietnam were fighting would have given a more nuanced view of the conflict to the audience. And I say that even though I truly *like* Ken Burns' works and enjoyed his film/its book. I just felt like it was missing key information.

The Communists buried people alive who resisted them to save bullets. They hacked people to death. Summary executions of "enemies of the revolution" were done in order to create a Stalinist society. Westerners sometimes of a romantic view of the Davidian "freedom fighters" throwing off the Goliaths of the west, and label Ho Chi Minh as a Nationalist rather than a Communist. But the North Vietnamese policies were Stalinist policies, and no one but the most ardent Communists today would call Stalin anything other than a ruthless butcher. Hastings did well in discussing Ho's commitment to the Comintern even before WWII, and his purges of the Vietnamese peoples of the various nationalist groups who also fought the French. There were dozens of Nationalists striving for an independent Vietnam. The Viet Minh butchered them all. Americans who remember Afghanistan in the 80s will remember that we did not aid the Taliban, but rather a fractured network of Mudjahideen fighting against Soviet troops. However, the Taliban won the scramble for power in the post-war period and destroyed all other opposition groups. The Viet Minh had done the same thing 30 years earlier.

I believe Hastings put it best when he said something along the lines of "Those who feel like America was wrong had a tendency to take the extra step, and assume that their enemies were right" and that South Vietnam and North Vietnam embarked a bloody conflict that neither "deserved" to win.

Hastings frames it as a tragedy, so the language and prose he uses stir the heart and the stories he collected are truly heartbreaking. Being a journalist, he knows how to write in a manner that a more perhaps "dry" history does not fully capture. Since he is a Brit, I felt that Hastings approached this story with less bias that Vietnamese or American historians tend to. American historians understandably tend to frame it as an American history. Hastings takes a more Vietnamese-centric angle with this work. We also see perspectives from the British officials throughout the work. I simply could not put this book down, because it is so well written.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone who liked Ken Burns' documentary and would like to flesh out their understanding of the conflict.

67 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

The ultimate history of Vietnam 1945-75.

Intensely interesting, packed with macro details on policy and micro details on the experiences of natives and foreigners. The most well balanced even handed treatment of Vietnam I have yet found.

9 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Vietnam is a well-researched and deep book about a complex, controversial and critically important topic

Having read 50, 60 or more books on the history of Vietnam and the various wars involving the French, Japanese, Chinese etc. and having spent a great deal of time in Vietnam over the past 12 years, I found it to be a thought-provoking and fascinating book.

As an author of 28 technical non-fiction books and university textbooks, I know that it takes a great deal of work to write a book of this breadth and depth and meticulous research. Few authors can accomplish a book of this scale and importance.

My wife was born about the time the government in Saigon fell and her family lost six members during what they call the American War. She grew up in an educational system were she was taught not to question and not to care about history, her government etc. Though highly educated, she did not know that World War Two occurred until she came to America to get a second graduate degree.

She asked me again why I was so intrigued by a war that she has almost no interest in. I told her that it is important for me to understand her country’s history and culture. I also want our son to know about this as he spends a great deal of time there as well.

The one critique I have of the audio version of this book is that the narrator was unable to pronounce most of the Vietnamese names, places, sayings etc. properly. Pronunciation of Vietnamese is very difficult for Westerners and I am sure he tried but the pronunciation was off so much that my wife often had to listen several times to finally figure out what the actual name/word was so I could try to learn it properly. He is an excellent narrator but this detracted from the book.

As I speak and understand a little Vietnamese, this was pretty distracting and at times a bit confusing. I wish the narrator had taken the time to have a native speaker help phonetically spell out the names, places and phrases for him as I have done when presenting at Universities in Vietnam or that the author had read his excellent work himself. For any similar future works - I would suggest a bilingual narrator.

This probably wouldn’t be noticed by most readers aside from Vietnam vets and Vietnamese. But I thought this might be helpful.

With this one opportunity for improvement noted, I still highly recommend this book. I will listen to it again as there is so much detail and perspective, even for sometime who has spent a great deal of time in VN and has been able to speak to many combat vets from the U.S. and to Vietnamese who fought on both sides as well as many who lost loved ones in the conflict.

Superb book.

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

A fantastic, layered story by a talented author. Great narrator as well. As a novice on the subject, yet a lover of history, I could not be more pleased.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

The final word on the Vietnam War

The most detailed and comprehensive work on the most complex war in American history. As an American patriot, who is proud to be an American, the author's conclusions are somewhat hard to swallow. The incredible skill and scholarship of the author makes it hard to disagree with his conclusions. I have read at least 50 books on this war, and in many ways it is my favorite. It is well worth the 33 hours of listening.

8 people found this helpful

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thank you, Sir Max, well done.

I'm here because of hardcore history with Dan Carlin. caught the interview with Sir Max Hastings and became thoroughly interested.

2 people found this helpful

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A Wonderful Book

I put the Viet Nam War behind me years ago, and now in my older years wanted to re-examine this part of our history that was central to my life and our nation's life. The book makes for painful reading; the stupidity, the deception, and the destruction displayed by all sides are almost Shakespearean. Yet, it helps put America's role in the war in a perspective that seems balanced, comprehensive, and more than instructive. Magnificent writing. A great balance between big picture and accounts of individual participants--on all sides. And a terrific reader. It was prefect for me as a thoughtful overview of the tragedy. I don't see how he could have written a better book.

1 person found this helpful

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Best history of VietNam yet. Hastings is Master.<br />

Another masterpiece by Max Hastings. Must read for historians and students of VietNam. Clear and concise, a pleasure to hear. Reader is excellent!

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Sad but Worthwhile

Mostly accurate but little new except for more recent publications and commentary. As with all journalists, little to no first hand knowledge except what could be learned in Saigon. Good research though and worth the read.

1 person found this helpful