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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 HarperCollins Publishers

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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.

33 of 34 people found this review helpful

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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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Having lived some of this, I knew it’s was a must read

Mr Hastings has produced a tremendous history. Now in my 70s I think I can finally say I and many like me were young and very naive. Thanks for the trip into past that now seems so long ago Yes it is so true we we were soldiers then and young.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Middle of the road

This is a more balanced treatment than you'll get out of Halberstam, Sheehan, and especially Ward. However, the author editorializes way too much and as a result the personal opinions that pop up end up creating inconsistencies in the analyses, some of which were extremely aggravating. He makes the assumption that the supposed intellectual shortcomings of Westmoreland and others in the general staff are notable factors in the failure of the war in a management sense but the same management and planning problems were a result of the actions of people like McNamara and Mac Bundy who were undoubtedly exceptionally brilliant. Saying that the generals were effectively dumb and intellectual capacity was a major player in the wars development and execution is just plain lazy writing. There were a number of these situations where the author drew a conclusion in one spot and then contradicted it entirely in another, largely because he tried to inject his own feelings into it. Unfortunately I am usually running when I listen to my audiobooks otherwise I would've taken notes to give more examples.

The tone of the writing is geared toward creating this depressing feeling of inevitability on the course of events. I don't think the author needs to convey these personal emotions. They are extremely distracting when the reader/listener is looking to develop and understanding of details, big and small, and how they are all related through the course of the war. This might also be party due to the narrator's tone of voice. One can't really separate the two.

There is more discussion of events going on within the DRV political structure, the NVA, and the VC/NLF as well as personal accounts of the people within them that provided some nice insight and context that is typically absent from these general surveys. For this reason alone I would recommend the book.

All in all I'm glad I purchased the book and listened to it. I found myself being frustrated at points due to the author's feelings getting in the way of events but there was enough new information (relative to the standard historical texts) for me to get past it.

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Tragedy and truth<br />

Very well researched and presented facts that every Vietnam veteran needs to know. Well done.

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A balanced and well researched history of the war

Great book. it gives a critical view of both sides and provides a comprehensive explanation of the nightmare that was the Vietnam war

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  • cbspock
  • Holbrook, NY United States
  • 12-17-18

Excellent book

I found this book very informative. It covers all aspects of the war and it’s impact

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Very Thorough Book About Vietnam

Excellent book starting at the end of WWII like it should to explain the Vietnam disaster. I didn't realize Vichy France and Japan played a role in the start of the three decade disaster of Vietnam. I did know Ho Chi Minh visited US Diplomats in WWII and was essentially ignored. It is unbelievable what went on in Vietnam for 10 years. Hopefully, Americans are studying books like this to understand what war really is and what the real results are. Excellent book to really understand this war.