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Vietnam

An Epic History of a Divisive War 1945-1975
Length: 33 hrs and 48 mins
Categories: History, Military
4.5 out of 5 stars (597 ratings)

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Summary

From the best-selling author of All Hell Let Loose comes a masterful chronicle of one of the most devastating international conflicts of the 20th century and how its people were affected. 

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 United States 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 Tet offensive, the air blitz of North Vietnam and less familiar battles 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 bargirls 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’ listeners 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

Critic reviews

"This is a comprehensive, spellbinding, surprisingly intimate, and altogether magnificent historical narrative." (Tim O’Brien)

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Brilliant

I have read a few of Hastings's books and whilst liking them, have not thought them outstanding. This, however, is the book that Hastings was destined to write. In his foreword, he (rightly) pays tribute to the Ken Burns documentary series about the Vietnam war, and then proceeds to comprehensively outclass it with this awesome narrative history.

That is no mean achievement.

There are several reasons for this. I think the core is that this vastly experienced journalist can always bring his great ability to bring colour and humanity to a story; but the key here is that he was THERE. He sat in a Huey and interviewed President Johnson. It brings a sincerity and power to this story which is genuinely palpable. The pace, energy and drama of his narrative is extraordinary. His description of the Rolling Thunder air campaign or the Tet offensive is masterful.

That power is most evident when he describes the stories of individuals on both sides. The story of the Tet offensive is, I feel ,the finest passage of this work. The title of "tragedy" is powerfully but sensitively portrayed. The image of a petrified South Vietnamese girl opening her dress with trembling hands to an ARVN officer whom she erroneously thinks is bent on rape is heartbreaking.

Perhaps still more important, though, is his commentary on the North Vietnamese. In every other history of the Vietnam war (that this reviewer has read at least), the story is almost exclusively from the US/South Vietnamese side. The weaknesses of the losers is not usually balanced with any comparison with the ultimately victorious North, beyond a recognition of their huge commitment and courage. Hastings portrays the ruthless North Vietnamese as different, but no better; perhaps worse, then the incompetent and corrupt South. Again, the verdict of "tragedy" is driven home with heart-felt ferocity, but no lack of clarity.

This is a balanced, mature, even magisterial piece of popular history.

Get it. Just get it.

17 people found this helpful

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Vietnam

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. We heard personal accounts from all sides, political and historical context for the war . The narrator was excellent. A complex war and geopolitical situation was laid out throughout the narrative in a thought provoking and interesting way.

8 people found this helpful

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Superbly detailed and informative

Superbly researched, written and read. This is not simply a chronological history of Vietnam, rather a thoughtful, carefully balanced and evidenced overview of the history of the conflict through the eyes of French, American, South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, civilian, soldier and political eyes. With careful consideration of the events at the time that they occurred as well as with hindsight and from the perspective of both sides.
A truly remarkable, occasionally harrowing, enormously informative and thought provoking book which is read in a manner and tone that perfectly befits the subject matter. The many and varied personal accounts are particularly enlightening. Anyone with an interest in the conflicts of the 20th century or modern politics will enjoy this book; if one can truly say that such a sad story can truly be called enjoyable. You will come away feeling for all sides and all participants, with a level of understanding that you’ll be hard pressed to gain anywhere else.

5 people found this helpful

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Exceptional

Brilliantly written and read. Brings great understanding and humanity to this often maligned conflict. It flows through hundreds of personal accounts without ever getting lost in needless detail or losing its impact. Notable for its rightfully high inclusion of Vietnamese experiences over the far more well known American perspective. It’s very compelling and moving. The best Max Hastings book I’ve read.

4 people found this helpful

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A very balanced and comprehensive account

I'd read and watched a few documentaries on the Vietnam War, yet this book was definitely the most all encompassing. I've seen criticisms that Hastings is too biased in one direction or another, but imo these are unfair. This book really shows the perspectives of both sides and lays all atrocities on the table. He also spares no punches in showing the failings (and success) of all sides. In the end, this account really does educate on every aspect of the war in Hastings style. The narrator was consistently talented aswell, although he does no accents (some of you may prefer this ;)

4 people found this helpful

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Wow.

Best book I've ever read. So interesting, informative and well put together. One I'll read again no doubt.

4 people found this helpful

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Just too big a story.

If you know Max Hastings then you know what you get, solid military history with a focus on the human cost. Here though I felt that the subject was just a bit too big for the book, despite being over 33 hours long. Partly this is because MH starts in 1945, but that is necessary to tell the story. I had always perceived 'Vietnam' as a late 60s/ early 70s thing and I was disabused of that. Certainly consider this book but you will probably find you are left with more questions than you started with and will need to read further on the subject.

The narrator gives the whole thing the necessary tone and is easy to listen to although I think the audio seems to wobble a bit in places it isn't so disruptive to make things difficult to enjoy.

3 people found this helpful

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Mostly political affairs..

..but interspersed with veterans accounts and diary extracts.
Read very well, the only issues were some prenunciations of Vietnamese locations such as Hue, pronounced "way" and not "huey".
Overall a very well researched book that is different in concept from most of Max Hastings' work as it focuses a lot of the political origins and decisions made during the conflict.

3 people found this helpful

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History taught the way it should be

What a brilliant book, both in form, prose and narration. Max Hastings should feel very proud of capturing this important but forgotten era, not only in intriguing detail, but in the book’s immersion if the listener in the withering pitiless of the folly of Empire. Well done Max.

3 people found this helpful

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In hindsight

Mr Hastings - offering an extensive introduction personally - revisits Vietnam several decades after his first works on the topic and the result is a remarkably insightful and balanced account. While he didn't have me att hello - he did with the conclusion that there are numerous western accounts of the war but they all wrote of the war as if it was their war. Not Vietnams. It is by any length the western work containing the most solid vietnamese account of the war (North and South). As for narration I find Mr Noble to be perhaps the best narrator at large in our time. He never misses an emphasis or intonation and his language skills lends great credibility to a narration crossing several language barriers. And there is a melancholic quality to his voice and tone that in itself serves to illustrate the very hopelessness and absurdity of the whole conflict.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Keith Jones
  • 01-11-18

Outstanding

Just brilliant. Gripped, shocked, saddened and excited from beginning to end.
I was pleased to hear he’d released another book. Max Hastings has the ability to weave personal experience with the grand view like no other author I know. I’ve read or listened to all of his writings on WW2 and the Falklands and never been disappointed.
The narrator, Peter Noble, is one of my favourites. He seems to achieve a ‘flow’ like few others. He does great justice to this book.
Listen to it now!!

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  • petter
  • 02-07-19

A must read

I found out about Max Hastings via Dan Carlin’s podcast. I have now read most of his books. This one must surely be one of his best. It sure gave me a new perspective of US politics, terror, the history of south east Asia etc. if you are from the US you have to read this book! Beat regards/ Mr.Sweden

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  • Charlie Maguire
  • 23-05-19

Insight

Epic telling of the Vietnam war as we know it. It’s origins from colonialism to the ring where communism and democracy met and murdered each other. Read it and learn and know what to say to your politicians so that these crazy occurrences can never be repeated. Let’s hope.

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  • Chris
  • 17-12-18

Astonishing and Moving Account

An outstanding account of modern Vietnam. Mandated reading for any foreigner living or dealing with Vietnam.