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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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    5 out of 5 stars
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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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Outstanding

A well written balanced account of the war and the lead up to it.
Covering all aspects from the grunts in the jungle (on both sides) , fighter and bomber pilots. Gripping. Well read by Peter Noble who has an engaging tone. Will definitely listen to it again

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Roo
  • GERRARDS CROSS Buckinghamshire
  • 07-10-18

First class depiction of this battle in the war against communism

My main feeling is that of ‘Thank goodness’ Harold Wilson didn’t take us into this mess.
Great story, I’m fascinated by Vietnam.
The insanity of it is plainly described in this book even more graphically than in apocalypse now or full metal jacket

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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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.