Books about the Vietnam War give readers insight into this tragic struggle that ended many lives. Prior to its involvement in the Vietnam War, the United States had rarely suffered a major military setback. However, as many books about the Vietnam War show, the prevailing military strategy was ill-suited to fight a conflict like the Vietnam War. Despite its overwhelming technological and industrial superiority, the United States found itself unable to prevent the ultimate triumph of the Viet Cong. Since then, many books about the Vietnam War have been written to explain how America failed to win in Vietnam.
However, not all books about the Vietnam War focus on the broad military implications of the conflict. The war was perhaps more influential in America for shattering the sense of optimism and idealism that had held sway since the end of World War II. Many books about the Vietnam War are intensely personal narratives of individual soldiers’ experiences; these books would fuel a growing anti-war movement as civilians began to realize the horrors inhabiting the jungles of Vietnam.
#1 – The Things They Carried
Drawing on the author’s own experiences, this book about the Vietnam War consists of a collection of short stories. Stories in the book include the tale of a father who lies to his daughter about whether he killed anyone during the war and a young soldier who wore his girlfriend’s stockings around his neck for good luck.
#2 – Matterhorn
This fictional book about the Vietnam War centers on Waino Mellas, a Marine. The book begins with Mellas’ company struggling to construct a base in Vietnam while facing countless obstacles, including horrible monsoons and encounters with leeches. After the company successfully establishes a base, they are forced to abandon it as the war shifts against them.
#3 – We Were Soldiers Once… and Young
Joseph L Galloway
In November 1965, the Ia Drang Valley saw intense fighting between a group of 450 American soldiers and nearly 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers, the first major combat action in the war. Despite the odds, the American troops fought valiantly and made many sacrifices. Like many books about the Vietnam War, this book was written by one of the participants of the battle, giving readers a personal view of the conflict.
#4 – Chickenhawk
Robert Mason reminisces about his experiences as a helicopter pilot in this book about the Vietnam War. The book follows Mason’s experiences in chronological order, beginning with his training and finishing with stories of his wartime life. He also includes a number of photographs to add detail to his account of the war.
#5 – A Rumor of War
Vietnam veteran Philip Caputo reflects on everything he lost in the Vietnam War, including his idealism, in this book. After publication, this book became one of the most influential books about the Vietnam War and ended the long-standing indifference many citizens felt towards Vietnam veterans.
#6 – Fields of Fire
Written by a former United States senator, this fictionalized book uses inspiration from the author’s own days in Vietnam. The story follows three soldiers from different backgrounds as they face the horrors that await them in the An Hoa Basin. Like many books about the Vietnam War, the characters in this book find themselves forever changed by their experiences in the war.
#7 – The Quiet American
This novel explores the precursor to the Vietnam War, the rebellion in French Indochina, and inspired many other books about the Vietnam War. Two foreigners, Englishman Thomas Fowler and American Alden Pyle, meet while in Indochina and strike up a friendship. The friendship begins to fall apart when Pyle attempts to meddle with the affairs of the country, allying himself with the renegade General The.
#8 – Dispatches
At the time of its publication, Dispatches was considered one of the best books about the Vietnam War available. Herr, an embedded journalist during the Vietnam War, saw heavy combat and was shocked by what he saw. Rather than present a dry accounting of the chronology of the war, Herr presented a visceral account of soldiers’ lives.
#9 – A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam
This biography tells the story of Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, a military adviser to the Saigon government in the early stages of the Vietnam War. He was an ardent critic of the way the war was being fought and believed that the strategies being used were counterproductive when fighting a populist insurgency. Vann would eventually die in a helicopter crash in 1972, having been unable to convince the United States to alter its strategy.
#10 – The Best and the Brightest
In The Best and the Brightest, Halberstam traces the origins of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The seeds planted by the “whiz kids” in John F. Kennedy’s administration would eventually evolve into a series of foreign policy blunders, drawing America into a war it didn’t want. This is one of the best books about the Vietnam War for those who are curious about why America was involved in the Vietnam War.