Books about the Vietnam War are about as numerous today as the many elements of the war itself. Which of these make for the very best reads in this particular category of historic enthuse? From different angles approached, to the value of the actual knowledge offered, there are many factors by which one could judge these books. For those looking for some of the absolute best books about the Vietnam War, however, the homework and guesswork have already been performed – the top 50 books on Vietnam are right here.
Some of these works discuss the political foreplay that lead to one of history’s great debacles. Others take a closer look at the unspeakable action and incredible feats seen deep in the region’s jungle backdrop. No matter the resource you desire, this list likely has it covered, and covered well.
#1 – Linebacker: The Untold Story of the Air Raids over North Vietnam
Karl J. Eschmann
There were many approaches to this war: land, air, and sea among them. This is the explicit telling of the airborne segment to the action. No detail is left uncovered as helicopter rescues, air-raid bombing runs, reconnaissance maneuvers, and other air action is tediously documented by author and first-hand participant Karl J. Eschmann.
#2 – Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills
Sergeant Carlos Hathcock is a military legend that carved his stunning tale in history and valor by way of the Vietnam War. This is the story of his shadow-stalking rampage through the jungles of the enemy. The reader here is taken along in mission briefings, tactical crawls through the underbrush, and harrowingly close calls that are enough to inspire anyone.
#3 – Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and Its War
Critically acclaimed by the likes of war and history expert Ken Burns and others, author James Wright takes a step back to take in the entirety of the war from the American approach and perspective. Why did America engage? What are the political, social, and cultural ramifications of the American involvement? This piece on the Vietnam War gives plenty of new and valuable insights to consider.
#4 – A Bright Shining Lie
This particular offering by author Neil Sheehan was bound to make the list of top books on the Vietnam War. Its accolades include The National Book Award, The Pulitzer Prize, and a spot on the National Bestseller Register. A Bright Shining Lie is the epic tale of the legendary Lt. Col. John Paul Vann and his endeavors in the war from 1962 until his death and Arlington dedication one decade later.
#5 – The Killing Zone: My Life in the Vietnam War
The story starts out on September 8, 1967. This was the day when author Frederick Downs initially was dropped into the war. As a green but determined infantry soldier, Downs takes the reader along on an adrenaline-pumping and emotion-rending story of his true experience in the Vietnam conflict. The book’s additional forward goes one step further, detailing subsequent physical and mental recovery efforts.
#6 – Patches of Fire: A Story of War and Redemption
The African American veteran is an often unmentioned but important part of the Vietnam story. Patches of Fire: A Story of War and Redemption fills that coverage gap with its biographical coverage of an African American life thrust into this war. This soldier would fight battles of color and nations simultaneously. Today, all readers can glean some powerful meaning from this tale of a colored marine at the time.
#7 – Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War
Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War is a somewhat alternate recanting of the Vietnam War. In this particular literary contribution to Vietnam War record, author Michael MacLear exceeds in providing a compelling account of the war from the less traveled perspective. Avoiding the most common knowledge of the war, MacLear tells the often untold side of things. From the war’s start to its end, this piece covers each step along the way.
#8 – A Vietcong Memoir: An Inside Account of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath
Troung Nhu Tang
In this eye-opener, learn of the Vietnam War perspective from the viewpoint of an active Vietcong officer at the time. Author Truong Nhu Tang was that officer, and this is his story. Learn about Tang’s personal encounter with Ho Chi Minh, his battles deep in the bloody jungle, and his eventual rise to the country’s Minister of Justice position. This all changes, though, as Tang goes on to become the highest ranking defector of all Vietcong.
#9 – Semper Cool: One Marine’s Fond Memories of Vietnam
If one can look beyond all of the negatives imparted by the Vietnam War, there are indeed many positives and stemming tribulations to be uncovered. Barry Fixler, author of Semper Cool: One Marine’s Fond Memories of Vietnam shares in his surprising rejoices stemming from the war experience. As a marine having experienced the deepest depths of battle, including hand-to-hand combat at the Siege of Khe Sanh, Fixler shares his absolute peace, joy, and tranquility after all of his experience.
#10 – Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet
Lewis Burwell Puller Jr.
Fortunate Son: The Healing of a Vietnam Vet is a deep, Pulitzer Prize-winning story of one man’s rise to the call of war and his subsequent, harrowing endeavors as a result. Lewis Burwell Puller Jr was born into military greatness and bound to the experience. A booby-trapped Howitzer round, however, came to change life as he knew it. Experience the trials and tribulations of a moving, American soldier’s memoir here.
#11 – American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity
Christian G. Appy
This Vietnam War publication by author and expert Christian G. Appy is anything but the typical, chronological accounting of the Vietnam War. This is the recanting of the factors of social, political, and national identity at the time. Who was America before as opposed to during and even after this pivotal war? Readers can expect to learn from this one what they likely won’t from many others.
#12 – The Sorrow of War
Bao Ninh was a North Vietnamese soldier on the ground during the war. His international bestseller, The Sorrow of War, provides an amazingly telling look at his personal part and experience in the conflict. Beyond war stories, Ninh also takes the reader on a riveting, honest dissection of the war, his country’s involvement in it, and the results of the entire ordeal.
#13 – Fire in the Lake
Fire in the Lake is quite arguably the deepest and most in-depth, Vietnam War analysis and breakdown of this entire list. As a result, it is highly recommended for scholars and those already familiar with the war, and conversely, not recommended to those new to learning about the Vietnam conflict. Within its pages, one can expect to delve deep into political, social, geographic, military, and even personal stories of the Vietnam War.
#14 – Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram
Dang Thuy Tram
Dang Thuy Tram was a volunteer medical worker for the Vietcong during the war. This book is the moving summation of her actual diary as it was recorded from 1968 to 1970. Within its many statements, one can truly get a feel for the reality of what it was like to love, lose, and try to ultimately live through this horrible conflict. Explore this secretly saved and smuggled journal as well as more of the backstory behind it.
#15 – Mekong Mud Dogs: Story of Sgt. Ed Eaton
The events covered in Mekong Mud Dogs: Story of Sgt. Ed Eaton may ring familiar to some readers. This is because The History Channel, many magazines, shows, and other forms of media have all covered much of the contained, highly exciting renditions. Here, Sergeant Ed Eaton tells his gripping story of Platoon Sergeant and sniper work during the conflict. Prepare to be captivated.
#16 – June 17, 1967: Battle of Xom Bo II
As opposed to tales of political or individual wartime strife, author David Hearne takes us on a journey to the heart of a particular battle of the Vietnam War. The Battle of Xom Bo II was an epic confrontation between a small force of around 500 and a much larger force estimated to have consisted of up to 2,000 soldiers in total. Find out what happens next in this story of simultaneous heart and anger.
#17 – If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home
Widely acclaimed and award-winning author Tim O’Brien provides an intensely close look at what it was like to be an American foot soldier deep in the heart of the Vietnamese conflict. Experience mine fields, tunnels, booby-trapped routes, and the rare moment in which perceived quiet and calm are almost certainly too good to be true. This is the preceding piece to O’Brien’s award-winning Going After Cacciato.
#18 – Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History
This winner of multiple prestigious book awards is arguably the best and most powerful on the subject of African American troops in the Vietnam War. It is the cumulative story of 20 black men fighting in a war in which they were an extreme minority participant. Know what the experience was like for each of these brave men as well as the combined meaning behind their historic presence here.
#19 – Gone Native: An NCO’s Story
Widely considered a magnetic and easy read, Alan Cornett’s Gone Native: An NCO’s Story is the complete telling of one NCO’s seven-year experience in Vietnam. For those looking for uncensored and unadulterated stories of life in this bloody conflict, look no further. He could have turned his back, but he never did. This is what would happen next.
#20 – In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of a Lost War
Tobias Wolff did his time in the Vietnamese conflict as a young, up-and-coming soldier. This is his moving and quite revealing collective of memoirs from that experience. Readers will experience the war up close and quite personally. Wolff also enjoyably interjects in classic style throughout, always adding further candor and context to the stories which he provides.
#21 – When Heaven and Earth Changed Places
Le Ly Hayslip
For a young girl approaching womanhood, there are always plenty of new, exciting, and even scary things to learn about life. This is greatly compounded when this transition takes place within a war-torn nation. At twelve years of age, Le Ly Hayslip first experienced US troops during a helicopter drop at her home village. Find out how her life would evolve as a budding women during a human spirit-wilting conflict.
#22 – Vietnam: The Necessary War
Vietnam: The Necessary War is author Michael Lind’s controversial and highly thought-provoking rendition of the Vietnam War. Lind addresses social and political contexts that are often taboo and shied away from. Why was the war ultimately lost? Lind provides some cautionary and alternative viewpoints in this bestseller and top Vietnam War book.
#23 – My Vietnam Year
Most great insights to this armed conflict come by way of highly seasoned, and long-lived experiences. This piece, however, completely bucks that trend, showing that lots of amazing insight can come by way of a fresh-faced youth after only one year in. Henry Hines still ponders what drove him to willingly enlist and go overseas. On the other hand, the value provided by his experience, of which he discusses in detail here, was more than worth it.
#24 – The Vietnam Reader
Rather than telling a chronological story of the war, author Stewart O’Nan provides us with a diverse treasure of art that was produced within and as a result of the Vietnam War. Within lies a whole host of prized, unique, and telling art pieces. From still photos and fictional works, to poetry and even maddened self-expression, these are all products of the war.
#25 – Vietnam: A History
Pulitzer Prize-winner Stanley Karnow provides us with a great one here – Vietnam: A History. In this classic and more traditional telling of the story of Vietnam, Karnow became rightly renowned for such easily understood presentations of an otherwise complex subject. What started the war? How was it militarily and administratively handled? For those just learning about this war, this is a must-read.
#26 – Chickenhawk
What was it like to be a “Chickenhawk” in the skies above Vietnam during the war? This is the amazing, over-the-shoulder look at the helicopter element of the campaign. Mason, himself a veteran of over 1000 combat missions, provides us with the ultimate sky view. Experience the harrowing true stories of aerial sweeps, drops, crash landings, rescues, and more.
#27 – We Were Soldiers Once…and Young
Harold G. Moore
By title and subject matter, author Harold G. Moore hits on two close-to-the-heart subjects for vets of all wars past. This New York Times Bestseller takes the reader back to the Battle of Ia Drang. These younger and formidable troops begin at a drop point in a precarious clearing. Immediately they are surrounded by 2000 hostiles, and as history has it, pure fate is what happens next.
#28 – A Vietnam War Reader: American and Vietnamese Perspectives
Michael H. Hunt
Telling is probably the best adjective, literally and figuratively, one could use to describe this one. A Vietnam War Reader: American and Vietnamese Perspectives comes straight at the audience with the real transcripts and words of politicians, military leaders, soldiers, and civilians caught in the middle of the Vietnam War. The ultimate history-lover’s collection awaits.
#29 – Lions and Tigers and Cong
It’s often said that only youth and intemperance can lead a fresh, new life willingly into battle. This is the story of Theodore Wild, at 19 years of age, willingly enlisting for a direct trip to hell. Jungles and rice paddies, guts and glory, and a deep conflict among an otherwise beautiful backdrop are explored here. Follow the day-to-day lives of this soldier and his fellow comrades in arms.
#30 – Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides
Christian G. Appy
Another renowned Vietnam War work by author Christian G. Appy is ours in the form of Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides. In this piece, Appy boldy confronts the war from a different and complex perspective – that of all sides. Learn what it felt like to be a low-ranking grunt, a high-ranking officer, a Vietnamese soldier or citizen, and more. These are the many, gathered accounts of the many, diverse voices of the Vietnam War.
#31 – The Best and the Brightest
The Best and the Brightest is a world-renowned classic. Its goal is two-fold and quite unwavering: Why did America really enter into this conflict, and subsequently, why did it not come out victorious despite its super-power status? Whether you are an historian, private enthusiast, student, or simply curious, this work is revered and respected for good reason.
#32 – 1968 — Into the Abyss: The Elite Tunnel Rats
Riley St. James
This is the story of the American approach to conquering the secret tunnel-works and facilities of the adversary in Vietnam. Follow along with a very young soldier intimately involved in routing out and destroying these underground semblances as part of an elite, lesser-known unit. In addition, the visual awesomeness of original, color photographs of the action is also made available to the reader via the lens of Sergeant Wergen.
#33 – Reporting Vietnam, Parts 1 & 2
Milton J. Bates, Lawrence Lichty, Paul Miles, Ronald H. Spector, Marilyn Young
This is a compelling compilation project put on by myriad journalists and related experts of the time. Here, one gains valuable access to the day-to-day events of the war through news articles, tabloids, current events publications, and other journalistic offerings of the time. See what the actual reporters were reporting and seeing as the Vietnam War unfolded.
#34 – Winners & Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses, and Ruins from the Vietnam War
Yet another irreplaceable classic, Winners & Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses, and Ruins from the Vietnam War runs the gamut on information about Vietnam. Take an award-winning look into not just the overall, big picture, but also the individual lives that were so dramatically affected. This is essentially a collection of individual, unforgettable stories of the Vietnam War.
#35 – Home Before Morning
Lynda Van Devanter
For many, the psychological strains of war were life-changing. This memoir is the story of a young, innocent, and somewhat naïve nurse sent to do her part in the Vietnam War effort. What she sees and experiences casts a darker shade upon her soul than she ever knew possible. Experience the war through her eyes and heart. Experience the daily endeavors of a nurse to the perpetual bloodshed.
#36 – Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam
H. R. McMaster
H. R. McMaster is a highly respected and decorated military and government figure. This is his expert take on the trap that led to American entrance into the war. Bear witness to a critical and unrelenting analysis of the arrogance, deceit, treachery, and non-official reasons for the years of death that would follow. A character cast that goes straight to the top is included in this fiery tell-all.
#37 – America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975
George C. Herring
Author George C. Herring does a comprehensive work-up of the Vietnam War in his book, America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975. From the American side, we’re provided with a stunning, political, social, and military report as to the cause. Similarly, Herring goes to significant effort to represent the Vietnamese side for the best overall understanding as well.
#38 – They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967
They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967 is a stark truth to the American involvement and experience in the Vietnam War. Deep truths are sought as to the reasons for the American involvement. In addition, the experience at home and abroad is well documented and dissected here. Two particular historic events are particularly explored.
#39 – Chasing Understanding in the Jungles of Vietnam: My Year as a Black Scarf
Author Douglas Beed was there, spending just over a year in Vietnam before his removal. This was after doing all he could to avoid just this position as a young, broke, American – combat infantry. The reader here becomes part of the infantry, confronting the realities of war and carnage daily. You will laugh, cry, curse, and reflect when all is said and done.
#40 – 12, 20 & 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam
What happens when you combine gritty combat in the jungles of Vietnam, emergency medical work, and a political stalemate that seemingly never ends? The answer is the doctor’s experience in Vietnam, or 12, 20 & 5: A Doctor’s Year in Vietnam. General Medical Officer John Parrish shares his experience here. Expect gore, guts, truth, and valor.
#41 – The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir
Kao Kalia Yang
One unfortunate side effect of war is that of the refugee element. Hmong refugees from the war numbered into the thousands, and this is a representative story brought to us by one of those families. Learn about the conflict, the refugee experience on the way to Laos, and a grandmother and family matriarch that holds a family unit together through it all.
#42 – Dispatches
Stylistically, one might call Michael Herr’s Dispatches complex, raw, poetic, fresh, and terribly engrossing. This critically acclaimed memoir reports on the war in unforgettable form as the author takes you along as a sidekick, reporting as a Vietnam War correspondent for Esquire. This was also officially one of the first books in American literature to report the story of the American soldier as such.
#43 – Street Without Joy: Indochina at War, 1946-54
Bernard B. Fall
Street Without Joy: Indochina at War, 1946-54 mixes prophetic diary entries with wartime analysis and documentation. Explore the Laos connection, witness the unspeakable angst of a war-era death march, and see what it’s like working the dedicated responsibilities of a special task force on the front-lines. Author Bernard B. Fall paints an unmistakable portrait of the time.
#44 – The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War
Public opinion on the Vietnam War was never incredibly positive. However, when the now world-famous images surfaced of badly burned child, Kim Phuc, struggling down a road in terror, opinion plummeted. How did this extremely powerful photo come to be taken and even passed on? What happened to this tormented little girl? Denise Chong dives straight into the story.
#45 – GUTS ‘N GUNSHIPS: What it was Really Like to Fly Combat Helicopters in Vietnam
Combat helicopters provided vital support to forces on the ground during the Vietnam War. Author Mark Garrison shares how he became all too familiar with that fact as a college dropout and war-bound youth in 1967. The most pivotal times of his life would soon come in the skies over Vietnam. Firing on the enemy, being on fire in the air, and lots more fire of all sorts await the reader of this eye-opener.
#46 – STUPID WAR STORIES: Tales from the Wonder War, Vietnam 1970-1971
STUPID WAR STORIES: Tales from the Wonder War, Vietnam 1970-1971 is a welcome break for many from the violent excesses of most Vietnam War publications. With no particular importance other than to display the unexpected quirks and comedy hidden deep within a divisive war, author Keith Pomeray conveys the off-kilter stories of this war. All material was gathered here by way of service and spectacle.
#47 – The Vietnam Air War: First Person
Col. Dennis Ridnouer
After the war, Colonel Dennis Ridnouer was said to be unhappy as to the apparent lack of first-person histories of the engagement. As a result, he compiled a reader’s treasure of over 100 individual accounts during action. Hear directly from pilots, infantry, electronic warfare officers, key witnesses, and more as a clear history of the war emerges for all to see.
#48 – Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965
More recently written, Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 gives the reader a whole new array of evidence and suggestions about the Vietnam War. The Ngo Dinh Diem overthrow is one important event deeply looked at. Diem’s coming assassination as well as President Lyndon Johnson’s next reactions would also come to shape the lives of millions.
#49 – A Rumor of War
Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War has become known as a classic and historically important telling of the Vietnam War. The author doesn’t intend the book this way, though, as it is a clear autobiography detailing his time spent in action. Caputo’s style of relating the story, his particular experiences, and the aftermath of his service are what scholastically blend into a cherished story of the war itself.
#50 – Everything We Had
This war classic is uncensored and unapologetic. It is the uncut telling of the war experience by 33 different officers to have served in the war. Explore different personalities, different coping mechanisms, and different fates in a powerful ode to the conflict and those fighting it. From early involvement and drops, to final exits, this top choice among books about the Vietnam War details it all on the front lines.
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