The best books about the combat soldier’s experience in the Vietnam War—military fiction at its best

Rick DeStefanis Author Of Valley of the Purple Hearts
By Rick DeStefanis

Who am I?

The Vietnam War was a life changing experience for those who fought it and lived through those times; one that will end only when the last one of them dies. Like so many wars, Vietnam will fade into the distant memory of history as a name, some dates, and a historian’s impersonal commentary. My preparation for that war, my infantry training at Fort Polk, and later as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division as well as my subsequent experience with friends returning from Vietnam have given me the unique ability to experience it through many different perspectives. My goal is to ensure the reader will experience as closely as possible the things they saw.

I wrote...

Valley of the Purple Hearts

By Rick DeStefanis,

Book cover of Valley of the Purple Hearts

What is my book about?

One of three award-winning novels in the Rick DeStefanis Vietnam War Series, Valley of The Purple Hearts is not a simple ‘war story.’ Yes, it captures well the raw grit and horror of battle, but it also takes a comprehensive ‘thousand-yard stare’ into the lives of men who served in the Vietnam War. 

Valley of The Purple Hearts is a love story with a strong secondary female protagonist, and it also takes the reader into the life of the veteran beyond battle, including that sudden and jarring return home to a thankless nation. Many veterans describe Valley of The Purple Hearts as too real to be fiction. You be the judge.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Things They Carried

Why did I love this book?

The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories, (or vignettes if you will), that delves into the psychological factors of war and combat through the words and actions of the young combatants. Tim O’Brien reflects his personal experiences in Vietnam by giving readers an up-close and intimate glimpse into the hearts and souls of combat veterans through fiction. As with many of his works, it is difficult at times to tell a difference. O’Brien said, (and I paraphrase) emotional truth as told in fiction often transcends that of a simple “war story.” There is no glorification of war in these stories, and if one is seeking a flag-waving, feel-good ending, this book may not be to their liking. It is, however, one of the best written.

By Tim O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked The Things They Carried as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The million-copy bestseller, which is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

'The Things They Carried' is, on its surface, a sequence of award-winning stories about the madness of the Vietnam War; at the same time it has the cumulative power and unity of a novel, with recurring characters and interwoven strands of plot and theme.

But while Vietnam is central to 'The Things They Carried', it is not simply a book about war. It is also a book about the human heart - about the terrible weight of those things we carry through…

Book cover of A Rumor of War: The Classic Vietnam Memoir

Why did I love this book?

A best-selling memoir, A Rumor of War, is a recounting of a young United States Marine officer’s experiences during the earliest stages of the war in Vietnam. Philip Caputo writes with the authority of a man who saw it through the macro-lens of personal experience and pulls no punches for himself or those involved. His memoir begins with military training in 1960 and ends with his return as a journalist in 1975 to witness the fall of Saigon. Lauded as one of the classic books about the war in Vietnam, this is one any student, writer, historian, or otherwise would do well to read.

By Philip Caputo,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked A Rumor of War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The 40th anniversary edition of the classic Vietnam memoir―featured in the PBS documentary series The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick―with a new foreword by Kevin Powers

In March of 1965, Lieutenant Philip J. Caputo landed at Danang with the first ground combat unit deployed to Vietnam. Sixteen months later, having served on the line in one of modern history’s ugliest wars, he returned home―physically whole but emotionally wasted, his youthful idealism forever gone.

A Rumor of War is far more than one soldier’s story. Upon its publication in 1977, it shattered America’s indifference to the fate of…

Book cover of If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home

Why did I love this book?

Although units in other parts of the country experienced vastly different wars from the Marine, Army Airborne, and Cav units in the north, all were wrought with the same inanity of a war lacking clear goals and objectives—other than surviving. Many units simply had more time to think about it before their times came. O’Brien again uses his superior writing skills in this memoir to reflect the daily lives, frustrations, and sudden moments of unbridled terror the foot soldier faced. This book is an excellent portrait of the average grunt’s life in the Nam.

By Tim O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked If I Die in a Combat Zone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A classic from the New York Times bestselling author of The Things They Carried

"One of the best, most disturbing, and most powerful books about the shame that was / is Vietnam."
—Minneapolis Star and Tribune

Before writing his award-winning Going After Cacciato, Tim O'Brien gave us this intensely personal account of his year as a foot soldier in Vietnam. The author takes us with him to experience combat from behind an infantryman's rifle, to walk the minefields of My Lai, to crawl into the ghostly tunnels, and to explore the ambiguities of manhood and morality in a war gone…

Charlie Mike

By Leonard B. Scott,

Book cover of Charlie Mike

Why did I love this book?

In this novel, Leonard Scott utilizes his experience as a U.S. Army officer to tell a story about five people involved in the Vietnam War. One is an NCO with the 75th Rangers. Another is a rebellious rich girl who joins the Red Cross and volunteers for duty in Vietnam. The third is a company commander for the 75th Rangers, and the fourth is a young North Vietnamese Army Platoon leader. Scott’s book weaves an exceptionally well told saga and became one of my five choices because it captures the essence (or if you will: the grotesque stench) of the war in Vietnam from several perspectives, including that of an enemy soldier.

By Leonard B. Scott,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Charlie Mike as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If war may be said to bring out the worst in governments, it frequently brings out the best in people. This is a novel about some of the very best. Some led. Some followed. Some died.

“One of the finest novels yet written about the war in Vietnam.”—The Washington Post

Sergeant David Grady: Leader of Ranger Team 2-2, the Double Deuce, he was a perfectionist who loved his men, his team, and his Army. For a long time they had been his whole world.

Sarah Boyce: Cold. Beautiful. For all her life, she'd been her whole world. She thought she…


By Michael Herr,

Book cover of Dispatches

Why did I love this book?

Michael Herr was a correspondent for Esquire Magazine, covering the Vietnam War from late 1967 to early 1969. In this non-fiction book written in 1977, only two years after the war ended, he recounts with unerring accuracy the horrors of war and the daily lives of soldiers in a combat zone. He also captures the broader picture of the war as only a correspondent based in Saigon could, giving the reader a glimpse into the absurdity by which those orchestrating the war explained their actions. This immediacy to the time of the events leads to an insightful and informative book.

By Michael Herr,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Dispatches as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an introduction by Kevin Powers.

A groundbreaking piece of journalism which inspired Stanley Kubrick's classic Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket.

We took space back quickly, expensively, with total panic and close to maximum brutality. Our machine was devastating. And versatile. It could do everything but stop.

Michael Herr went to Vietnam as a war correspondent for Esquire. He returned to tell the real story in all its hallucinatory madness and brutality, cutting to the quick of the conflict and its seductive, devastating impact on a generation of young men. His unflinching account is haunting in its violence, but…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Vietnam War, Vietnam, and veterans?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Vietnam War, Vietnam, and veterans.

The Vietnam War Explore 194 books about the Vietnam War
Vietnam Explore 130 books about Vietnam
Veterans Explore 69 books about veterans

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