The best books about the Vietnam War that strike a different note

Who am I?

Until today’s multiple catastrophes, the Vietnam War was the most harrowing moment in the lives of my fellow baby boomers and me. Drafted into the U.S. Army in early 1970, I spent 365 days in Vietnam as a combat correspondent. That experience changed my life, because as the Argentinian writer Jose Narosky has pointed out, “in war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” I have spent the past five decades trying to heal those wounds, writing three books grounded in my Vietnam experience, and have devoted my life to listening to the voices of our veterans, distilling their memories (often music-based), and sharing their words. 


I wrote...

We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War

By Doug Bradley, Craig Werner,

Book cover of We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War

What is my book about?

In We Gotta Get Out of This Place, Doug Bradley and Craig Werner place popular music at the heart of the American experience in Vietnam. The authors explore how and why U.S. troops turned to music as a way of connecting to each other and the World back home and coping with the complexities of the war they had been sent to fight. Bradley and Werner also demonstrate how music was important for every group of Vietnam veterans—black and white, Latino and Native American, men and women, officers and “grunts”—whose personal reflections drive the book’s narrative. Together their testimony taps into memories—individual and collective—that capture a central, if often overlooked, component of the American war in Vietnam.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War

Doug Bradley Why did I love this book?

How music became so readily available to Vietnam soldiers is emphasized in Armed with Abundance. Trying to remedy the tenuous morale among GIs, the U.S. military provided them with “creature comforts” in an effort to make war easier, and certainly more palatable. Lair finds that consumption and satiety, more so than privation and sacrifice, defined the experience of most soldiers' Vietnam deployments. She reveals that in 1969 and 1970, for example, soldiers purchased nearly 500,000 radios, 178,000 reel-to-reel tape decks, and 220,000 cassette recorders. Rock and roll was there to stay! 

By Meredith H. Lair,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Armed with Abundance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Popular representations of the Vietnam War tend to emphasize violence, deprivation, and trauma. By contrast, in Armed with Abundance, Meredith Lair focuses on the noncombat experiences of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, redrawing the landscape of the war so that swimming pools, ice cream, visits from celebrities, and other "comforts" share the frame with combat.

To address a tenuous morale situation, military authorities, Lair reveals, wielded abundance to insulate soldiers - and, by extension, the American public - from boredom and deprivation, making the project of war perhaps easier and certainly more palatable. The result was dozens of overbuilt bases in…


Book cover of Soul Patrol: The Riveting True Story of the First African American LRRP Team in Vietnam

Doug Bradley Why did I love this book?

In 1968, Ed Emanuel was handpicked to be part of the first six-man African American special operations (LRRP) unit in Vietnam. Team 2/6 of Company F, 51st Infantry, was dubbed the “Soul Patrol,” a glib, albeit superficial, label that belied the true depth of their brutal war experience. “Silence was essential in the field,” he reminds us in his memoir, but when he and other members of the Soul Patrol rotated to the rear, “Otis Redding’s ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,’” he writes, “could be heard streaming from the jukeboxes of nearby bars and clubs.” Music gave the Soul Patrol much-needed solace. 

By Ed Emanuel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Soul Patrol as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

LRRPs had to be the best.
Anything less meant certain death.

When Ed Emanuel was handpicked for the first African American special operations LRRP team in Vietnam, he knew his six-man team couldn’t have asked for a tougher proving ground than Cu Chi in the summer of 196868. Home to the largest Viet cong tunnel complex in Vietnam, Cu Chi was the deadly heart of the enemy’s stronghold in Tay Ninh Province.

Team 2/6 of Company F, 51st Infantry, was quickly dubbed the Soul Patrol, a gimmicky label that belied the true depth of their courage. Stark and compelling, Emanuel’s…


Book cover of Dien Cai Dau

Doug Bradley Why did I love this book?

“I think of language as our first music,” notes the celebrated poet Yusef Komunyakaa. His collection of Vietnam poems, Dien Cai Dau (Vietnamese for crazy) fuses images, sounds, and sights from Vietnam into a fearful, lyrical symmetry. Born James Brown in rural Bogalusa, Louisiana, he served in Vietnam as a correspondent and editor of The Southern Cross, the newspaper of the Army’s 23rd Infantry Division (Americal). “The Vietnamese knew what was happening in the American psyche when it came to race,” claims Komunyakaa, “and sometimes they expertly played on it.” The poem “Hanoi Hannah” in Dien Cai Dau is a perfect example of this: “Ray Charles!” His voice/ calls from waist-high grass/& we duck behind gray sandbags./ “Hello, Soul Brothers. Yeah,/Georgia’s also on my mind…Here’s Hannah again…"

“That gets your attention when you’re out in the middle of nowhere,” astutely observes Komunyakaa.

By Yusef Komunyakaa,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dien Cai Dau as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Poetry that precisely conjures images of the war in Vietnam by an award-winning author.


Book cover of Beyond Combat: Women and Gender in the Vietnam War Era

Doug Bradley Why did I love this book?

(Spoiler alert: I appear in Ms. Stur’s book, albeit briefly)

Beyond Combat is one of the few books that examines the role of the more than 60,000 women who served in military and civilian capacities in Vietnam and the gender stereotypes that accompanied them. In addition to nurses, who formed the largest group of U.S. military women in Vietnam, Stur highlights those who served under the auspices of the Red Cross Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas program. These young college graduates were commonly known as “donut dollies” because of their girl-next-door appeal. “Our job was to lift the guys’ spirits,” recalls donut dollie Jeanne Christie. Music was one way the donut dollies did that. “Some of us DJ’d at various bases during our time in-country,” adds Bobbi McDaniel Stephens. “I took dedications from the guys,” a playlist she says included “Get Back,” “My Girl,” and “He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother,” among others.

By Heather Marie Stur,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Beyond Combat investigates how the Vietnam War both reinforced and challenged the gender roles that were key components of American Cold War ideology. Refocusing attention onto women and gender paints a more complex and accurate picture of the war's far-reaching impact beyond the battlefields. Encounters between Americans and Vietnamese were shaped by a cluster of intertwined images used to make sense of and justify American intervention and use of force in Vietnam. These images included the girl next door, a wholesome reminder of why the United States was committed to defeating Communism, and the treacherous and mysterious 'dragon lady', who…


Book cover of Gods Go Begging

Doug Bradley Why did I love this book?

Vea’s novel is as ambitious, complex, and surreal a story about the horrors of Vietnam (and post-Vietnam) ever written. A Vietnam vet himself, Vea traces the efforts of several men and women who try to purge their Vietnam ghosts while finding a way to curtail the violence convulsing contemporary America. Jesse Pasadoble, the protagonist, is a defense attorney in San Francisco, hardened and embittered by his Vietnam experience. While his journey toward redemption, as well as that of an Army chaplain who goes AWOL in Vietnam, may require a “willing suspension of disbelief,” Vea skillfully pulls it off, helped in no small way by the many allusions to jazz, specifically the inimitable works of John Coltrane and Charles Mingus. 

By Alfredo Vea,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gods Go Begging as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Luminous... a beautiful book." - Carolyn See

For Vietnam veteran Jesse Pasadoble, now a defense attorney living in San Francisco, the battle still rages: in his memories, in the gang wars erupting on Potrero Hill, and in the recent slaying of two women: one black, one Vietnamese. While seeking justice for the young man accused of this brutal double murder, Jesse must walk with the ghosts of men who died on another hill... men who were his comrades and friends in a war that crossed racial divides.

Gods Go Begging is a new classic of Latino literature, a literary detective…


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Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

Book cover of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

Christina Ward Author Of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

New book alert!

Who am I?

For me, history is always about individuals; what they think and believe and how those ideas motivate their actions. By relegating our past to official histories or staid academic tellings we deprive ourselves of the humanity of our shared experiences. As a “popular historian” I use food to tell all the many ways we attempt to “be” American. History is for everyone, and my self-appointed mission is to bring more stories to readers! These recommendations are a few stand-out titles from the hundreds of books that inform my current work on how food and religion converge in America. You’ll have to wait for Holy Food to find out what I’ve discovered.

Christina's book list on the hidden history of America

What is my book about?

Does God have a recipe? Independent food historian Christina Ward’s highly anticipated Holy Food explores the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture.

Author Christina Ward unravels how religious beliefs intersect with politics, economics, and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. It's the story of true believers and charlatans, of idealists and visionaries, and of the everyday people who followed them—often at their peril.

Holy Food explains how faith pioneers used societal woes and cultural trends to create new pathways of belief and reveals the interconnectivity between sects and their leaders.

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

What is this book about?

Does God have a recipe?

"Holy Food is a titanic feat of research and a fascinating exploration of American faith and culinary rites. Christina Ward is the perfect guide – generous, wise, and ecumenical." — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams

"Holy Food doesn't just trace the influence that preachers, gurus, and cult leaders have had on American cuisine. It offers a unique look at the ways spirituality—whether in the form of fringe cults or major religions—has shaped our culture. Christina Ward has gone spelunking into some very odd corners of American history to unearth this fascinating collection of stories…


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5 book lists we think you will like!

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