The best books about Vietnam from a multitude of sources

The Books I Picked & Why

On the Ho Chi Minh Trail: The Blood Road, the Women Who Defended It, the Legacy

By Sherry Buchanan

Book cover of On the Ho Chi Minh Trail: The Blood Road, the Women Who Defended It, the Legacy

Why this book?

Sherry Buchanan takes us on the Ho Chi Minh trail in a riveting and as relevant a journey to study today as it was 50 years ago. She charts new territory - especially in the vivid, often heartbreaking stories of women who fought in the war as teenagers and the forced roles of housewives who stood on rooftops facing death to shoot down US planes that bombed their homes. Buchanan details the countless centuries of Vietnam's perilous path to freedom. But her vivid writing and crystal clear interviews with women--their youthful dreams and present-day realities--shine a powerful light on a war and a previously unexplored dimension that should never be forgotten.

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You Don't Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War

By Elizabeth Becker

Book cover of You Don't Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War

Why this book?

Another laudatory new book that tells the untold courageous story of three women journalist who “didn’t belong here” (in Vietnam) and defied rules, prejudice, and combat to cover the Vietnam War, thus shaping coverage that reflected new dimensions and paved the way for a new generation of women to cover the war. Their stories--a French, an Australian, and an American--are marvelously captured by Becker. From the very beginning, when no media outlet would hire them, these three women showed amazing grit, including paying their own way to Vietnam and freelancing for meager money, before they received a modicum of acceptance. Becker, who was a correspondent in Cambodia, writes about them with personal knowledge and understanding.

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Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina

By Bernard B. Fall

Book cover of Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina

Why this book?

This brilliant classic of military history and human folly, first published in 1961, should have been read by America’s “best and brightest” architects of America’s 10-year fiasco. French Journalist and historian Bernard Fall vividly captured the sights, sounds, and smells of the brutal conflict between the French and the Communist-led Vietnamese nationalists. I get angry every time I think of the arrogance of America’s leaders who never examined Fall’s insightful warnings of the futility of jungle fighting that would defeat the United States in the bloody years to follow. Fall’s blueprint for disaster graphically shows that even with lethal modern military force, the French could not defeat the hit-and-run tactics, ambushes, booby traps, and nighttime raids that would become drastically familiar to American troops. The final French downfall ended at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Street Without Joy has remained in print for half a century and I stress that it should still be required reading.

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The Quiet American

By Graham Greene

Book cover of The Quiet American

Why this book?

Carrying on where Bernard Fall left off, Greene’s novel, published the year after Dien Bien Phu, details the end of French colonialism and the beginning of American covert actions. Greene paints a dark picture of --and questions-- America’s growing involvement in Vietnam. This is personified in the character of a brash idealistic young CIA agent who plots secret actions that backfire disastrously. The tale is narrated by a cynical British journalist and a subplot features a love triangle between the journalist, the CIA agent, and a young Vietnamese woman. The larger historic picture threads through the lives and loves of the three main characters in a novel praised for its prescient prediction of the United States fate in Vietnam. Greene’s large body of work reveals his mastery of capturing evocative characters as they live through global turmoil and The Quiet American is no exception.

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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

By Ocean Vuong

Book cover of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

Why this book?

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is one of the most remarkably inventive debut novels I have read and the enormous acclaim for this young poet turned novelist is deserved. Vuong’s writing leaps from stunning poetic phrases to brutally searing coming-of-age passages that surely seem to reverberate with his own experiences as a Vietnamese American, whose own life began in Vietnam. The novel’s form is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written by Little Dog when he is in his late twenties, the letter goes back and forth in time as he depicts a family barely coping with the violent Vietnam war. “Little Dog” explores epic themes like race, class, and homosexuality but always in human terms that are at times ferociously honest and at others, tender and compassionate. For example, no woman who has her nails done in a salon with overworked and underpaid Vietnamese women should feel indifferent after reading of Little Dog’s mother, who is bent over from hours of sitting in one position and suffers from breathing in harsh acrylic chemicals. A big tip—paid directly to the worker—is the least one could do. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous follows Little Dog from a life of feeling different and unwanted to being able to survive and in the end, feel a measure of belonging.

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