The Quiet American

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of The Quiet American

Book description

Graham Greene's classic exploration of love, innocence, and morality in Vietnam

"I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused," Graham Greene's narrator Fowler remarks of Alden Pyle, the eponymous "Quiet American" of what is perhaps the most controversial novel of his career. Pyle…

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Why read it?

10 authors picked The Quiet American as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Graham Greene is one of my favorite authors. His other books have stayed with me since I read them countless moons ago. Their observations and lessons feel urgently relevant today.

This past summer, I looked for an audiobook to distract me during my travels across the country. When I realized I’d never read Greene’s classic The Quiet American, I downloaded it to my iPhone, plugged into my Airpods, and clicked play.

Narrator Joseph Porter transported me to 1955 Vietnam. Through his journalist protagonist (alter ego?), Greene warned the United States to stay out of the Southeastern Asian conflict. He also…

Before the U.S. entered the war in Vietnam, Graham Greene forecast its disastrous consequences. His love triangle, set amid the escalating conflict, perfectly captures the naiveté of American interventionism overseas. I love the subtext of the tale, which is narrated by an embittered British journalist. Although it’s never spoken, we intuit that he is addicted to opium and living the life of a dissolute expatriate. Fowler watches in horror as a U.S. diplomat tries to steal both the woman and the country he has adopted. He claims impartiality and indifference until he cannot any longer.

From David's list on political crime fiction.

I was born during the Vietnam War. I have a dim memory of watching the evacuation of Saigon on TV. Some of my friends had older brothers, or uncles, or fathers who fought. We all knew the war was a mistake, a terrible miscalculation by “warmongers” and “imperialists.” What Graham Greene’s sad, gripping novel shows is how that mistakewhich killed at least 1.3 million Vietnamesewasn’t made despite America’s good intentions but because of them. The unshakable belief that America is a force for good in the world leads directly to the arrogance that got us into…

From Andrew's list on to make you rethink America.

Written in 1955 The Quiet American is probably the most well-known novel of the very few written in English about French Indochina and has been adapted twice to film, in 1958 and 2002. It is set in the last years of the French in Vietnam and the early days of American involvement. Graham Green apparently drew on his experience as a war correspondent for the French daily Le Figaro. The two main characters are Thomas Fowler, a cynical British journalist, and Alden Pyle, an idealistic American CIA agent with no experience in southeast Asia who is full of foreign…

From Mandaley's list on the French in Vietnam.

I’m always fascinated by moral quandary, particularly in a morally ambivalent age where there are no clear-cut good guys or bad guys, only the lesser of evils. No black and white. Just shades of gray. And yet, to live a fully engaged life, we must make choices, because turning our back on it all is the worst choice of all.

In this controversial novel, the lead character’s dilemma is two-fold. Whose side is he on, and whether he should get involved. He’s a journalist covering a war, and journalists are supposed to be neutral observers. But he has strong feelings…

British journalist Thomas Fowler is living in Saigon and covering the conflict in Vietnam between the French colonial occupying power and the Viet Kong Communists. One day he meets Alden Pyle, an American intelligence operative attached to the American Embassy and the Quiet American of the story. While Fowler is a cynic, Pyle, who is new to Vietnam, is an idealist who wants to turn the country into an Asian version of American democracy.

Fowler acts as the story’s narrator, and the novel starts with Fowler discovering that the American has been murdered with the later chapters going back and…

From Tom's list on British spies.

I bought my only copy of The Quiet American from a scruffy boy on a street in Hanoi in the early 90s, when the Hanoi Hilton was still a dilapidated former POW prison, not a high rise. "Pirated" would be generous-- the book was a bound stack of poorly photocopied pages. But readable, so I did. Published in 1955, it was prescient about the absurd and tragic hole that America would dig for itself in Vietnam. And again, years down the line, it was echoed by the epic folly of America in Iraq and Afghanistan. Graham Greene's all-too-real masterpiece also…

From Victor's list on spy books set in Asia.

Set during the 1950s during what the French called The Indochina War, Greene’s classic novel never-the-less prophetically brings to life the attitudes that would lead to America’s war in Vietnam. 

Pyle, a bright young U.S. CIA agent posing as a foreign-service officer in charge of a medical aid program, falls in love with Phuong, the mistress of Fowler, a jaded British reporter who is covering the fighting between the French and the Viet Minh. In their fight for Phuong’s heart (or at least her body), the two men are meant to represent contending Western approaches to Vietnam.

Fowler feels the…

This classic novel is the book I read before leaving for Vietnam as a young Foreign Service Officer. Written in 1955, it foretold in hugely insightful terms the quagmire in which the United States would sink into. It demonstrated the reasons why Americans have done so badly in combatting insurgencies.

From John's list on national security in the USA.

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…

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