The Things They Carried

By Tim O'Brien,

Book cover of The Things They Carried

Book description

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…

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Why read it?

20 authors picked The Things They Carried as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

O’Brien’s depiction of American soldiers in Vietnam was vivid and moving. It gave me a deeper understanding of the soldier’s experience. His artful use of the metaphor of what they carried revealed not only the items on hand but also the psychological baggage each soldier dealt with.

The stories were haunting and made me a full witness to the complexity of war and the many ways it is experienced. It is artfully written, moving, complex, touching and unforgettable.

Singlehandedly one of the greatest fictional books about war, Tim finds clever ways of imbuing readers with captivating characters.

Each short story gives insight into a war still misunderstood to this day.

As a veteran, I identify with the curious war stories and the unique character attributes displayed throughout them.

While cynical and the fictitious content questioned, The Things They Carried carries the weight of war and its lasting effects. 

From Ryan's list on human choice & consequence.

Choices, choices, choices. The Things They Carried chronicles in piecemeal, fictionalized format the journey of an army veteran, from an injured spirit focusing on the shortest space between actions necessary for survival, to the expansive vision of a celebrated author.

For me, a creative making his first, furtive attempts at writing, O'Brien’s book gave me permission to experiment with short stories, and to strive for the truth, no matter the amount of fiction required to communicate a reality.

From Donald's list on surviving a life-changing challenge.

The Things They Carried has become a classic book of the Vietnam War.

It is a personal view into the lives of the men who struggled and died during that misguided war. O’Brien uses the idea of “the things they carried” both literally and figuratively. These are young men, most still only teenagers, who must carry huge amounts of gear into war. They come back burdened with so much more—things no longer be seen except by others who carry the same, their comrades who were there with them.

The stories are filled with pathos, humour, honesty, and tragedy. It helps…

From Amanda's list on making you a teenage radical.

In many ways, this is the book that taught me how to write.

If I were to open it and read it right now, especially the end of "On the Rainey River," I would bust out crying because the pacing, the plotting, the writing, is so freaking good. O'Brien plays with his readers all through this book, and he absolutely takes us to war, without any blood or guts or gore, and lets us know what the true cost of war is.

If you read this, you'll be a better writer than you are today, and you'll be anti-war. Sorry…

I first read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien when I taught tenth-grade English. It was a staple of the curriculum, and I had to master it quickly.

I easily recognized its literary merit with O’Brien’s poetic prose, structural artistry, and philosophical approach to the nature of war. This is not a horror story; it is a war story, and as O’Brien would say, it’s one with no moral.

O’Brien is a real Vietnam veteran, and he uses himself as the narrator in this novel that’s structured as a faux memoir. The truly disturbing scenes depict how desensitized to…

From Nick's list on that will haunt you for life.

Reading The Things They Carried, which I’ve read at least a dozen times, always takes my breath away. With the way that O’Brien has laid out this book, as much is written in the silences, in what he doesn’t write, as in what he has written, and what he writes is some of the most powerful writing about war ever written.

From Kevin's list on surviving war (or not).

This book gave me license to bend the truth, the setting, and to use myself, or some bizarre version of myself as a main character. O’Brien is the one who made it okay for me to do whatever the hell I wanted in the stories I wrote. It may not appear to be avant garde writing, but it certainly showed me how to play with convention and storytelling. Like a lot of veteran writers in the last thirty years, I used this book as a template in a lot of ways.

From Christopher's list on being changed by war.

This is an interesting book about the Vietnam War. When we think about the things a soldier carries, we think about his weapons, his pack, food, ammunition, extra clothing, a poncho, and other sundries, but we, the veteran, also carry the stories of what we did along with stories shared to us by other veterans. That was one reason I  needed to write my novel-to get those stories out of my head, even though they will always be there.

From Larry's list on stories of Vietnam veterans.

When I returned to college in the spring of 2004, my creative writing professor found most of my essays revolved around combat or personal demons from Afghanistan, so she suggested I read O’Brien’s groundbreaking meditation on war. In both conflicts I served in, I carried several items, jewelry, and keepsakes that almost became wards or lucky rabbit’s feet. O’Brien takes the veterans of Vietnam through a fictitious account based on his experience overseas, to create a haunting combination of both memoir and fiction while detailing some of the most intimate moments of a soldier’s life (and keepsakes) on the battlefield.…

From Benjamin's list on war that leave you shattered.

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