The best Vietnam War books

36 authors have picked their favorite books about the Vietnam War and why they recommend each book.

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The Best and the Brightest

By David Halberstam,

Book cover of The Best and the Brightest

David Halberstam documents how fools go to war. This book is about the whiz kids that got us into the Vietnam war and ran it under the JFK and the Johnson administrations. The same ones who got us into the Iraq War, the Spanish American War, and so on. There is a quote that I love from this book that effectively says, "they used brilliant policies that defied common sense." And, that sums this all up. These whiz kids ran a war as if it was part of American politics and from thousands of miles away with memos and meetings in DC. They completely screwed it up.

David Halberstam was a correspondent in Saigon and knew these insiders. He wrote about the decision-making that was happening behind closed doors that led to one of our greatest follies. He is a master storyteller and I strongly recommend this book. 


Who am I?

My father, John Bradley, was a veteran and fought on Iwo Jima in World War 2 in 1945. Later I walked in the sands of Iwo Jima and eventually wrote four books about war. I am a New York Times best-selling author and Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood made my first book into a movie, Flags of Our Fathers. I've been traveling in and learning about Asia since 1974, when I attended Sophia University in Tokyo. I am also the host of a podcast called Untold Pacific that mines 40 years of my life to create historical travelogues about the American experience on the other side of the Pacific. 

John and I did a podcast about these book recommendations and if you want to listen to the full episode go here.


I wrote...

Flags of Our Fathers

By James Bradley, Ron Powers,

Book cover of Flags of Our Fathers

What is my book about?

In this powerful book, James Bradley takes as his starting point one of the most famous photographs of all time. In February 1945, American Marines plunged into the surf at Iwo Jima and into a hail of machine-gun and mortar fire from 22,000 Japanese. After climbing through a hellish landscape and onto the island's highest peak, six men were photographed raising the stars and stripes. James’s father, John Bradley, a Navy Corpsman, was there. The senior Bradley never spoke to his family about the war, but after his death in 1994, they discovered closed boxes of letters and photos.

Bradley has written a classic story of the heroic battle for the Pacific's most crucial island - an island riddled with sixteen miles of tunnels and defended by Japanese soldiers determined to fight to the death. In the thirty-six days of fighting, almost twenty-seven thousand combatants lost their lives. Above all a human - and personal - story, few books have captured so brilliantly or so movingly the complexity of war and its aftermath and the true meaning of heroism.

The Ravens

By Christopher Robbins,

Book cover of The Ravens: The True Story Of A Secret War In Laos, Vietnam

The Ravens were young Air Force pilots, all volunteers, who flew tiny Cessna O-1 Bird Dog spotter planes through heavy groundfire to identify targets and call in air-strikes during the top-secret war in northern Laos. Their mission was so secret that they wore no uniforms and carried no identification. Fed up with the bureaucracy of the war in Vietnam, these young FACs accepted the 50% casualty rates of what was known as the Steve Canyon Program in return for a life of unrestricted flying and fighting. Devoted to the CIA-sponsored hill tribesmen they supported, the Ravens did their job with extraordinary skill and raw courage. This is their story, brilliantly told in Christopher Robbins. Based on extensive interviews with the survivors, it is a tale of undeniable heroism, blending real-life romance, adventure, and tragedy.


Who am I?

A decorated Air Force combat pilot, Tom Yarborough served two tours in Vietnam as a forward air controller. After leaving the Air Force he was a professor and department chair at Indiana University and history professor at Northern Virginia Community College. His writing background includes the books Da Nang Diary, winner of the Military Writers Society of America Gold Medal for the best memoir of 2014, and A Shau Valor, a finalist for the 2016 Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award.


I wrote...

A Shau Valor: American Combat Operations in the Valley of Death, 1963-1971

By Thomas R. Yarborough,

Book cover of A Shau Valor: American Combat Operations in the Valley of Death, 1963-1971

What is my book about?

Throughout the Vietnam War, one focal point persisted where the Viet Cong guerrillas and ARVN were not a major factor, but where the trained professionals of the North Vietnamese and U.S. armies repeatedly fought head-to-head. A Shau Valor is a thoroughly documented study of nine years of American combat operations encompassing the crucial frontier valley and a 15-mile radius around it--the most deadly killing ground of the entire Vietnam War.

Phase Line Green

By Nicholas Warr,

Book cover of Phase Line Green: The Battle for Hue, 1968

It is rare when an actual participant of a battle can produce such a chilling and accurate narrative that keeps a reader’s attention page after page. This was the Tet Offensive urban battle for the Citadel, a walled city containing a labyrinth of buildings and houses jammed around numerous narrow streets. This was city fighting at its worst. In the end, many thousands of the enemy lay dead.


Who am I?

I served in Vietnam in 1969 carrying a radio on my back with the 12th Marines on the DMZ. In 1970, I was a door gunner with HMM-364 (Purple Fox Squadron) out of Marble Mountain. Beginning in 1996, I have led 68 tours for veterans, their family members, historians, active-duty military personnel, and others to the jungles, mountains, and battlefields of Vietnam. I currently serve as president and bush guide for the non-profit tour company, Vietnam Battlefield Tours. As an avid reader of non-fiction books on the Vietnam experience, this knowledge base has helped tremendously in my non-profit volunteer service.


I wrote...

VIETNAM War SPEAK: The Distinctive Language of the Vietnam Era

By William W. Stilwagen,

Book cover of VIETNAM War SPEAK: The Distinctive Language of the Vietnam Era

What is my book about?

If there ever was a time worthy of its own vernacular, it is the Vietnam Era. A generation split by peace and war spawned a library of lingo, slang, and fresh new words like no era before it. The warriors found that the torch had been passed to them by an assassinated president. It motivated them to bear any burden and to pay any price. And they created a second language to augment what they brought with them.

In this book, you will find over 2,500 terms, acronyms, jargon, slang expressions, and various lingo transported to you by Vietnam servicemen who showed remarkable insight into their own generational place in history. It is not a language for the timid nor the politically correct. But it is the language of reality.

Stolen Valor

By B.G. Burkett, Glenna Whitley,

Book cover of Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History

I believe this book is the most important book written about the aftermath of the war, and the impact it had on “those who went.” Author Burkett describes himself as a Vietnam Veteran, but one who served in an administrative capacity and seldom in harm’s way. Upon returning home in 1969, he witnessed, first-hand, the disrespect given to those who went to war by those who stayed home. In 1996, Burkett was enlisted by a group of citizens who were trying to build a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Monument in Fair Park near downtown Dallas to help them raise the necessary funds. He first went directly to business decision-makers and asked for their support, only to be soundly rejected because of the extremely negative reputation placed on returning veterans by the media and others. Knowing that that terrible reputation (murderers, rapists, baby-killers, etc.) was not earned by most, he set about…


Who am I?

I enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps in 1966 and was selected for the Enlisted Commissioning Program. As a Marine officer, I served one 13-month combat tour in the Republic of Vietnam from November 1967 to December 1968. During my tour, I led Marines through some of the heaviest fighting in the war, including the historic Battle for Hue City during the Tet Offensive of 1968. I will never forget my Marines, who always, always rose and faced the enemy, risking their lives for their fellow Marines and the people of South Vietnam. I experienced first-hand the brutality of war and the loss of too many of my Marines, at the hands of our fierce enemy, the Viet Cong, and the NVA, and at the hands of our own leaders who valued historic real estate over the lives of the young Americans who served in “The ‘Nam.” I am extremely passionate about this topic and feel strongly that every American should study this war and learn the facts about what happened there – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to ensure we as a nation never again send our troops into harms’ way without our nation’s full support.


I wrote...

Phase Line Green: The Battle for Hue, 1968

By Nicholas Warr,

Book cover of Phase Line Green: The Battle for Hue, 1968

What is my book about?

The bloody monthlong battle for the ancient Citadel Fortress in Hue pitted U.S. Marines against an entrenched North Vietnamese Army force. By official accounts it was a tactical and moral victory for the Marines and the United States. But here survivor Nicholas Warr describes with urgency and outrage the Marines' savage house-to-house fighting--ordered without air, naval, or artillery support by officers with no experience in that type of combat.

The Doom Pussy

By Ben Shephard,

Book cover of The Doom Pussy

Elaine Shepard wrote Doom Pussy in 1967 and explained in her introduction that only the pilots who flew on missions at night to North Vietnam were entitled to wear the Doom Pussy patch on their left shoulders. On the patch was a cat with an eye patch eating an airplane, and in Vietnamese were the words “Trong miệng của con mèo của định mạng” and literally translated means, “I have flown into the jaws of the cat of death.” Most American fliers just said, “I have seen the Doom Pussy.” This was another one of those amazing stories about a woman that competes with distinction in what was then considered a man’s world, journalism. She flew into combat on a Huey slick with Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Honour. Col. Honour was killed three months after Ms. Shepard flew with him. She has chronicled her exploits and those of the pilots she…


Who am I?

Charles Templeton has been there and understands the stories of those who served in combat. He understands the wounds that do not heal after fifty years and those warriors, who in their writing, try to provide a sense of understanding and vision to their stories. He served as a Marine helicopter crew chief during the American War in Vietnam. His love of Vietnam literature began in 1967 and continues to this day. One voice that he feels has been neglected, is that of the women who served in that war, on both sides, and those who still carry the scars of that war with them. After fifty years of researching and writing about the war, he believes there is a literature of the Vietnam War with a female perspective, and enough of it that you can identify the good and the bad. He writes book reviews for the Vietnam Veterans of America. Charles also edits and publishes an avant-garde literary online magazine, eMerge. And, he and his wife started and published a weekly newspaper in Eureka Springs, Arkansas for a few years, The Independent.


I wrote...

Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam

By Charles L. Templeton,

Book cover of Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam

What is my book about?

In a world awash in books on War and in particular the unabated American obsession with Vietnam, Boot has artistically created a mosaic that uniquely combines Heller’s famous portrayal of normal society exposed to the frustrating bureaucratic logic of the military with Remarque’s description of the extreme physical and mental stress brought on by detachment from civilian life by soldiers. Boot challenges the reader to think about whether or not truth exists, whether or not there are such things as right and wrong, and finally, whether the idea of morality is flexible based on the context (in this case, in the American War in Vietnam).

With a plethora of books being written with an underlying theme of trying to justify the American War in Vietnam, many reasons have been given for the failure of the U.S. Some of the causes and significance of that failure are misunderstood interests, cultural arrogance, silly military strategies, ill-informed tactics, and adverse domestic politics, among others. Boot asks us to rethink our reasoning and our experiences during those turbulent times and consider for a moment the moral and spiritual landscape in America at this time and the corruption of the South Vietnamese government to which the U.S. turned a blind eye. It is a wound on the soul of America which will continue to fester if it remains unexamined. If you want to know why this period in our history is still controversial and still being written about, read Boot: A Sorta Novel of Vietnam.

Tiger the LURP Dog

By Kenn Miller,

Book cover of Tiger the LURP Dog

By far the best novel on LRRPs in Vietnam, and perhaps the best fiction to come out of the war. Highly decorated Miller extended his tour three times with F Company 58th Infantry (LRP) and L Company Rangers in order to “out guerrilla the guerilla.” Book awarded the Bernal Diaz Prize for military fiction.


Who am I?

I served as an infantry platoon leader, reconnaissance platoon leader, and rifle company commander in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. I was an instructor in the Florida Phase of the U.S. Army Ranger School for two years.


I wrote...

Inside the LRRPs: Rangers in Vietnam

By Michael Lee Lanning,

Book cover of Inside the LRRPs: Rangers in Vietnam

What is my book about?

Vietnam was a different kind of war, calling for a different kind of soldier. The LRRPs--Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols--were that new breed of fighting man. They operated in six-man teams deep within enemy territory, and were the eyes and ears of the units they served. This is their story--of perseverence under extreme hardship and uncommon bravery--and how they carried out the war's most hazardous missions.

Death in the A Shau Valley

By Larry Chambers,

Book cover of Death in the A Shau Valley: L Company LRRPs in Vietnam, 1969-70

An excellent first-person account of being an LRRP in a unit that acted as the eyes and ears of the 101st Airborne Division. Most of his patrols were in the NVA ruled A Shau Valley. Usually outgunned, outmanned, and unsupported, Chambers and his LRRP team performed hundreds of courageous missions. This is a “boots on the ground” story by a real warrior.


Who am I?

I served as an infantry platoon leader, reconnaissance platoon leader, and rifle company commander in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. I was an instructor in the Florida Phase of the U.S. Army Ranger School for two years.


I wrote...

Inside the LRRPs: Rangers in Vietnam

By Michael Lee Lanning,

Book cover of Inside the LRRPs: Rangers in Vietnam

What is my book about?

Vietnam was a different kind of war, calling for a different kind of soldier. The LRRPs--Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols--were that new breed of fighting man. They operated in six-man teams deep within enemy territory, and were the eyes and ears of the units they served. This is their story--of perseverence under extreme hardship and uncommon bravery--and how they carried out the war's most hazardous missions.

Charlie Mike

By Leonard B. Scott,

Book cover of Charlie Mike

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.

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.

The Long-Range War

By Peter R. Senich,

Book cover of The Long-Range War: Sniping In Vietnam

Contains the history, along with exceptional pictures and illustrations, of Army and Marine snipers in Vietnam. Along with history it details the fielding of rifles, scopes, and suppression devices. More technical than “war story” it provides an excellent base document on which to build an education on long range shooting by American soldiers and Marines in the Vietnam War.


Who am I?

I served as an infantry platoon leader, reconnaissance platoon leader, and rifle company commander in Vietnam and observed the direct results of snipers. I am the author of 30 non-fiction books on the military (six specifically about the Vietnam War), sports, and health that have sold more than 1.1 million copies in 15 countries and 12 languages.


I wrote...

Inside the Crosshairs: Snipers in Vietnam

By Michael Lee Lanning,

Book cover of Inside the Crosshairs: Snipers in Vietnam

What is my book about?

At the start of the war in Vietnam, the United States had no snipers; by the end of the war, Marine and army precision marksmen had killed more than 10,000 NVA and VC soldiers--the equivalent of an entire division--at the cost of under 20,000 bullets, proving that long-range shooters still had a place in the battlefield. Now noted military historian Michael Lee Lanning shows how U.S. snipers in Vietnam--combining modern technology in weapons, ammunition, and telescopes--used the experience and traditions of centuries of expert shooters to perfect their craft.

13 Cent Killers

By John J. Culbertson,

Book cover of 13 Cent Killers: The 5th Marine Snipers in Vietnam

Titled after the cost of a single sniper round, this book details the performance and accomplishment of scout snipers in the 5th Marine Regiment. Culberson and his fellow Marine snipers exhibited patience, stealth, marksmanship, and pure courage to make their sniper platoon the most decorated in the Corps. Uncommon valor was a common virtue among these one-shot killers.


Who am I?

I served as an infantry platoon leader, reconnaissance platoon leader, and rifle company commander in Vietnam and observed the direct results of snipers. I am the author of 30 non-fiction books on the military (six specifically about the Vietnam War), sports, and health that have sold more than 1.1 million copies in 15 countries and 12 languages.


I wrote...

Inside the Crosshairs: Snipers in Vietnam

By Michael Lee Lanning,

Book cover of Inside the Crosshairs: Snipers in Vietnam

What is my book about?

At the start of the war in Vietnam, the United States had no snipers; by the end of the war, Marine and army precision marksmen had killed more than 10,000 NVA and VC soldiers--the equivalent of an entire division--at the cost of under 20,000 bullets, proving that long-range shooters still had a place in the battlefield. Now noted military historian Michael Lee Lanning shows how U.S. snipers in Vietnam--combining modern technology in weapons, ammunition, and telescopes--used the experience and traditions of centuries of expert shooters to perfect their craft.

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