Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 (Hardcover)
An absorbing and definitive modern history of the Vietnam War from the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of The Secret War.
Vietnam became the Western world’s most divisive modern conflict, precipitating a battlefield humiliation for France in 1954, then a vastly greater one for the United States in 1975. Max Hastings has spent the past three years interviewing scores of participants on both sides, as well as researching a multitude of American and Vietnamese documents and memoirs, to create an epic narrative of an epic struggle. He portrays the set pieces of Dienbienphu, the 1968 Tet offensive, the air blitz of North Vietnam, and also much less familiar miniatures such as the bloodbath at Daido, where a US Marine battalion was almost wiped out, together with extraordinary recollections of Ho Chi Minh’s warriors. Here are the vivid realities of strife amid jungle and paddies that killed two million people.
Many writers treat the war as a US tragedy, yet Hastings sees it as overwhelmingly that of the Vietnamese people, of whom forty died for every American. US blunders and atrocities were matched by those committed by their enemies. While all the world has seen the image of a screaming, naked girl seared by napalm, it forgets countless eviscerations, beheadings, and murders carried out by the communists. The people of both former Vietnams paid a bitter price for the Northerners’ victory in privation and oppression. Here is testimony from Vietcong guerrillas, Southern paratroopers, Saigon bargirls, and Hanoi students alongside that of infantrymen from South Dakota, Marines from North Carolina, and Huey pilots from Arkansas.
No past volume has blended a political and military narrative of the entire conflict with heart-stopping personal experiences, in the fashion that Max Hastings’ readers know so well. The author suggests that neither side deserved to win this struggle with so many lessons for the twenty-first century about the misuse of military might to confront intractable political and cultural challenges. He marshals testimony from warlords and peasants, statesmen and soldiers, to create an extraordinary record.
About the Author
Sir Max Hastings chronicles Vietnam with the benefit of vivid personal memories: first of reporting in 1967-68 from the United States, where he encountered many of the war’s decision-makers including President Lyndon Johnson, then of successive assignments in Indochina for newspapers and BBC TV: he rode a helicopter out of the US Saigon embassy compound during the 1975 final evacuation. He is the author of twenty-six books, most about conflict, and between 1986 and 2002 served as editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph, then editor of the Evening Standard. He has won many prizes both for journalism and his books, of which the most recent are All Hell Let Loose, Catastrophe and The Secret War, best-sellers translated around the world. He has two grown-up children, Charlotte and Harry, and lives with his wife Penny in West Berkshire, where they garden enthusiastically.
“This is a comprehensive, spellbinding, surprisingly intimate, and altogether magnificent historical narrative.”
— Tim O’Brien, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist The Things They Carried
“Max Hastings’ meticulously researched, superbly written account will now become the standard by which all other histories of the Vietnam War are judged. He leaves no stone unturned in examining three decades of conflict from the vantage points of all combatants at all levels—from offices in Washington, Hanoi, and Saigon and conference tables in Geneva and Paris, to treacherous trips down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, savage fire-fights in jungles and rice paddies, and terror-inducing air attacks. The result is a work both eminently readable and definitive.”
— National War College Professor Mark Clodfelter, author of The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam
“This balanced and insightful book is a pleasure to read. It destroys the fantasy that one side or the other held the moral high ground or a monopoly on devastating folly.”
— Karl Marlantes, author of What It Is Like to Go to War and Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
“A characteristically brilliant, monumental work by Max Hastings that masterfully presents the political, cultural, military, and social factors that produced the most divisive and disastrous conflict in American history. Hastings synthesizes innumerable sources, including many from North Vietnam, that, in an unflinching, clear-eyed manner capture the brutality of both sides in this war, as well as the heroism and the ineptitude, the public confidence and the inner doubts that resulted in the tragedy that was Vietnam – a war that Hastings implies neither side deserved to win.”
— General David Petraeus (US Army, Ret.), Chairman, KKR Global Institute and former commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Director of the CIA.
“[Hastings] brings his usual brilliant descriptive skills to the action, mixing individual anecdotes with big-picture considerations…. The sole satisfying outcome of two recent American interventions in poor nations with incompetent governments is likely to be more superb histories by Hastings. A definitive history, gripping from start to finish but relentlessly disturbing.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Hastings has been going to the wars for close on half a century. Fascinated since he was a boy by all things military, he has reported with distinction on many conflicts as well as writing as a historian about those that occurred before his time. It has been an obsession, but one that he has nurtured into a major talent... Now he has turned his formidable guns on the Vietnam war…This is a work of considerable quality, marked by a possibly unique combination of military expertise, historical grasp and journalistic skill in unearthing hitherto undiscovered human stories of the war, as well as judiciously selecting from among others already known. It helps, too, not to be an American, because that lends a certain useful distance…It is a very sad story and one that Hastings tells very well.”
— The Guardian
“We’ve seen a shelf-load of histories, analyses, memoirs, and novels on Vietnam. But what Hastings does in Vietnam is pull all these genres together in a highly readable and vivid narrative that, I think, will become the standard on the war for many years to come.”
“Vietnam is a product of Hastings’ prodigious research and his aptitude for pungent judgments. It is an unsparing look, by a warm friend of America, at the mountain of mendacities, political and military….Almost every Hastings page contains riveting facts…. as successful as printed words can be in achieving his aim of answering the question ‘What was the war like?’”
— Houston Chronicle
“Vietnam by Max Hastings is masterful account of the war…Hastings’ narrative, along with Ken Burns’ masterful series on PBS, offers a well-balanced account of a war that ended more than four decades ago. The author weaves anecdotal and first-person accounts from both sides into the overall history to produce a compelling account that veterans of the war, those who felt its impact at home and readers born decades after the fighting ended will find hard to put down.”
— Associated Press
“A gripping, well-researched look at a divisive American war.”
— New York Post
“Exceptionally thorough…[Hastings’s] greatest service is to demystify the Vietnam war and to place this conflict squarely into a broader history of other wars of the 20th century. Who better to accomplish this task than Hastings, who in previous works has helped us understand the first world war’s Battle of the Argonne Forest, the Normandy invasion of the second world war, and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in Korea?”
— Financial Times
“Hastings sees the Vietnam War in much the same way as that anguished villager. In his telling, it was a conflict without good guys....Through vivid accounts of battle and suffering, Hastings shows that the American war machine devastated the society it intended to save....he deserves enormous credit for helping us, half a century after the peak of the fighting, to see beyond old arguments about which side was right. What is visible when the blinders come off is indeed no pretty sight.”
— New York Times Book Review