The Vietnam War: Essential History

As our city and our nation tunes in to the premiere presentation of Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s ten part documentary series on the Vietnam War, interest is spiking in books and films that explore the War and the era from all angles. In the first of a four part series featuring lists including one hundred works of history, memoir, fiction and film, we suggest some of the best historical overviews of the Vietnam War.

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American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, by Christian G. Appy. It has been said that the Vietnam War as a watershed moment in our history, opening a rift that still runs deep to this day. Drawing rhetoric and reportage as well as popular culture, Appy argues that the War “shattered the central tenet of American  national identity—the broad faith that the United States is a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power, but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life.”

Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam, by Frances FitzGerald. Drawing on the author’s research and travels in Vietnam in the 1960s, this Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning exploration of the War’s effects on a broad spectrum of Vietnamese and Americans remains a landmark of scholarship on the War, 45 years after its original publication.

We Were Soldiers Once – and Young, by Harold G. Moore. This harrowing, detailed account of the four day battle of la Drang, the first major engagement of the Vietnam War, remains a powerful testament to the bravery and humanity of the men who fought and died on both sides, as well as a key account of how the military strategies of the U.S. and the North Vietnamese took shape.

The Vietnam War, 1945 – 1975, from the New York Historical Society. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this slim, heavily illustrated volume provides a more eloquent account of the War than many longer books, offering an chronological exhibit of artifacts and images, with brief explanatory text. A crash course in this epic conflict, from its earliest sources.

Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. The author of the brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, Nguyen here offers a scholarly exploration of the War’s long shadow, and how what we choose to remember – and to forget – shapes our sense of self, often in self-deceptive ways. An important and eye-opening account of how profoundly our narratives define our place in the world.

Visit our catalog to find our full list of 25 classic and recent history titles about the Vietnam War. And stay tuned for follow up lists of memoir, fiction and film.

     – Posted by David W.

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