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Vietnam

An Epic History of a Divisive War 1945-1975
Length: 33 hrs and 48 mins
Categories: History, Military
4.5 out of 5 stars (37 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From the best-selling author of All Hell Let Loose comes a masterful chronicle of one of the most devastating international conflicts of the 20th century and how its people were affected. 

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 Tet offensive, the air blitz of North Vietnam and less familiar battles 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 40 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’ listeners know so well. The author suggests that neither side deserved to win this struggle, with so many lessons for the 21st 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.

©2018 Max Hastings (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"This is a comprehensive, spellbinding, surprisingly intimate, and altogether magnificent historical narrative." (Tim O’Brien)

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Very disturbing and Depressing

I listened to this excellent history of the Vietnam War ever written. Read in conjunction with the Audible narration which gave the tragedy more resonance than if I had just read the book. The the last chapter sums up my feelings about what has happened to Vietnam since the end of WW2. Having lived in Vietnam for more than 6 years and having worked as firstly a diplomat and then as a consultant since 2002, the Gerontocracy of the northern leadership and their mendacity defies belief. Only coming back from Saigon and Hanoi just recently the South remains a separate nation from the north. Despite that Marxist Leninist theory is indeed still taught at schools as the Author indicates. The lessons of Vietnam obviously hasn’t been learned by the West. There is still a huge divide between the rural poor and the rich urban population. The big fear now is China. Despite that I am confident that once a new generation sweeps through the Vietnamese political system there will eventually be change for the future.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Another thorough history novel by this author

Thorough, fascinating military history of Vietnam and its people. A country torn by continual wars. Great narration. Highly recommended.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Matt
  • Sydney, Australia
  • 28-09-2019

Great book; worth enduring the narrator for.

This is a fantastically expansive account of the Vietnam War which gives more time to the final struggles of the ARVN (following the draw-down of US and other international forces) than almost any other study of its kind. As with all of Max Hastings books this offers an accessible and compelling style of narrative with plenty of very original analysis. It is also a really fascinating read for anyone who is a Max Hastings fan; and in particular for those who are drawn to his manner of always trying to consider matters as dispassionately and evenhandedly as he can. You see this at its best in books like "Bomber Command", "Nemisis", "Das Reich", "The Korean War", and also in his "Battle for the Falklands" notwithstanding the fact that he was so personally invested in the later conflict as an embedded journalist. He also reported personally on Vietnam and the experience plainly affected him much more than the Falklands. In his book on Vietnam you feel him struggling with his own feelings and emotions while trying to present a balanced account of events. It makes for a very interesting experience. This book would also have been a great listening experience had it been read by someone like Cameron Stewart or Barnaby Edwards or Nigel Carrington. Unfortunately the narrator used in this instance is not well suited to the task. He frequently gives a sarcastic and smart-alecky edge to statements in a manner that is unnecessary, inappropriate and ultimately very annoying. Nevertheless, this is worth enduring to experience this excellent book.

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Very comprehensive including the French involvement.

A story that needed to be written by an experienced author. A story of no real winners. So much expediency and ego driven leadership. Such a shame all troops have always been vilified in what they simply obeyed orders. A must listen.

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An unruly patchwork quilt of a book

The book is driven by a disorderly meta narrative. Yet the author claims to have written the last word on Vietnam.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Keith Jones
  • 01-11-2018

Outstanding

Just brilliant. Gripped, shocked, saddened and excited from beginning to end.
I was pleased to hear he’d released another book. Max Hastings has the ability to weave personal experience with the grand view like no other author I know. I’ve read or listened to all of his writings on WW2 and the Falklands and never been disappointed.
The narrator, Peter Noble, is one of my favourites. He seems to achieve a ‘flow’ like few others. He does great justice to this book.
Listen to it now!!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • petter
  • 02-07-2019

A must read

I found out about Max Hastings via Dan Carlin’s podcast. I have now read most of his books. This one must surely be one of his best. It sure gave me a new perspective of US politics, terror, the history of south east Asia etc. if you are from the US you have to read this book! Beat regards/ Mr.Sweden

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  • Charlie Maguire
  • 23-05-2019

Insight

Epic telling of the Vietnam war as we know it. It’s origins from colonialism to the ring where communism and democracy met and murdered each other. Read it and learn and know what to say to your politicians so that these crazy occurrences can never be repeated. Let’s hope.

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  • Chris
  • 17-12-2018

Astonishing and Moving Account

An outstanding account of modern Vietnam. Mandated reading for any foreigner living or dealing with Vietnam.

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  • Derrick
  • 20-10-2018

Brilliant

I have read a few of Hastings's books and whilst liking them, have not thought them outstanding. This, however, is the book that Hastings was destined to write. In his foreword, he (rightly) pays tribute to the Ken Burns documentary series about the Vietnam war, and then proceeds to comprehensively outclass it with this awesome narrative history.

That is no mean achievement.

There are several reasons for this. I think the core is that this vastly experienced journalist can always bring his great ability to bring colour and humanity to a story; but the key here is that he was THERE. He sat in a Huey and interviewed President Johnson. It brings a sincerity and power to this story which is genuinely palpable. The pace, energy and drama of his narrative is extraordinary. His description of the Rolling Thunder air campaign or the Tet offensive is masterful.

That power is most evident when he describes the stories of individuals on both sides. The story of the Tet offensive is, I feel ,the finest passage of this work. The title of "tragedy" is powerfully but sensitively portrayed. The image of a petrified South Vietnamese girl opening her dress with trembling hands to an ARVN officer whom she erroneously thinks is bent on rape is heartbreaking.

Perhaps still more important, though, is his commentary on the North Vietnamese. In every other history of the Vietnam war (that this reviewer has read at least), the story is almost exclusively from the US/South Vietnamese side. The weaknesses of the losers is not usually balanced with any comparison with the ultimately victorious North, beyond a recognition of their huge commitment and courage. Hastings portrays the ruthless North Vietnamese as different, but no better; perhaps worse, then the incompetent and corrupt South. Again, the verdict of "tragedy" is driven home with heart-felt ferocity, but no lack of clarity.

This is a balanced, mature, even magisterial piece of popular history.

Get it. Just get it.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Nanbar3
  • 03-10-2018

Vietnam

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. We heard personal accounts from all sides, political and historical context for the war . The narrator was excellent. A complex war and geopolitical situation was laid out throughout the narrative in a thought provoking and interesting way.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Grumpy Jack
  • 30-11-2018

Superbly detailed and informative

Superbly researched, written and read. This is not simply a chronological history of Vietnam, rather a thoughtful, carefully balanced and evidenced overview of the history of the conflict through the eyes of French, American, South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, civilian, soldier and political eyes. With careful consideration of the events at the time that they occurred as well as with hindsight and from the perspective of both sides.
A truly remarkable, occasionally harrowing, enormously informative and thought provoking book which is read in a manner and tone that perfectly befits the subject matter. The many and varied personal accounts are particularly enlightening. Anyone with an interest in the conflicts of the 20th century or modern politics will enjoy this book; if one can truly say that such a sad story can truly be called enjoyable. You will come away feeling for all sides and all participants, with a level of understanding that you’ll be hard pressed to gain anywhere else.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Damien Robins
  • 19-11-2018

Exceptional

Brilliantly written and read. Brings great understanding and humanity to this often maligned conflict. It flows through hundreds of personal accounts without ever getting lost in needless detail or losing its impact. Notable for its rightfully high inclusion of Vietnamese experiences over the far more well known American perspective. It’s very compelling and moving. The best Max Hastings book I’ve read.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Liam Glendenning
  • 05-11-2018

A very balanced and comprehensive account

I'd read and watched a few documentaries on the Vietnam War, yet this book was definitely the most all encompassing. I've seen criticisms that Hastings is too biased in one direction or another, but imo these are unfair. This book really shows the perspectives of both sides and lays all atrocities on the table. He also spares no punches in showing the failings (and success) of all sides. In the end, this account really does educate on every aspect of the war in Hastings style. The narrator was consistently talented aswell, although he does no accents (some of you may prefer this ;)

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Keith James
  • 31-10-2018

Wow.

Best book I've ever read. So interesting, informative and well put together. One I'll read again no doubt.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • michael
  • 28-10-2018

History taught the way it should be

What a brilliant book, both in form, prose and narration. Max Hastings should feel very proud of capturing this important but forgotten era, not only in intriguing detail, but in the book’s immersion if the listener in the withering pitiless of the folly of Empire. Well done Max.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 13-06-2019

A great analysis from a more human perspective.

Whilst I really enjoyed this, I think having listened to Ken Burns/Geoffrey C Ward, "The Vietnam War" before meant this probably had less impact than it might, but I certainly don't regret the 33 hours spent adding more detail to my understanding of this fascinating period of history.

Max's version is exceptionally thorough, but possible slightly lighter on factual detail than Burns/Ward with a greater focus on the people involved and a more personal analysis of those affected on all sides and at all levels. Similar to his treatment of WWII in "All Hell Let Loose" which I thought was excellent, it adds to the Burns/Ward version rather than duplicates which is great.

Without doubt a fantastic account with Max's incredible attention to detail, I would recommend it as a great listen for someone wanting to know more about this tragic story, the incredible course of events and the unbelievable attitudes and actions of those in the highest seats of power at the time.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • jason campbell
  • 08-06-2019

Just too big a story.

If you know Max Hastings then you know what you get, solid military history with a focus on the human cost. Here though I felt that the subject was just a bit too big for the book, despite being over 33 hours long. Partly this is because MH starts in 1945, but that is necessary to tell the story. I had always perceived 'Vietnam' as a late 60s/ early 70s thing and I was disabused of that. Certainly consider this book but you will probably find you are left with more questions than you started with and will need to read further on the subject.

The narrator gives the whole thing the necessary tone and is easy to listen to although I think the audio seems to wobble a bit in places it isn't so disruptive to make things difficult to enjoy.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • BigPickle
  • 11-12-2018

Mostly political affairs..

..but interspersed with veterans accounts and diary extracts.
Read very well, the only issues were some prenunciations of Vietnamese locations such as Hue, pronounced "way" and not "huey".
Overall a very well researched book that is different in concept from most of Max Hastings' work as it focuses a lot of the political origins and decisions made during the conflict.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful