- Hardcover: 862 pages
- Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (September 12, 1988)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0394484479
- ISBN-13: 978-0394484471
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Customer Reviews:
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam Hardcover – September 12, 1988
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Neil Sheehan's classic about the life and times of John Paul Vann is the perfect metaphor for the American experience of the Vietnam War. His detailed account of battles (with the NVA/Viet Cong, and within the Army) and of life between those battles yields both texture and substance for the reader. And unlike many (most from my reading) other books on Vietnam, it offers the breadth of years to the story, resulting in an emotional portrait of a country's decent into madness. I will leave it to you to decide which country I'm talking about.
It also is an insightful commentary on how the services function as bureaucracies and what is apparently takes to climb to the top of those giant piles. I suspect that anyone who has been in the service either in peace or at war has a very good idea of what this is, so I won't belabor the point. Reading about Westmoreland's view and opinions always seems like scraping fingernails on a blackboard to me. Learning about an individual who figured out a way to prosper within this system is always delightful, even if the underlying purpose is doubtful. I think that "working" the system is the basis for many, many sea stories.
The level of detail Sheehan gives is wonderful; his style of writing is accessible without being simplistic. Whether you are interested in the politics of the American effort in Vietnam or are looking for narrative about individuals in battle, this is *the* place to start. Sheehan also gives you pointers on where to go next with his thorough notes and bibliography. This book took him years to research and write, and the precision shines through. I am grateful for his persistence, and suspect that you will be too.
Enjoy, and reflect.
I served with the US Navy (on land) in the Mekong Delta in the area his "field visits" were - near "The Parrot's Beak" on the border of Cambodia and Viet Nam's IV Corps ... supporting the US Navy PBRs, Navy Seawolf "Search & Destroy" helicopters, and 2 detachments of Navy SEALS.
The Province Chiefs were corrupt, the ARVN Soldiers wouldn't fight, and the "Vietnamization" of the Delta meant that the Vietnamese Sailors left after being with us during the days, and wouldn't stay in our compound(s) after dark.
If they did, we always had 2 fully-armed Sailors to accompany each Vietnamese, and one (USN) always stayed awake to watch over the position.
Sheehan was extremely accurate in his writing, and had "done that and been there", as a number of us had as well. It was clear to me and others in the Delta (1968 & 1969) that there was no way we were going to "win", and that the America Policy was to try and exit as quickly as possible ... a move that took a number of years after I left the country - and after a number of US Servicemen were killed and/or wounded. A waste of men, for sure.
This book is a definitive study I can easily relate to, as I experienced much the same during my tour in Vinh Long, My Tho, Can Tho, Ben Luc, and numerous advanced support bases near Cambodia.
Top international reviews
This book provides an unparalleled overview of the Vietnam war and the American war machine.
This book clearly shows the disconnect from reality that politicians operate under. The worst part of it is that this disconnect has grown bigger not smaller.
As this is such an epic story of a very talented but flawed man written by a superb author, the book crackles along and is an easy but disturbing read.
This is an essential part in trying to understand this war.
Mr. Sheehan, who deservedly won a Pulitzer prize for this book, pulls no punches in his accounts of the war and the personal life of Lt. Col. John Paul Vann.
The author is very thorough in his presentation of both Vann and Vietnam and the ensuing conflict therein.
We follow John Paul Vann from a troubled childhood, through the Korean war and military service in Germany and Japan, to the Vietnam war. We are spared no details about his uncaring mother, his various stepfathers, his womanising and his turbulent marriages. But we also get to know a brilliant and ambitious officer who is dedicated and hardworking, as well as a man who sees it as his patriotic duty to root out and change faults and weaknesses from within the system.
The country of Vietnam and its history is well presented and this book made me realise for the first time what an insurmountable task the americans undertook. Everything is covered, from politics to cultural and religious differences within Vietnam to the corruption of the combatants and complexity of the overall conflict.
This is the best book I've ever read about the Vietnam war. It ought to be obligatory reading for any politician that wants to go to war in a foreign country. My only complaint: the chapters are VERY long and there's sometimes too little "breathing space" in the text. Other than that, it's an excellent read.
The real tragedy is that 50 years on the US Political Leadership and Top Brass exhibit the same faults as their predecessors and are unable to learn from bitter experience.