The Vietnam War like no other captured the popular imagination of people all over the world and there are some tremendously evocative accounts to come out of the conflict. Somehow the Vietnam War has managed to capture the brutality, heroism, pointlessness, dread and excitement of war like no other. This is in part because of the numerous Hollywood movies which have dealt with the subject, particularly from the 1980s when America started to come to terms with its actions and the repercussions on a generation of its people.
But just as much as the movies, the literature to come out of the war serves as testament and reminder to the high adventure and tragedy of those steamy jungle years of confusion, hypocrisy and chaos. Some of the best books from the Vietnam War are those first hand accounts written by people who were there, soldiers who survived the slaughter and were able to put down their experiences on the page. Here are a few of some of the very best books to come out of Vietnam with just a teaser of their content...
Chickenhawk by Robert Mason ranks as one of the finest books to come out of the Vietnam era. Mason was a helicopter pilot, guiding the iconic Huey choppers around the LZs of South Vietnam dropping off scared GIs into combat then picking up the wounded, dead and survivors hours later. His is a remarkable story that has you gripping the armchair with dread and amazement at the courage of these pilots who were protected from incoming rounds only by the plexiglass cockpit bubble and perhaps a flak jacket under the seat.
Another stone cold classic is Michael Herr's Dispatches. This book is really reportage, as Herr was something we would nowadays call an 'embedded' journalist with the troops at some of the key battles of the whole conflict. Herr captures the LSD-crazed anarchy of the whole conflict in the thrilling mini-episodes which make up this book. Each story in Dispatches seems to have become a Vietnam legend, and the work seems so familiar when you read it because Herr himself later worked on some of the scripts for the bigger Hollywood Vietnam films.
The realm of fiction has also dealt with the Vietnam War with thrilling, heart pounding results. One of the best selling books is Matterhorn, Karl Marlantes' fictional account of a Marine battallion stationed in a high mountain fortress, ordered down to the writhing jungles to track down and destroy a mysterious NVA unit. This book has it all, the dread, the interracial conflict, terror of jungle and combat and esprit de corps that kept men alive. Though fiction, Marlantes himself took part in the war so there's plenty of real life experience thrown into this book.
As well as thrilling fiction and first hand accounts there's plenty of fascinating history accounts available on the Vietnam War. These range from broad perspectives of the history including battles and political developments to more specific works which deal with particularly personal aspects of the war. An example of the latter includes the excellent Everything We Had by Al Santoli. The author for this book collected the oral histories of 33 different participants of the war to bring a sweeping and stunning perspective of everything that Vietnam meant to real people who were there and lived through it.
Much more on the Best Vietnam War Books right here.