Although many years have passed, the Vietnam War still scarred, transformed and inspired countless writers and artists. This is the top ten books on the war with multiple perspectives, about the war context and impact on Vietnamese generations.
1. The Vietnam Reader: The Definitive Collection of Fiction and Nonfiction on the War (1998) by Stewart O’Nan
Stewart O’Nan’s The Vietnam Reader is perfect for the indecisive as it highlights the best texts from an American perspective about the war. It including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, film, still photos and song lyrics. Using a mixture of excerpts from the works themselves and also O’Nan’s opinions and analysis. The Vietnam Reader gives us an excellent introduction to a web of viewpoints on one of the world’s most controversial wars.
2. A Vietnam War Reader: American and Vietnamese Perspectives (2010) by Michael H. Hunt
Although holding a similar title, Michael H. Hunt’s A Vietnam War Reader is very different to O’Nan’s. Perhaps more targeted at the scholarly minded, this book collects official documents and private letters from a sea of sources: US soldiers, Communist leaders, Saigon Loyalists, Vietnamese peasants and even Nixon himself. It highlights a complicated narrative that is both enlightening and captivating. It focuses on the ‘facts’ that both sides claimed provides a fascinating insight into the miscommunication of the conflict.
3. Dispatches (1977) by Michael Herr
Critically acclaimed since the release in 1977, Dispatches was one of the first books which offered an insider view of the Vietnam War to the general public. The author, Michael Herr, was a war correspondent for Esquire between 1967 and 1969. His coverage in Dispatches was ground-breaking for its presented a type of journalism that traded monotonous details for visceral descriptions. Presenting the scarring effects of war on the soldiers, the landscape of the country, some have described the book’s style as ‘dreamlike’, ‘poetic’ and ‘illuminating’. Dispatches not only changed the world’s thought of the war but also what non-fiction reportage should be.
4. The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam (1990) by Bao Ninh
The novel explores the war from the former North Vietnamese soldier perspective, Kien, and is a non-linear telling of how the conflict transformed himself, his country and people around him. The novel presents warfare from a non-heroic view, removing all romantic connotations of war, and is renowned for its harsh descriptions of all aspects of the Vietnam War. The Sorrow of War has gained international acclaim and has won numerous awards both in Vietnam and around the world.
5. Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War (1981) by Michael MacLear
At the wider picture, Michael MacLear’s Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War investigates both Indochina wars from 1945 to 1975. Acclaimed for providing a clear context to both wars, their progress and the key figures involved, the author highlights the sometimes forgotten Vietnamese perspective that saw two wars blend into one, as the Americans replaced the French as the enemy in native’s eyes. This is a compelling book that offers further insight into an extremely complex situation.
6. The Things They Carried (1990) by Tim O’Brien
Critically acclaimed for its presentation of the war and its dramatical effects, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is a series of non-linear short stories that focus on a platoon of American soldiers. Blending fact and fiction, O’Brien uses his own experience as a drafted soldier in the war and includes similar characters in his earlier autobiography If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. However, the book remains a piece of metafiction, highlighting its power to cross the borders of fiction and non-fiction, which it does exquisitely.
7. A Rumor of War (1999) by Philip Caputo
Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War is a brutal depiction of the war from Caputo’s own perspective- a Lieutenant in the US army. Powerful and heartbreaking, the personal viewpoint of the book forces the reader to contemplate what they would have done in those horrific circumstances, adding thoughts to war and the actions of soldiers. A Rumor of War gives readers an amazing raw look back on the war, giving a voice to the men who experienced it first-hand.
8. The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir (2008) by Kao Kalia Yang
This book is about Yang’s family and their struggles through the war and its aftermath. Suffering persecution and massacres for their collaboration with America during the conflict, the Hmong people are often overlooked in the effects of the war. Yang’s memoir tells her family’s story as they escaped the war-ridden jungles of Laos and travelled first to Thailand and then to the United States. The Latehomecomer is a tale that highlights the universal pain of immigration, one of leaving home and adapting to new worlds, full of passionate and power.
9. Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (2009) by Karl Marlantes
Karl Marlantes had to take 30 years to write and drawing this novel by his own experiences as a marine in Vietnam. The story follows the men of Bravo Company, Fifth Marine Division, and shows a dark picture of war. While the first side focuses on the boredom and meaningless nature of war, full of hiking, building outposts and repetition; the other side is about violence, which is described in visceral and horrifying detail. Being acclaimed worldwide, Matterhorn has won numerous awards and stands as a universal yet distinctly poignant depiction of war.
10. The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War (2001) by Denise Chong
Denise Chong’s novel focuses on a person who millions of people have seen but only few know the name of: Kim Phuc, the girl who was severely burnt by napalm and captured on film, became the iconic image of the Vietnam War. This haunting image was one of the pivotal photos that changed mass opinion of the Vietnam War in the West, and Phuc’s story is still moving. Described as inspirational, captivating and yet powerfully illuminative of the destructive nature of war, Chong focuses on how this photo came to be, and what happened to Phuc and Vietnam after the war.