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 2 million people.
Many writers treat the war as a US tragedy, yet Hastings sees it as overwhelmingly that of the Vietnamese people, of whom forty 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, 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’ readers 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.
About the author
Max Hastings chronicles Vietnam with the benefit of vivid personal memories: first of reporting in 1967-68 from the United States, where he encountered many of the war’s decision-makers including President Lyndon Johnson, then of successive assignments in Indochina for newspapers and BBC TV: he rode a helicopter out of the US Saigon embassy compound during the 1975 final evacuation. He is the author of twenty-six books, most about conflict, and between 1986 and 2002 served as editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph, then editor of the Evening Standard. He has won many prizes both for journalism and his books, of which the most recent are All Hell Let Loose, Catastrophe and The Secret War, best-sellers translated around the world. He has two grown-up children, Charlotte and Harry, and lives with his wife Penny in West Berkshire, where they garden enthusiastically.
‘Masterpiece … manages with great skill to combine the accumulation of strategic and political disaster with the real experience of those fighting on the ground’ Antony Beevor, Spectator
‘Will surely set the benchmark for years to come… This may be his best… Exhaustively researched and superbly written, it is both a balanced account of how and why the war unfolded as it did, and a gripping narrative on what it was like to take part…History as it should be: objective, immersive and compelling’ Daily Telegraph, 5*
‘Magnificent… One by one, the sacred canons of right and left are obliterated. The war is laid bare, with all its uncomfortable truths exposed’ The Times
‘Powerful and chilling… Hastings is masterful at describing the conditions faced by young American soldiers… [he] is second to none in his ability to describe military strategy with a clarity that makes things entirely understandable to the layman’ Mail on Sunday, 5*
‘An altogether magnificent historical narrative’ Tim O’Brien
‘A masterpiece’ Frank Scotton
‘Magnificent, his best work … full of extraordinary and compelling detail and thoroughly informed by his own personal experience of so much of the war. It’s written in unputdownable style, with a dispassionate, liberal-minded understanding of the detail of the war, which draws on testimony from every side and doesn’t favour anyone. I’ve never read a better history of the wars in Vietnam, and it’s hard to see how anyone will be able to improve on this’ John Simpson
‘Neophytes and experts alike will find Hastings’s book stimulating, informative – and above all, riveting’ New Statesman
‘This fabulous work offers up a gut-wrenching glimpse of the reality of war’ The Sun, 5*
‘Impressive… A fast-paced, poignant and eye-opening read’ Literary Review
‘A work of considerable quality, marked by a possibly unique combination of military expertise, historical grasp and journalistic skill’ Observer