Best Book Review: The Vietnam War, by Max Hastings

Hastings, Max, Vietnam – An Epic Tragedy, 1945 – 1975, 2018, HarperCollins Publishers, New York. ISBN 978 0 06 240566 1

4.5 stars

  • One of the mayor themes I’m interested in concerning the US History is the Vietnam War (see my introduction on USA History books).

Max Hastings’ book is so far the best book I’ve ever read on Vietnam.

Until now, I’ve read several good books on the Vietnam War, nonfiction & fiction. Because of that, a lot of things in Hastings’ book weren’t new to me. However, other things were. 

In that sense, the longer ago a certain event, the better the chance the author can get the whole picture. Also because archives open up and more and more information becomes available. 

Finally, the fact that the writer is British can also help. Taking a certain distance to the subject. (Although Max Hastings is not a complete outsider. He worked shortly as a journalist in the USA, as well as in Vietnam.)

Many voices

One of the main goals the author tried to achieve in the book about the Vietnam war was to get a perspective from both sides. Or better said, from as many sides as possible. 

Although mostly written from a Western perspective, using a majority of US voices, we also hear many testimonies of the Vietnamese people as well. Soldiers from the North & South, guerrilla fighters, authorities and common people. 

USA soldier and Vietnamese children look on how their village is burned down
Casualties of War

Besides that, I found it interesting to hear about the Russian and Chinese experiences, who gave assistance to the North Vietnamese. Or to read what the Australians had to say about their participation along the US forces in the South. 

These personal stories were mostly new to me. And made me realize more then ever before that it wasn’t only a war between the Vietnamese and the North Americans (and earlier on the French of course). Many people and several countries were involved.

… but not enough

I found these stories so interesting that I longed for more. And to be honest, the introduction on the cover sleeve also made the impression I would get more of these personal experiences. 

I wanted more of them. Not only in sum total, but also in length.

All in all, it’s my only critique on Hastings’ Vietnam. I really enjoyed the book a lot and was fascinated by what the author justly calls  “an epic tragedy”. 

Not only for the Vietnamese, but als for many US soldiers and their family & friends. As well as for many people in Laos & Cambodia, and also participants from Australia, New Zealand, North & South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. 

The story is chronologically told and easy to follow and read. Mainly focused on the political and military dimensions of the war.

Besides the story, the cover photo is beautiful. A famous picture which everyone immediately identifies with the Vietnam war. A photograph you can see as many times as you want, but always keeps attracting your attention.

Famous photo of Vietnam War battlefield (AP correspondent Art Greenspon)
In the middle of the Battlefield

If I had to review this Vietnam book by its cover, I would have given it the full 5 stars. And maybe also if I could read in Hastings’ Vietnam the story behind it. 

For that, I needed the book I will review for you next. An even more amazing book about the Vietnam War, as you will see (click to Ward & Burns’ Vietnam book review).  

  • For more insights in my reading preferences, go to My Books page on Goodreads.

Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975

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