Best Book review: The Vietnam War, by Ward & Burns

Ward, Geoffrey C. & Burns, Ken, The Vietnam War – An intimate history, 2017, Borzoi Book by Alfred A. Knopf, NY. ISBN 978 0 307 70025 4

5 stars

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

After reading Max Hastings’ Vietnam, I apparently hadn’t had enough of that tragic war. So, I followed it up with another book on the Vietnam war. 

  • Note: If you want to read my book on Hastings’ Vietnam first, please click on book title.

This second book of Vietnam is written by the writer-historian Geoffrey C. Ward and the documentary film maker Ken Burns.

The first obvious difference between the two books is their size. The last one is an enormous book, due mainly to the role of hundreds and hundreds of photos. 

A photogenic war

Generally I don’t like too many pictures in a nonfiction book, but in this case it was perfect. Mainly because the Vietnam war was a highly “photogenic” (as well as a “filmogenic” conflict).

The books contains many historical photos that not only won prices, but also influenced the course of the war. Pictures that connected & connect the audience intimately to the raw conflict.

One of the most famous pictures taken during the Vietnam war, was of the South Vietnamese girl Phan Thi Kim Phuc, escaping her napalm bombed town Trảng Bàng (June 1972)
One of the most famous pictures taken during the Vietnam war, was of the South Vietnamese girl Phan Thi Kim Phuc, escaping her napalm bombed town Trảng Bàng (June 1972)

After finishing the Ward & Burns’ Vietnam war book, I momentarily felt I had read & seen it all.  

Personal stories

Besides many impressive photos, you’ll find a good chronological told story, riddled” with hundreds of personal war testimonies. From soldiers, fighters, writers, authorities, common people in the North & the South. 

Where Hastings’ Vietnam gave you a bird-eye view of the war, the Ward & Burns book from time to time makes you feel you’re a witness to the war on the ground.

Besides that, Ward & Burns treat many more aspects of the Vietnam war. Not only the political & military aspects, but also many social ones (more then Hastings does).

Like for example the protests of students & hippies against the war in the USA. Later on, also the Vets. The prisoners of war, the role of the doctors and nurses, … the growing use of drugs, in the US and also in Nam. 

The radical changes in America had a enormous effect on the war. Not only for the politicians that felt the pressure to end it, but also for the guys that came back and the ones that still had to go. 

Many new recruits refused to go, or else refused to fight while in Vietnam. Some even chose collectively to liquidate their own officers to avoid the battle field (so called “fragging”). Besides that, many escaped in drug use & alcohol.

Casualties of war

The book neither avoids the war brutalities. Not only of the North & South Vietnamese, but also of the US soldiers.

Cases that weren’t that isolated, as was long thought. Finally, there were thousands upon thousands of cases of random killings, torture, rape & other violence. Without forgetting that in those circumstances and many others, there were also heroes to rescue people from the brutalities of war.

Finally, another theme that gets some needed attention was the racism. The racism in the field, but also in the USA itself after the soldiers went back home. Then and now a hotly debated issue. 

In Nam black & white soldiers fought along each other, but that didn’t mean that the Racial Divide was over when they went back to the USA.

In conclusion, a fascinating read about this David & Goliath war. Better still, one of the best books I ever read. Giving the Vietnam story told by Ward & Burns the full 5 stars, earning a place in my Personal Top 10… (which I have to update a.s.a.p!).

The Vietnam War: An Intimate History


  • Note: Before reading the book I saw the Docu serie on Netflix, which was as impressive. A very honest report of the Vietnam war.
  • For more insights in my reading preferences, go to My Books page on Goodreads.
Home coming US Soldier is welcomed by his family, picture also used in book by Burns and Ward on Vietnam.
There were happy times as well, but mainly when the war ended and the US soldiers & officers could go home

2 thoughts on “Best Book review: The Vietnam War, by Ward & Burns

Comments are closed.

WordPress Theme: BlogGem by TwoPoints.

Subscribe to my newsletter here!

Please select all the ways you would like to hear from TravelArtWay:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit our website.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.