This huge and highly awarded book is crucial reading for anyone with an interest not just in the Vietnam War, but Vietnam today, as it recovers from the aftermath of that tragedy (and also, war in general). Good news: the lengthy book is an utterly compelling and stunning read.
The 1989-published Bright Shining Lie covers the life of US Army Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann and the US involvement in the Vietnam War. Vann was a critic of US strategy and befriended (or manipulated) journalist Neil Sheehan (among others in the foreign press corps in the early 1960s) to get his views directly out to the public. The book, at once a woven history and biography, begins with Vann’s funeral after his 1972 helicopter death then arcs back to cover Vann’s involvement in the army and war. Vann was appalled at the corruption he saw within the South Vietnamese army and thought the US was helping to encourage civilians to turn to the Vietcong.
He left the army in 1963 amid allegations of sexual misconduct (not made public at the time) and returned two years later as a civilian with the US Agency for International Development. When after Vann's death Sheehan learned of the secrets Vann had kept, he decided to document his life to produce this book. Vann, in effect, is used as a metaphor for a broken America. While there are other extremely good books about the war, this is a genre-breaking masterpiece and our top pick.
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