Chairborne Ranger Bookstore -- Essential Texts for Understanding the Vietnam War

Chairborne Ranger, along with The Mansker Chronicles, is proud to be in association with I've collected on this page a number of books that I consider essential for understanding the Vietnam War. Each of them is also, for the most part, a damn fine read and I provide them here with my full recommendation.

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Be sure to see the Music Store for essential music for the Vietnam generation, and my new Political Bookstore for some essential texts for understanding the issues for this election.

In Association with
In Association with


cover Word of Honor by Nelson DeMille
DeMille was an infantry officer in Vietnam and he knows what he's talking about. This is the story of an atrocity, a coverup, a trial, and -- most of all -- a soldier's honor.
Highly recommended.
cover Up Country: A Novel by Nelson DeMille
DeMille returns to Vietnam years after the war with another gripping thriller, this time featuring CWO Paul Brenner, whom we last saw in DeMille's equally tense The General's Daughter
cover Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
Winner of the 1979 National Book Award, the story of Private Cacciato, who quits the war to walk overland to the Paris Peace Conference, and the members of his squad who go after him, following a trail of M&Ms. Reality and fantasy entertwine, until anything and everything become possible.
Highly recommended
cover The Things They Carried: A Work of Fiction by Tim O'Brien
A finalist for both the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. More than a collection of short stories, something other than a novel...the very structure defies description, and, like Cacciato, there is a skillful blending of fact and fantasy, artfully captured.
cover REMF Diary by David A. Willson
The first Vietnam book to spotlight the REMF experience, and one of the inspirations for me to finally write A Bad Attitude.
Highly recommended
cover The REMF Returns by David A. Willson
The sequel to REMF Diary, wherein the nameless REMF continues his Adventures in Typing.
cover The Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer
Explores, through a series of 20 or so loosely-related short stories, American foreign policy in Asia in the early 1950s. Like The Quiet American, it shows that all of the warning signs were there, but no one took the time to read them correctly. By the way, the "Ugly American" of the title was actually one of the few sympathetic characters in the book. How the term got turned around to take on the negative sense by which it is known today is something of a mystery.
cover The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Unbelievably, Greene foresaw the problems the US would have in Vietnam fifty years ago! Now that its been made into a major motion picture (again--but you'd be wise to forget the first one; Audie Murphy? Please...), here's your chance to take a step back and see what Vietnam was like when the French were still there. Recommended.

cover Battle for Saigon: Tet 1968 by Keith William Nolan
Day by day and blow by blow, this is the story of the battle for Saigon during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Includes sections on the outlying areas, Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post. Nolan puts a human face on those brave defenders during that awful time, and the book reads more like an action novel than a history text.
cover After Tet: The Bloodiest Year in Vietnam by Ronald H. Spector
1968 was the time period covered in A Bad Attitude, and this book describes in detail what happened in Vietnam that year. Tet was supposed to have been the turning point, but as it turned out, the ensuing nine months were the bloodiest of the entire war. Read the details here. Ronald Spector was a Marine in South Vietnam in 1968 and witnessed first-hand many of the things he describes.
Highly recommended
cover Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans by Wallace Terry
Twenty black Americans whose experiences add another perspective to the Vietnam War, one that isn't often seen. UPI said it was "simply the most powerful and moving book that has emerged on this topic".
cover A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan
A history of the Vietnam War, paralleled by a biography of one of its more colorful officers, this book illustrates, in Sheehan's view, the political lies that formed the basis for the failure of American policy. Neil Sheehan was a New York Times correspondent in Vietnam for several years, and his book is a triumph of journalistic reporting coupled with historical biography. You may disagree with his conclusions, but you'll enjoy the ride nevertheless.
Highly recommended
cover The Best and the Brightest/20th Anniversary Edition by David Halberstam
What happened to get us so deeply mired in Vietnam so fast? This book tells how the best minds of a generation, the "best and the brightest" of the Kennedy and Johnson adminstrations, were able to compound bad decision upon mortal error to enmesh us deeper into a war that they initially neither wanted nor expected. Provides fascinating character studies of the movers and shakers of the time: McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara, Gen. Westmoreland, and all of the others.
Highly recommended
cover Vietnam: A History by Stanley Karnow
The best one-volume history of Vietnam and of The War that I've read. This was a companion volume to the PBS series about Vietnam, and one reviewer called it "a myopic document of liberal self-analysis". However, once you come to grips with the fact that no history of Vietnam can truly be told objectively by an American -- at least not now and not for the next twnty years or more -- it is well worth the time to watch the events unfold, with as much objectivity as Karnow can muster.
cover A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo
Caputo was a young Marine lieutenant, leading his platoon in the early days (1965) of the war. His descriptions remain among the most eloquent statements on war, leadership, suffering, and redemption from the romantic concepts of the "splendid little war" that he thought he was going into.
cover Dispatches by Michael Herr
Another war correspondent, this time for Esquire Magazine, Michael Herr has written a blunt, beautiful and frightening account of what it was like in Vietnam, as seen by an outsider. But not that much of an outsider: Herr went with the Marines to Khe-Sanh, and none of the stories in this book have anything but the ring of truth to them.
cover If I Die in a Combat Zone : Box Me Up and Ship Me Home by Tim O'Brien
O'Brien is widely known for his Vietnam fiction (see above), but this account is deeply personal and disturbing -- and true. These are the real experiences O'Brien went through, and this book captures the mind-numbing days of routine, punctuated by brief respites of terror.
cover The Tunnels of Cu Chi by Tom Mangold and John Penycate
A balanced and sharp description of life in the tunnels -- and above them. One of the first books on Vietnam to include accurate accounts by the VC who lived in the tunnels, and these accounts are contrasted by those of the Americans who lived on the surface. An altogether gripping account of an undergroud war not clearly understood even today, and an insightful look into the minds of the American "tunnel rats" who spent time in both places.
cover Spite House: The Last Secret of the War in Vietnam by Monika Jensen-Stevenson
Will the real Bobby Garwood please stand up? Was he a turncoat POW who sold out to the North Vietnamese, or was he an unfortunate victim of circumstance? While this book will most certainly not settle that particular argument, it is worthwhile to read another side of the story before you immediately brand him a traitor. You may agree or you may disagree, but you will come away with a different perspective than you had going in.
cover M by John Sack
Another example of great reporting from the war. John Sack was a journalist who followed a group of grunts from training at Fort Dix to an Infantry Division inVietnam, and reported on what he saw with great wit, superb irony, and a heartfelt sympathy for his subjects, the men of M company. A glimpse of army life in 1966 Vietnam.
Highly recommended
cover Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic
A moving account of one man's journey, to war and beyond. Should be required reading for everyone contemplating sending American service people into harm's way. We need to fight our battles, but we also need to face the consequences honestly and straightforwardly.
cover Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam by Frances Fitzgerald
As the great Rudyard Kipling once said, "...and the end of the fight is a tombstone white, with the name of the dear deceased; and the epitaph drear, 'A fool lies here, who tried to hustle the east'." This is the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner that examines in great detail the War in Vietnam, from its humble beginnings to its dismal end.
cover Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir by John S. McCain and Mark Salter (Contributor)
"Books by politicians are not often worth reading, but John McCain's Faith of My Fathers is an astonishing exception to the rule" -- so says the opening line of the description of this book at, and it does not lie. From his family history (son and grandson of admirals), to his "wild" days at Annapolis, to the despair of his seven years' captivity by the North Vietnamese, McCain tells his story with warmth and grace, never one to take the limelight. He has nothing but praise for the courage of his fellow POWs, but refrains from blowing his own horn, which in itself is almost unheard of in a politician. He is truly an American hero, and one of the few members of the Republican party for whom I would ever consider voting.
Highly recommended
cover 365 Days by Ronald Glasser, MD
Dr. Glasser was a medical doctor in Japan who saw the worst case medical evacuees from Vietnam on a daily basis. The stories he heard from his patients formed the basis for this book, a touching, disturbing series of portraits of grace under fire, personal heroism in the face of destruction, and men enduring the unendurable.

"Need to Read" Books:

The Bookmonger compared A Bad Attitude favorably to both Catch-22 and M*A*S*H. If it's been a while since you've read them, here's your chance to see if you agree with her.

cover Catch-22 by Joseph L. Heller
Catch 22 is a gut-wrenching satire which attacks the absurdities in the dehumanizing military bureaucracy of WW II. Even after 40+ years, it still has the power to make us laugh and cry at the same time.
Highly recommended
cover Mash: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by Richard D. Hooker
Before the movie, before the television series, before the endless reruns, there was a place called ... Korea. And this is the original story of the doctors and nurses that populated the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. See the orginal incarnations of Hawkeye, Radar, Hotlips, Trapper and all the rest, in the unique vision of Richard Hooker. The appearance Jesus Christ (a drunken and disguised Trapper John) on a cross suspended beneath a helicopter is just one scene from the book that never made it into the movie -- or the television series.

Books by other Vietnam Veterans

These are books by my fellow Vietnam veterans that may not have achieved notoriety, fame, or best-seller status, but which nevertheless deserve a reading. I am proud to present them here.
Note: If you are a Vietnam veteran who has written your own book, please let me know about it and I'll feature it on this page.

cover C.M.A.C.: A Vietnam Era Trilogy by James J. Finnegan
C.M.A.C. is four years of a U.S. soldier's life during the Vietnam War. If you've never been there, read on; if you have, read on and remember. Three sagas that describe the late 1960s, Vietnam era, U.S. Army life of James A. Callaghan
cover The Undefeated: Rearguard in Vietnam by Sgt K. Mike Hill
It is Spring in America. By 1972 the war in Vietnam is winding down. At least thatís what everyone thinks. Sergeant Mike Corbett volunteers to retrieve classified weapons from a remote Post in the Northern Province of Quang Tri. The greatest fear is that a South Vietnamese collapse will leave the isolated Americans as virtual hostages. March 1973 the last U.S. troops will officially leave Vietnam.
This is the Lost Battalion of the Vietnam War.

cover Diverting the Buddha by Bob Swartzel
America is in the third year of all-out war in Vietnam, and the battle for our allies' hearts and minds has begun to turn against us. In the Johnson Administration, a team of experts hatches a desperate scheme to do whatever it takes to win the fight in the trenches. If the team succeeds, their actions will profoundly alter the course of history, but the outcome is far from certain. What is certain is that these efforts are having an explosive impact on the lives of four people, two Vietnamese and two Americans