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A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam Paperback – 1 Oct 1998

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Product details

  • Paperback: 896 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; New Ed edition (1 Oct. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712666567
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712666565
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 5.3 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 109,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

This passionate, epic account of the Vietnam War centres on Lt Col John Paul Vann, whose story illuminates America's failures and disillusionment in Southeast Asia. Vann was a field adviser to the army when American involvement was just beginning. He quickly became appalled at the corruption of the South Vietnamese regime, their incompetence in fighting the Communists and their brutal alienation of their own people. Finding his superiors too blinded by political lies to understand that the war was being thrown away, he secretly briefed reporters on what was really happening. One of those reporters was Neil Sheehan. This definitive exposé on why America lost the war won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1989.

Review

"If there is one book that captures the Vietnam War in the sheer Homeric scale of its passion and folly, this book is it... A dazzling montage: vividly written and deeply felt... The dramatic scenes of lonely men locked on combat...the clash of wills and egos...all these combine in a work that captures the Vietnam War like no other... An impressive achievement" New York Times Book Review "I have never read such a book and never expected to... It's not just about John Paul Vann. Not just about America and all of us. Not just Vietnam and all the Vietnamese. It is tragedy and comedy and I don't care how many pages it is. I'll never tire of reading it again and again" -- Harrison E. Salisbury "It will stand as the definitive account of the passions, loyalties (guided and not), inspirations, follies and tragedies of the Vietnam War" Sunday Times "Probably the book on the Vietnam War...sophisticated, humane. It contains some of the best military reporting ever written" -- Francis Fitzgerald

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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Mr S P Price on 26 July 2003
Format: Paperback
Sheehans book is a huge work not to be contemplated by the light hearted. As an accesible history of Vietnam it has little competition. It is the story of John Vann, a US military officer who enters the war full of belief in the way it is run yet quickly becomes cynical about his superiors and their tactic. He leaks the truth to the press and is vilified as a result.
As a biography one would expect support for the main character. However Sheehan presents a harsh portrait of his "hero." He is portrayed as a deeply flawed man beset by depression, cynicism and a womaniser. We are not made to like Vann but Sheehan presents the facts and lets the reader decide how they feel. This book does not leave the reader feeling warm and comfortable; if anything we are left more confused about the whole war than before opening the book. Questions are asked but not answered, moral issues raised but not resolved. Maybe this sums up the whole war?
The book also acts a comprehensive work of history with accessible descriptions of the key battles and political intrigues that made up Vietnam.
This book is not pretty or fluffy. At the end I did not feel happy or pleased with its closure-it however is about reality and reflects this well. Sheehan has written a powerful book which should be read by anyone wanting to understand Vietnam and more widely the impacts of war on people.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER on 6 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback
An absolutely essential book to read, and even with its length, to re-read again, since so many of the lessons that should have been learned were not, and the mistakes are being repeated, as Thomas Ricks has so well documented in his own excellent book on Iraq, entitled Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq

Neil Sheehan, as a journalist, entered the Vietnam War in the very earliest phases of the American involvement, in 1962. Not long thereafter, he crossed paths with John Paul Vann, a Lt. Colonel, developed an admiration for him because of his frank assessments of the conditions on the ground, which were all too often at variance with his superior's desires and delusions. For the next ten years their paths would cross, and re-cross again, and finally Sheehan visited the grove of trees near Kontum, where Vann's helicopter crashed, killing him and all on board, in 1972. Sheehan correctly saw Vann's life as a meaningful framework for explaining the larger dimensions of the war. Sheehan spent years piecing together the missing and hidden parts of Vann's life before publishing this quintessential account of the war. It is a comprehensive, overall view, covering the historical, political, media, and military dimensions of the war, with an emphasis on the hubris and folly of the enterprise.

Sheehan draws the reader in with an account of the funeral of Vann, in Washington DC.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Tristan Martin VINE VOICE on 29 Oct. 2007
Format: Hardcover
Former United Press International and New York Times journalist Neil Sheehan (who, apart from writing this spectacular volume, also obtained the Pentagon Papers via Daniel Ellsberg) has written perhaps the book on the U.S. war in Vietnam. Sixteen years in the making, A Bright Shining Lie, is a truly impressive achievement, though `impressive' is to understate the awesome scope and depth of such a massive and ambitious piece of work.

A Bright Shining Lie tells two intertwining stories - Lt Colonel John Paul Vann's biography: an idealistic soldier who in 1962 believes in the United States' military supremacy and moral certitude, that to intervene in Vietnam was the right thing to do, that it was `winnable'. The second narrative details the war and the country itself - the key battles, the evolving corruption and the military incompetence at all levels, all of which led a disillusioned Vann to leak his pessimistic - and ultimately accurate - assessments of the U.S. chances of `success' to the press, one of which was the author Sheehan himself.

This epic book succeeds on every level. The personal story of Vann himself is clear, his personality and ambitions are clearly revealed. Sheehan draws a portrait of a contradictory human, not an idealised cowboy in a white Stetson, nor the clichéd Ugly American but a flawed, caring, compassionate, deceitful individual. Vann's life is masterfully interwoven with the war in Vietnam. For this reader, A Bright Shining Lie excelled in its handling of the war itself, how for the first time, a key battle was detailed both with first-hand U.S. and Vietnamese recollections and after-action reports.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mike in Sussex on 31 July 2013
Format: Paperback
This history of the tragedy of Vietnam is told from the perspective of Lt Col John Paul Vann who arrived in Vietnam in 1962, at the time when the US military were there as advisers. He was rapidly disillusioned by the casual brutality of the South Vietnamese troops and the arrogance of his US colleagues. He soon got to know the author, who was a reporter in Saigon and passed on his entirely negative, but as history tells, accurate assessment of the situation. Having left the military under a cloud Vann returned to Vietnam as a civilian and, remarkably, regained a powerful role in the conflict through which he attempted to right the wrongs of the past. Vann died in Vietnam in 1972 and was hailed as a hero at home, never knowing the unedifying end that was to come three years later. The title of the book summarises Vann's thesis, that all that social, political and military narrative that drove US policy in Vietnam was nothing but a Bright Shining Lie. This is a wonderful history, steeped in well documented research and first hand accounts at the time, well written and compelling. A must for anyone interested in the truth about Vietnam.
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