If you've seen the movies Apocalypse Now
, in whose scripts Michael Herr had a hand, you have a pretty good idea of Herr's take on Vietnam: a hallucinatory mess, the confluence of John Wayne and LSD. Dispatches
reports remarkable front-line encounters with an acid-dazed infantryman who can't wait to get back into the field and add Viet Cong kills to his long list ("I just can't hack it back in the World", he says); with a helicopter door gunner who fires indiscriminately into crowds of civilians; with daredevil photojournalist Sean Flynn, son of Errol, who disappeared somewhere inside Cambodia. Although Herr has admitted that parts of his book are fictional, this is meaty, essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Vietnam.
Michael Herr, who wrote about the Vietnam War for Esquire magazine, gathered his years of notes from his front-line reporting and turned them into what many people consider the best account of the war to date, when published in 1977. He captured the feel of the war and how it differed from any other theatre of combat, as well as the flavour of the time and the essence of the people who were there. Since Dispatches was published, other excellent books have appeared on the war--may we suggest The Things They Carried and The Sorrow of War--but Herr's book was the first to hit the target head-on and remains a classic. --Simon Kelly
'We have all spent ten years trying to explain what happened to our heads and our lives in the decade we finally survived - but Michael Herr's Dispatches puts all the rest of us in the shade' HUNTER S. THOMPSON