- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Picador; Reprints edition (25 Oct. 1991)
- Language: English, Spanish
- ISBN-10: 0330255738
- ISBN-13: 978-0330255738
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.5 x 19.7 cm
- Average Customer Review: 125 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 25,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Dispatches (Picador) Paperback – 25 Oct 1991
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If you've seen the movies Apocalypse Now and Platoon, 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
The best book I have ever read on men and war in our time. (John Le Carré)
Having read Dispatches, it is difficult to convey the impact of total experience as all the facades of patriotism, heroism and the whole colossal fraud of American intervention fall away to the bare bones of fear, war and death (William S. Burroughs)
Splendid . . . he brings alive the terror of combat in a way that rivals All Quiet on the Western Front (Tom Wolfe)
In the great line of Crane, Orwell and Hemingway . . . he seems to have brought to this book the ear of a musician and the eye of a painter, Frank Zappa and Francis Bacon (Washington Post)
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)
If it were only unconventional journalism, it would stand with the best there is - but it's a good deal more than that . . . I believe it may be the best personal journal about war, about any war, that any writer has ever accomplished (Robert Stone) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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As a late teen in the late 1960s, I watched reports on the American War in Vietnam night after night on TV (I also watched and enjoyed "The Clangers" but that's a different story - I thought some of the comments on "A customer's" one star review of 10.11.03 were really funny but, when I read them to my wife, she said they were cruel and shameful - I just hope the commenters feel as chastened and shamed as I do) and, in retrospect, have achieved some focus with the help of a cricket match.
A few years back, I went to see England v Windies in a T20 match at the Oval; England had it won all the way through and then, suddenly, lost; Vietnam, based on the television reporting was a bit like that - America was winning all the way then, suddenly, it was 1 - 0 to North Vietnam and the final whistle blew.
This book is not an easy read and takes a bit of perseverance, with the main difficulty being its non linear structure, but it is well worth the effort and I think I get it.
It comprises six sections:
The first section, which is very chaotic and confused and in which the perseverance is most required (I almost gave up here), relates to the author's arrival in Vietnam, as a war correspondent. The point of this section is to establish just how chaotic and confused the whole thing was.
The second section is focussed on the author's experiences in and observations on "America's great victory" in Hue, during the 1968 Tet Offensive.
The third section is focussed on the author's experiences in and observations on the "non-siege" of Khe Sanh, which, if the monsoon had not ended, could well have proved to be America's Dien Bien Phu.
The fourth section is a collection of vignettes, mainly about folk the author came into contact with, and, int al, serves to highlight: the complete disconnect between, on one side, America's leaders, senior commanders and official reports and, on the other side, the troops in the frontline and what was actually going on; the brutalisation of huge swathes of a generation of Americans (maybe America is still paying for this today) and serves to underline the chaos and confusion.
The fifth section is about members of the huge press corps in Vietnam and, particularly, the author's close associates.
The sixth and final section is about the author's extrication from Vietnam and return to The World.
This is a great piece of work, from an intelligent and engaged author and I strongly recommend it to anyone of a certain age, who watched the Vietnam War reporting night after night on TV, to war buffs and to Vietnam buffs.
If you haven't read them before, I recommend them. If you have, then read them again - I intend to. And, if you have children, encourage them to read them too.
Dispatches is, in my opinion, the best of the five - and one of the finest books ever written.
A couple of the reviews have suggested the book is 'badly written'. I'm not a book critic, so I don't know the technical terms, but I'd say the writing style of Dispatches is a lot closer to disjointed 'flow of consciousness' than chronological 'this happened because, then then this happened because, then this happened .....'. Its more like poetry than prose. Whether thats good or bad is probably personal preference. In my view, given the subject, that makes it better rather than worse.
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