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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 11 April 2002
The most impressive thing about this book is Caputo's absolute honesty. This is a painstaking and painful dissection of his tour in Vietnam, of his changing motivation and personality and ultimately of the processes and experiences that change a normal and ostensibly honourable young man into somebody who basically orders the unlawful execution of Viet Cong suspects.
Caputo builds an extremely vivid image of life in a Marine unit both before and during its time in Vietnam, and in doing so creates an almost first hand experience for the reader. Caputo's description of action is incredibly thorough and extremely sharp. The minutiae of life at base and the chaos and terror of jungle warfare are graphically recreated. Coupled with the reader's basic identification with Caputo himself, the reader is often forced to ask hard questions about himself. What would I do? How would I react? Where is my 'moral net'?
Literary stuff aside, this is a book I can return to again and again and always find something new.
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on 14 August 1999
This is a powerful book about a war most want to forget.
Vietnam has entered the collective memory as basically a useless expenditure of men and treasure in the jungles of Southeast Asia in pursuit of America's Cold War obsessions. Philip Caputo's "A Rumour of War" takes us to Vietnam's "grunt level" with remarkable -- and often stomach-wrenching -- clarity. His is a memoir of the terror of war, but also one of bravery and sacrifice.
Caputo was a junior officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and marines in Vietnam suffered through some of the most severe action of the war. His narrative, sharp but economical, is driven by those instincts and feelings men in battle come to know all too well: fear, horror, disbelief at the instant extinction of comrades, untold fatigue, the urge to bury one's whole self in the mud and survive.
One of the book's strongest assets is that Caputo did a remarkable job in capturing the day-to-day routines of the battlefield (although 'battlefield' might be considered an inaccurate term in describing Vietnam's blind jungle patrols and the sudden firefights with an unseen enemy). Those readers who have first-hand experience of the USMC and/or Vietnam will be particularly jolted. The book is alive with the sites, sounds, words, and smells which never leave a veteran's mind. At one point, Caputo describes his feelings during an autopsy performed on the corpse of one of his men, whose name was Devlin:
"I noticed then that the waistband of Devlin's underwear was solid red, as if his shorts had been dipped in dye. Dye. Die. Death. Died a dyed death. I remembered the way he used to look, the way he looked when he had a face, and how he walked, and the sound of his voice."
"A Rumour of War" is an indictment of the stupidity that drives futile "grand" schemes and strategies. Caputo came back from Vietnam an opponent of the war. When he tried to return his battle ribbons to the U.S. government, he was simply treated to "curt note, written by some obscure functionary," which informed him his medals could not be held by the U.S. executive branch; therefore, he got them all back. Vietnam just refused to go away.
This is a book "policymakers" must read -- especially in view of recent "humanitarian" war action. Caputo talks about what lies beyond the cozy chambers of government, the "soundbites," and the media circus. His book about the Vietnam jungles is a superbly crafted warning that retains its currency with undiminished brutality.
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VINE VOICEon 19 October 2006
This edition of 'A Rumor of War' includes, to mark its 20th anniversary, a postscript by the author. In this PS, Caputo describes his motivations for writing his memoirs and what he hoped to achieve. He "wanted A Rumor of War to make people uncomfortable" - people from both sides of the entrenched debate on the rights and wrongs of the war - the hawks and the doves, the smug and the righteous from the ranks of both the patriots and the protestors.

He goes on to say that, "I would not do that by creating my own polemic but by writing about the war with such unflinching honesty and painstaking attention to detail as to put the reader there...I did not want to *tell* anyone about the war but to *show* it.

"I wanted to communicate the moral ambiguities of a conflict in which demons and angels traded places too often to tell one from the other, even within yourself. In a way, the book was designed to be a vicarious tour of duty, and when readers came to the end, I hoped they would look into the mirror, or, better yet, into their souls, and ask themselves, '*Now* what do I think? How would I have behaved if I had been there?'"

Caputo, in outlining what he hoped to achieve in his book has written the perfect review: he achieves it all.
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on 19 September 2003
It is hard to imagine that such a gifted writer is also capable of being an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps. In "A Rumor of War," author Philip Caputo offers us an intimate portrait of the Vietnam conflict. Caputo uses a powerful lens and provides an up close examination of what the war is like for a Marine infantry "grunt."
This book is about the Vietnam danger, the boredom, the casualties, the weather and the mood of the American soldier. Throughout the book one can feel the soldiers enormous desire to "go home" and abandon the macho madness of the Vietnam tragedy. Caputo's protagonist, the element that moved the plot is the Marine's desire to survive. The author brilliantly uses the constant threat of "death" to act as a powerful antagonist that lurks from page to page.
Best of all, this book documents the brutality of war using the language of the Marine "grunt." Hence, it provides a front row seat to the thoughts and emotions of those who were condemned to risk their lives each day while in Vietnam. This is a great book that deserves attention..especially from the leaders of the nation who audaciously talk of war while never having the courage to set foot on a battlefield.
Bert Ruiz
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Rumor of War was one of a number of accounts of the VietNam war to come to the fore in the 70's and early 80's. Of these - Dispatches,Chickenhawk,Fields of Fire,If I Die in a Combat Zone and the like - Caputo's stands out as one of the best, if not the best.

Written as the personal account of a serving USMC infantry officer, it has an honesty missing from contemporary fictional novels and successfully brings home the squalid, vicious, miserable reality of the war in a way that Herr fails to do in his brash, self-important, documentary-style Dispatches. Caputo leads us on a painful journey from an idealistic all-American volunteer to a cynical, damaged and bitter veteran and, by the end, when Caputo and members of his platoon find themselves facing a court martial for the murder of two suspected enemy prisoners, any misconceptions the reader may have as to the nature of the war have been lost for good. It's an exhausting journey too, and I almost found it a relief to have finished it.

It is probably a cliche to describe this book as having real relevance in today's troubled world, but it is nevertheless true that it highlights what we expect our soldiers to do and to suffer in our name and what can go wrong when morals fall by the wayside. It is also probably a cliche to describe this as a classic, but of course this is also true.

"Most of all, we learned about death at an early age, when it is common to think of oneself as immortal. Everyone loses that illusion eventually, but in civilian life, it is lost in installments over the years. We lost it all at once."
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on 1 January 2016
This is one of the best books to come out of the U.S. intervention in Vietnam. It is very well written but it is not always an easy read as it follows the author’s realisations of what is happening to him. It bears reading today more than forty years after the end of the Vietnam war. That’s because it is an eloquent statement about the horrors of war and what it does to the people who are involved in it. It should be on the reading list of every politician considering going to war, but everyone can learn something from this book
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on 9 May 2015
I'm not sure why but I've been fascinated by the Vietnam conflict for years. I think it all goes back to the BBC television newsreel images from the early 70s when I was a young and impressionable teenager in England. I first read A Rumor of War over 20 years ago and recently downloaded the kindle edition. During the last 20 years I must have read hundred of other books on the conflict but Caputo's book is still right up there in my top five (along with Dispatches by Michael Herr). Beautifully written, informative and thought provoking.
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on 30 December 2014
Only half way through this and so far struggling to see why it got some "Rave Reviews"? There have been many books written on this sad conflict and many good ones too. The thing that sticks out about this one is that it deals with the early US involvement in VietNam and maybe what we now know to be the tip of the iceberg as far as casualties are concerned. It's well written and readable but if from a readers perspective, if you've read a lot on this conflict you may find little new. In the most profound chapter I've read so far the author reflects on the rottenness of, and the disregard death has for age, gender, race or belief.
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on 7 December 2010
A harrowing and intimate account of what it was like to be a foot soldier during the Vietnam War. Caputo's skill as a writer is truly remarkable, shown by the metaphors he constructs and the devices he implements. A must read for any student of the period.
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on 22 November 2015
A U.S. Marine Corps junior officer's experience of Vietnam.
Really captures the monotony of infantry life peppered with tragedy that was the war in Vietnam.
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