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The Things They Carried
 
by
Tim O'Brien
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The Things They Carried

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  108,717 ratings  ·  7,168 reviews
"They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing--these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice.... Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to."

A finalist for both the 1990 Pu

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Audio Cassette, Abridged, 0 pages
Published March 1st 1991 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 1990)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Emily
I first bought The Things They Carried at the Bruised Apple, a used bookstore and coffee shop in downtown Peekskill, New York, back in 1991 when I was fifteen years old. By the time I graduated from high school a few years later I'd read it so often that the pages, already brittle, were nearly worn through, entire sections underlined in pencil. Loaned out and lost to a college crush years ago, a dear friend bought me a replacement copy awhile back signed to me by Tim O'Brien himself. This new co...more
Amanda
May 20, 2013 Amanda rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
Recommended to Amanda by: Dr. Calloway
Shelves: kick-ass, vietnam, blog, war
Awestruck may be the best way to describe how I felt upon reading this book the first time. So how did I feel upon reading it the second time? I just want to bow at Tim O'Brien's feet while muttering a Wayne's World style "I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy."

Using non-linear narrative and stringing together seemingly unrelated stories into one ultimately cohesive work, O'Brien achieves something that traditional narrative never could: his work reflects the emotional truth of what it was like to be...more
Cassy
May 02, 2011 Cassy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cassy by: Creative Writing Professor R. Liddell
I took a short story writing class for kicks a while back. On the first day, the professor recommended two books: Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor and this book by Tim O’Brien. I promptly bought both. Then I just as promptly set them aside to read something flashy.

I am glad I waited until after the class to read this one. Otherwise, I would have quit the class immediately and never written so much as a grocery list ever again. This book is genius. The story about the girl with a necklac...more
Ted
… and sometimes I can see Timmy skating with Linda under the yellow floodlights. I’m young and happy. I’ll never die. I’m skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy’s life with a story.

That’s the last 71 words of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Timmy is Tim O'Brien (or maybe "Tim O'Brien", or ma...more
Kemper
It’d be a bad idea to challenge Tim O’Brien to a round of Truth-Or-Dare because he’d find a way to pick Truth, launch into a story, recant it, then make you think he really chose Dare, but in the end, you’ll be pretty sure he actually told you the Truth after all. Maybe…

That’s kind of the point about this account of his time Vietnam as an infantry soldier that warns us that war stories are tricky. The ones that sound true are probably lies and the ones that seem outlandish probably have a health...more
Emily May
The Things They Carried reads like a confession, which, I suppose, in many ways it is. War is a theme in so many books, be they historical fiction, memoirs, alternate histories... and I've certainly read my fair share of them. But stretching my mind back over the years right now, I struggle to recall one that has affected me quite so much. Perhaps I would put it on equal footing with Drakulic's "S" - a heartbreakng novel about the treatment of women in the female war camps during the Bosnian war...more
Terri
This is an extremely hard review for me to compile, because I am extremely conflicted on my impression of this book. And I think this reflects the very nature of the stories presented to us in The Things They Carried. They are conflicted, true, not true, true, not true. Happening truth, story truth. A maelstrom of fiction and non fiction that sometimes feels raw and poignant and sometimes feels exaggerated and fake.

I gave it 4 stars, and yet sometimes I think it was 3 stars, and then at other ti...more
Sandy
Powerful writing about being a soldier in Vietnam. I, personally, had a friend once who was a marine there when he was 19. He lost both legs above the knees when he stepped on a land mine. "The guy next to me died" he told me. "I killed him". He couldn't see it any other way... He stepped on the mine, his buddy died. No matter that he nearly died himself, lost his legs, his testicle, his soul, his life as a functional human being, his sense of selfworth, his ability to feel he could live in 'the...more
booklady
Technically speaking, The Things They Carried is extremely well-written. O'Brien is a good, tight writer who knows how to weave a story. But even while I admire his style and technique, I am put off by the emptiness and moral vacuum he leaves when his machine guns and grenades finish ripping open your insides. While I wasn't looking for Sunday school platitudes from a book about Vietnam, I was looking for some reason, some sense which he could bring to bear after twenty years of writing and refl...more
Elliot
Due to my packed schedule, particularly towards the end of the school year, it has been a considerably long time since I've had the opportunity to so thoroughly drink in a book like this. The past month or so I've spent reading and rereading (and rereading, and rereading) The Things They Carried, living in its pages, watching every word, hearing every phrase in my head, exploring, searching for meaning and truth and lies in every corner...

I'm breathless as I'm typing this, actually. I just have...more
Teresa
It's about sisters who never write back and people who never listen. (from "How to Tell a True War Story")

Because I'd previously read the title story in The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: Fifty North American American Stories Since 1970 and later in The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Writing, I was under the impression this book would be a collection of short stories about the Vietnam War. It is, I guess, but it also isn't.

Some of the stories can't stand alone and the o...more
Algernon

I could have easily have given this collection 5 stars. The narrative is powerful, evocative and highly emotional, especially in the earlier stories included here. The title piece is actually my favorite, and it is cunningly put as the opening gambit in this sequence of interconnected anecdotes about a group of American infantry soldiers in the Vietnam War. Tim O'Brien claims authority of the eyewitness, uses the confessional mode, puts the focus on the human element, and combines all these to m...more
Beth
I just finished reading this book with my 10th grade English students. It is always the class favorite, so I save it for the end of the year. I'm glad I have the occasion to reread it periodically--immersing myself in the details of a soldier's life seems like the least I can do these days.

But the real reason I love this book is because it is, at its heart, about storytelling, about why we tell stories and, in O'Brien's words, how "stories can save us." Parts of this book could be my English te...more
Melki
War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.

Here, encapsulated in about 20 interconnected short stories, is everything I have ever heard about war.

The hours of boredom and the seconds of sheer horror. The way a life can end faster than the blink of an eye. And j...more
Melanie
More than a dozen glowing reviews are provided with the novel, none of them do the work justice, so hell if I’m going to achieve eloquence. Everything I want to say is changeable: the work is about the war, but really it’s a love story, the work is about the work - the art of storytelling, how to tell it, what to guess at, what to embellish so that the readers bleed with you, really get it.
The storytelling is, by the Authors own admission, fiction that will better explain truth than the actual...more
Steve
Read this amazing little book and the first thing you’ll think is, “Whoa, so that’s what it was like.” The “it” was the Vietnam War, from a mud-level view. We learn about the things a humping GI carries both literally and figuratively. The storytelling is remarkable, without a single word wasted, written in a deft, deceptively simple style by a guy who was there. O’Brien is clearly smarter than the average bear, but he’s also the voice of the everyman: empathetic, observant, and linked in.

He pu...more
Madeline
Let's start out with some context: I know very little about the Vietnam War, having been born in the 80's, and most of my information on the conflict comes from painstakingly-researched movies such as Good Morning Vietnam and Tropic Thunder and, to a lesser extent, whatever my high school teachers tried to make me remember from history class (thanks to my long-standing obsession with all things Tudor, I have a bad habit of just not giving a damn when it comes to American history). I do not parti...more
AC
3.5 stars. A good, very heartfelt collection of connected stories about Tim O'Brien's experiences in Vietnam. The writing at times is very moving. My favorite story of all was a barely two page vignette titled "Style". At times it was repetitive. But this is all easy for me to say as I spent those years, though young, in the comfort and security of the States. As such, while reading this, I feel somewhat unqualified *morally* to comment.
Liz
Oct 31, 2013 Liz rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of good writing and true stories
Recommended to Liz by: Meg & Kate
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites, own
Update: Just read Richard Rohr's definition of Myth in the introduction of his book "Falling Upward" and I think it accurately describes the stories in this book as truly mythical:

"Our myths are stories or images that are not always true in particular but entirely true in general. They are usually not historical fact, but invariably they are spiritual genius. They hold life and death, the explainable and the unexplainable together as one; they hold together the paradoxes that the rational mind...more
Lucy M
Honestly what can you say about a book that is not only so enticing that you miss your stop not once but five times (yeah that's right I sat on the bus and went round in loops) , but also so moving that you need to pull away just to gather yourself. After finishing this book, I feel that the author didn't want me to feel sorry for him or for any soldiers he talked about in the book. The soldiers that fought in Vietnam (on both sides) need to be remembered. The TRUTH about what they went through...more
Larry Bassett
I have read other comments about the writing tools that are used in this book. One of them is repetition -- some like it, some don't. One person observed that the author had intended to write a 250 book but he only got to 150 and then added the repetitions. Sounded a little cruel. I have a problem with short term memory. So sometimes I can't remember what I read 10 pages ago. Some repetitions just make deja vu for me. 'This seems so familiar,' I say. And I continue to slog through the fog.

I have...more
El
My father was in Vietnam. Not that one would know it necessarily. I probably wouldn't have known if my mother hadn't told me. He doesn't talk about it. If you ask him a question about it he might shrug his shoulders and grunt like it was no big deal. But you would know better than to believe that. That's just my dad. That's how he is. I remember there were some slides that he shared with us once or twice, though with the crazy swiss-cheese memory that is the inside of my head, it's just as likel...more
Kristi S.
If you are looking for a book that’s real, then this is the one. The Things They Carried is an emotional memoir that really captivates the reader from the very first page. The sequence of interrelated short stories allows the reader to view the Vietnam War from different angles and through different voices. I found this approach in writing a book highly original, but also successful since each chapter reflects Tim’s passion and the haunting memories of the war. Although this book is a work of fi...more
Jen
I simply cannot write a review worthy of this book. The writing is so right, so perfect that I have had more than one lively discussion on its fiction classification. "But this writing is totally non-fiction, everything happened the way he said that it did, and it happened to him and his buddies!" they whine. And that is when I cave and say that it did, sure. And it didn't. But it doesn't matter anyway. There is truth in it. Sure, he was there, and you were there, and I was there- in the readin...more
Will Byrnes
O’Brien is a gifted writer, and this is a powerful, beautifully written book. The structure is episodes, short stories. He begins with a piece about the objects each of the characters is carrying. Then the stories go into each character in detail. The tales are of war, and are compelling. He also writes about writing and his observations are interesting. – Highly recommended.

P 40
…sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for thos...more
Kathrina
My 11-year-old has gone from the Lightning Thief series, to Hunger Games, to this. I am so proud.
Paul
Here are two reviews of this book.

The stories of the author, a sergeant in Vietnam in 1968, are vivid and engaging. He combines visceral description, a tour of force for the senses, while utilizing incisive and highly inventive metaphors to bridge the gap between the war stories and the reader, presumably civilian. Listed in the first pages before title page, there are enough accolades vouching for its authenticity (the critics must have been Vietnam vets), leading one to think that this book ad...more
Cynthia
Mar 25, 2011 Cynthia rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cynthia by: Madeline
Absolutely gorgeous.

My favorite passage so far, from the short story, "On the Rainy River."
First sentence (p. 37): "This is one story I've never told before."
Last paragraph (p. 58): "The day was cloudy. I passed through towns with familiar names, through the pine forests and down to the prairie, and then to Vietnam, were I was a soldier, and then home again. I survived, but it's not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to the war."

As my daughter Madeline noted in her review of "The Things They...more
Bear
Oh dear. Another victim of war book. It's time we stop this nonsense; War sucks. No kidding. I read some other readers' comments on this book. "What a marvel, what a great writer." Sorry; many of these folks obviously have never had a bad day in their lives, and are living for the vicarious thrill of what they perceive war to be (and what it is about): something this guy has messianic qualities over. I have to borrow a quote from my troops: YGBSM.
Ok, I'll play. This was an "interesting" book. E...more
Denae
Incredible. Parts of "How to Tell a True War Story" come to mind regularly. I love Tim O'Brien's writing. Those were the three things I had to say about The Things They Carried when I initially "reviewed" this book. I hold to all of those. This is my third reading and I found the book even better than it was eleven years ago. "How to Tell a True War Story" has probably influenced my views on writing and literature more than anything else I have ever read. There is a beautiful clarity and painful...more
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Tim O'Brien matriculated at Macalester College. Graduation in 1968 found him with a BA in political science and a draft notice.

O'Brien was against the war but reported for service and was sent to Vietnam with what has been called the "unlucky" Americal division due to its involvement in the My Lai massacre in 1968, an event which figures prominently in In the Lake of the Woods. He was assigned to...more
More about Tim O'Brien...
In the Lake of the Woods Going After Cacciato If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home Tomcat In Love July, July

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“They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.” 821 likes
“A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.” 426 likes
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