The Best and the Brightest
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Best and the Brightest

4.24 of 5 stars 4.24  ·  rating details  ·  5,844 ratings  ·  218 reviews
David Halberstam's masterpiece, the defining history of the making of the Vietnam tragedy. Using portraits of America's flawed policy makers & accounts of the forces that drove them, The Best & the Brightest reckons magnificently with the most important abiding question of our country's recent history: Why did America become mired in Vietnam & why did it lose?...more
Paperback, 720 pages
Published October 26th 1993 by Ballantine Books (first published 1969)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Best and the Brightest, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Best and the Brightest

The Things They Carried by Tim O'BrienMatterhorn by Karl MarlantesDispatches by Michael HerrAbsolutely Nothing by Mark A. CooperWe Were Soldiers Once... and Young by Harold G. Moore
Best Literature About the Vietnam War
14th out of 182 books — 347 voters
Diplomacy by Henry KissingerGhost Wars by Steve CollThe Looming Tower by Lawrence WrightThe Cold War by John Lewis GaddisBlowback by Chalmers Johnson
American Foreign Policy
10th out of 246 books — 122 voters


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Jessica
The Best and the Brightest is an 816-page tome about the men who came to power under Kennedy and continued to serve under Johnson. The men who were supposedly the brightest and most able men ever assembled by a President. The men who led their country into the disastrous Vietnam war.

Halberstam spent over two years interviewing people to write this book and he clearly did his research. His writing shows a clear understanding of the region, history, politics and players. Despite some repetitive or...more
judy
Recently Colin Powell answered a NYT book review question by saying that this book is the one he would require President Obama to read . I read Halberstam's master work decades ago--loved it--own it--in hardback no less. However,I couldn't quite pinpoint why Powell thought Obama should read it, so I had no choice but to read it again (joy). Yes, it is a war book (Vietnam) but far more than that it's a fascinating character study of how the flaws of the top people in government got us into Vietna...more
Aaron Arnold
The main question about World War 1 that Barbara Tuchmann's seminal The Guns of August was trying to answer was "How did this happen?" How did all these complacent European countries, many of whose leaders were related, with no clear reason to go to war, and with uncounted amounts of wealth in trade and prosperity at stake, end up sending millions of their youth to die in the mud over marginal amounts of land that they didn't even really want? Tuchmann identified a number of cognitive errors tha...more
John
A wonderfully written and engaging history of the war in Vietnam from its origins in the 1940s until 1970.

I have read this book and three other histories (Fitzgerald, Sheehan and Mann) over the last month, and the story is remarkably consistent: the unshakable, implacable arrogance and the impenetrable, willful ignorance of civilian politicans and bureaucrats over the period, as well as the malfeasance of the US military, i.e. institutional loyalities, personal vanities and careerism of top bra...more
A.J. Howard
At the very end of his long and thorough work, The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam comments that "the trap was set long before anyone realized it was a trap." This phrase adequately summarizes the main theme of the work. This book isn't designed to give you an understanding of the war in Vietnam. Instead, its an account of extremely decent, brilliant, and well-qualified men slipped into a trap, and how their struggles to break free of this trap only got them more firmly stuck.

My only ot...more
James
The torch was indeed passed-passed from one generation of the wealthy elite to the next.

The book is infinitely enjoyable to a political history junkie like myself. It's impressive in it's coverage of a lot of the most interesting political moments of that time. Sadly, it also helped to drive home a cynical reality I've been avoiding for over twenty years and, for that, I am not grateful. While reading this book current political events compelled me to finally give in to the reality of politics...more
Carl Frankel
I'd always viewed Halberstam as an excellent conventional journalist. The mainstreamest of the mainstream, as it were. Hey, maybe I should have read him? While he did write mainstream books and they're excellent, The Best and the Brightest is something else, very unorthodox in its way and stunningly brilliant. Halberstam researched the dickens out of his material and came to understand it in a way that surpasseth understanding. He got it, deeply deeply deeply, and wrote it from the right side of...more
Larry Bassett
The short version of the book: Boys will be boys!

This is a baby boomer book. The idealism of the Kennedy presidency seems very much like the idealism of the Obama campaign and early presidency. Some reviewers have compared how the U.S. got into Vietnam with how we got into Iraq: Congressional action based on misinformation. In both places the ‘enemy’ wears no uniform and blends into the people and the countryside.

Learn about Laos. Maybe you have barely heard of it, let alone know anything about...more
Renee
A big ole nonfiction book that explains the background behind American involvement in Vietnam. It also gave me a new insight into how decisions are made in Washington by walking you through all the people that were influencing JFK during his presidency. It helped me understand more about the similarities between Vietnam and Iraq.
Eric_W
Read this years ago when it first appeared. As a result, I read everything Halberstam wrote. Whenever I hear anyone discuss hiring only the "best and the brightest" now, I shudder.
Samarth
Jun 14, 2012 Samarth rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: own
More of a 2.5.

Pros:
1. The book doesn't seem to have any political bias.
2. There is an amazing amount of information in this book.

Cons:
1. In an effort to explain a butterfly effect, instead of dumbing it down to a simpler problem, the author doesn't really pin down actual causes of the escalation instead cramming with bios and reporting events without clear analysis.

2. The title of the book is faulty. The title hints that the book informs us how the "Best and the Brightest" (I assume mainly McN...more
Rick
Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest describes America’s inexorable drift into war in Southeast Asia. Reviewing the political players in Washington DC during the slide, Halberstam begins with a focus on the Kennedy years and how JFK emerged on a promise of change after years of disappointment in leadership … much like Barack Obama would come forward 50 years later. The key for JFK, and eventually Lyndon Baines Johnson, was the people he surrounded himself with — the titled The Best and the Br...more
Troy
Put this on the wish list after reading Halberstam's "Coldest Winter", a book which I enjoyed very much, and which taught me a lot.

This one was also very insightful, and like Coldest Winter is focused on the political climate, the people at the top, the psychology of international politics as it boiled down to a personal level for the leaders involved. It's not a history of the Vietnam War, so much as it is a history of the Vietnam White House - through two administrations - the Pentagon, and Wa...more
Benjamin  Berman
It is amazing how history repeats itself. These quotes from the book could easily be slightly modified to refer to America's recent misadventures in the Middle East and Afghanistan:

"One of the things which surprised me was how thin most of the newspaper and magazine reporting of the period [prior to Kennedy escalation in Vietnam] was, the degree to which journalists accepted the norms of the government"

"We believed in the army, the South Vietnamese did not. We saw it as a real army which needed...more
Billy
Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest

In Short: Policymakers “deluded themselves into thinking they could achieve their goals in Vietnam by ignoring, suppressing, or dismissing the information that might have suggested otherwise” In short, they were so committed to their ideals, they could not even conceive of failure in SE Asia. Their arrogance was at fault.

Was the escalation of war in Vietnam foregone by the Kennedy Administration? Two books argue that, no, escalation was not necessary and t...more
Louis
This is a story of hubris. The U.S. presidential administration of John F. Kennedy came to office in 1961 full of promise. In particular, he assembled some of the brightest people from academia and business to advise and guide the country. This book is document who these men were, where the came from, how they were recruited, and the attidudes and hopes they brought with them.

The book covers the building of the Kennedy cabinet thruough their service under Lyndon Johnson. It looks at the Bay of P...more
John Hawklyn
Spoiler: My favorite passage is a scene in which a presidential avisor, dispatched to Vietnam meets with a buddhist monk, and endeavors to work with him to resolve the problem of the monks immolating themselves.

After some conversation he mentions to the monk that he feels they've made progress, and that they're working on parallel tracks. Realizing that the idiom might not translate well, he asks the monk whether he was acquainted with the idea. The Monk agrees and replies that oh, yes. Parallel...more
Kim Anderson
I always wanted to learn more about the Vietnam war ever since high school, when the history textbooks mention it and move on in the blink of an eye. What was it about? Why did we send so many soldiers there? Why did so many Americans stand up against it? Why did supposedly liberal presidents like JFK and LBJ escalate? The answers are complicated, of course. But the bigger picture was deceptively simple. The historical context that a state of war is good for America, the economy, etc. and how wr...more
Wilte
Very detailed account of the run up to the Vietnam war, and all the political, bureaucratic and military intrigues. Readable but too elaborate for my taste.

In the epilogue (p.614):"now that illusion was gone, the real world was tougher than the world of doctored war games and high-level meetings". Reality caught up to the generals and bureaucrats.

How the US military described the ARVN promotion system (South Vietnamese army): Fuck up and move up. "They did not realize that by now the slogan appl...more
Dan
Feb 17, 2014 Dan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
This book should be mandatory reading for any government official who is above "line worker." It is extremely compelling and almost always horrifying, to see such powerful people make such terrible errors of judgment, and Halberstam covers all of the major players in great detail. I have to hold back my highest praise for a few reasons:

1. I wish there were a little bit more contextualization of the sourcing here than there was. Halberstam's explanation for why he doesn't list his sources is perf...more
Jsavett1
I'd been wanting to read this for many years and I'm glad I finally made the commitment to plow through it.

Not that doing so is difficult. Halberstam is a masterful writer and storyteller, and he brings alive the incredibly complex characters who masterminded and pursued the Vietnam war despite evidence and realities which suggested the US could never succeed. Obviously, this has many echoes with the Bush administration's pursuit of the war in Iraq and it's interesting to consider how they are s...more
Andrew Tollemache
The Vietnam War has always fascinated me and no, not in a Hueys and rice paddy kind of way, but in how it represents an utter failure of the foreign policy apparatus of 4-5 presidents. Halberstam's book is most concerned with the Kennedy and Johnson years, but he also goes really in depth in exploring how the Indochina/Vietnam issue progressed from obscure post WW2 French colonial war into the biggest foreign policy debacle of the 20th century. The war shattered the "elite consensus", greatly di...more
Roland
I finally finished it! I've been trying to read this book since the mid-1970's.

It took a while to get into. (And I've tried to get into it several times.)

Now that I've finally read it, I will say this: this is epic reporting, of the kind we don't see any more and may never again. I know of no journalist (there may still be some, but I don't know of them) who gets the kind of editorial support, availability of people to interview, access to primary sources, and time to consider it all that David...more
Chris Wagnon
If you had to read one book on how we got into the Vietnam War, I highly recommend, The Best and the Brightest. David Halberstam does a masterful job of breaking down the players in both the Kennedy and Johnson administration staffs and the Joint Chief of Staffs leading up to the war and to the point we were knee deep. On paper these men that Kennedy appointed looked brilliant but failed us and continued fail the U.S. when it came to Vietnam under Johnson. He looks at how the major doubters of t...more
Miss Leacock
Jul 12, 2014 Miss Leacock marked it as to-read
I just went to Vietnam and visited the Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton). There were pictures of the American POWs playing basketball and chess and billiards, making it look like they really enjoyed their time there. I knew that wasn't true, but didn't know much else. I want to read the section in Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir in which John McCain describes his imprisonment to see what it was really like for the American POWs.
I don't know very much about the Vietnam War either. During a tour o...more
Amit
This is a book about how people regarded as some of the brightest of their generation led the US into the Vietnam war.

One of the biggest takeaways for me was that, in any sizable organization, once a leader starts a project (whether it is a war or merely a new product development initiative), it takes a life of its own. People in the organization stake out positions, internally and externally. Commitments get made that cannot be broken without losing face. Careers get tied to its success. Naysay...more
Luke Terry

I wonder what our perception of Kennedy would be with his involvement in Vietnam if he wasn't assassinated and if his wife wasn't hot.

Some quotes from the book (there's a lot of them):

· “The trouble with you is that you always think we can turn this thing off, and that we can get off of it whenever we want. But I wonder. I think if it were easy to get off of it, we would already have gotten off. I think it gets harder every day, each day we lose a little control, each decision that we make wrong...more
Abby
Can't remember why I wanted to read this; I might have confused it with A Bright, Shining Lie--two books about Vietnam that have Bright in the title. It's 678 small-print pages; I thought I'd be reading it for months, yet it's compelling. It's largely character driven, and if you're not familiar with the characters, you'll be at something of a loss. I also sensed a smugness on the part of the author that put me off some. The tone is a little odd, yet I could never figure out why I thought that....more
Jeff Lacy
A magnificent intellectual work, dense and informative, a book worth reading whether one is interested in the Vietnam War or not (credibly researched but poorly edited leaving one to plow through some confusing, too long, complex passages, pages). Like Thomas Ricks', THE GENERALS, Halberstam's THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST teaches lessons beyond historical events. This book is about the players at the highest level of U.S. Government (Gen. Harkins for one, and Gen. Maxwell Taylor) that created a wa...more
Bob
Oct 19, 2012 Bob rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Bob by: Seymour Russell
Brilliantly written, Halberstam's account of the men who made the key political and military decisions on Vietnam is a graphic warning for our times. The military, focused as it is on the benefits of war to advancement of military careers (more budget $$, more officers, more troops, more equipment), tells its own lies about how the war is going and will go; the politicians, focused on the need to appear sufficiently "tough" and "anti-Communist" (read "anti-terrorist" for today), ignore their own...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam
  • The Making of the President 1960
  • The Final Days
  • Vietnam: A History
  • In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam
  • Arms and Influence
  • The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966
  • A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House
  • Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam
  • Parting the Waters: Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement 1954-63
  • Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis
  • What It Takes: The Way to the White House
  • Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus
  • Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #2)
  • Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
  • Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet
  • They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace Vietnam and America October 1967
  • Street Without Joy
42850
David Halberstam (April 10, 1934–April 23, 2007) was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author known for his early work on the Vietnam War and his later sports journalism.

Halberstam graduated from Harvard University with a degree in journalism in 1955 and started his career writing for the Daily Times Leader in West Point, Mississippi. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, writing for...more
More about David Halberstam...
The Breaks of the Game Summer of '49 The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made

Share This Book

“somehow Acheson had been scarred during the McCarthy era; it was not so much that he had done anything wrong as the fact that he had been forced to defend himself. By that very defense, by all the publicity, he had become controversial. He had been in print too often, it was somehow indiscreet of Dean to be attacked by McCarthy.” 0 likes
“The Marshall Plan had stopped the Communists, had brought the European nations back from destruction and decay, had performed an economic miracle; and there was, given the can-do nature of Americans, a tendency on their part to take perhaps more credit than might be proper for the actual operation of the Marshall Plan, a belief that they had done it and controlled it, rather than an admission that it had been the proper prescription for an economically weakened Europe and that it was the Europeans themselves who had worked the wonders.” 0 likes
More quotes…