The Nightingale's Song
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The Nightingale's Song

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  216 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Robert Timberg weaves together the lives of Annapolis graduates John McCain, James Webb, Oliver North, Robert McFarlane, and John Poindexter to reveal how the Vietnam War continues to haunt America. Casting all five men as metaphors for a legion of well-meaning if ill-starred warriors, Timberg probes the fault line between those who fought the war and those who used money,...more
Paperback, 544 pages
Published September 11th 1996 by Free Press (first published 1995)
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Timberg, an Annapolis graduate and Vietnam veteran, was struck by some odd similarities, as he watched Oliver North, John Poindexter, and others happily lie to Congress (North still brags about it even though when Clinton did it, lying became less fashionable – maybe it’s only OK to lie if you are in uniform).
By now a journalist, Timberg wondered if the Iran-Contra scandal did not represent one of the long-term effects of the Vietnam War. He researched the careers of John McCain, Robert “Bud” M...more
Five graduates of the Naval Academy, matriculating from 1958 to '68, are the focus of this book. The military engagement of the U.S. in Vietnam is explored primarily through the personal experiences of several of the marines and navy men, particularly John McCain and Jim Webb (who were not part of the later Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan administration), with primary attention given to the way those experiences shaped their views of the world and their later actions as politicians and executi...more
For those of us who were casual political observers in the 1970s and 1980s, this book will help fill in lots of gaps. It's the story of five men who were prominent in those years, each a graduate of the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Three of the five - Oliver North, John Poindexter, Bud McFarlane - played important roles in the events of "The Iran-Contra Affair" which is described in detail. The other two, James Webb and John McCain, had fascinating military and political stories. McCain's story w...more
Pierre Lauzon
This is a fine biography covering four men and their influence: John McCain, Robert McFarlane, James Webb, Oliver North, and John Poindexter.

The common denominator among them all is that they graduated from the Naval Academy within a short window and served in Viet Nam. They were formed in character and outlook by both the Academy and the war and its aftermath.

I learned a lot about the war, which was regarded as unwinnable earlier than I remembered. I also learned about the history of John McCai...more
I very much enjoyed this book. The history of these 5 men who all graduated from Annapolis within a few years of each other, their lives often intersecting, showed me a side of each I didn't know. The problem I had with the book was that I never quite got the point of it. I think he was trying to show how their similar backgrounds effected each in his own way with Vietnam playing a very big part in each one's actions, especially their roles in the Iran Contra scanedal. It seemed that John McCain...more
Why read a book about the Iran/Contra affair, a relatively minor dust up in the Reagan administration? That's what I asked myself last summer as I pulled this book off the shelf of a thrift shop in Glasgow, Montana. For $0.50, it was worth a look. When I next picked it up I found it difficult to put down. The story revolves around 5 guys, some classmates, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at about the same time. They are tracked through Academy, the Vietnam War, the withdrawal, Watergate...more
Robert Timberg follows the lives of John McCain, Oliver North, James Webb, Robert "Bud" McFarland, and John Poindexter and the way they intersected in the U.S. Naval Academy, Vietnam, and the Reagan presidency. The author looks at their disillusionent with American leadership in Vietnam and with the gulf between their experiences of the war and those of the educated civilian elites at home. James Webb's attitude was representative. He was dismayed by the gulf of experience that existed between h...more
The intriguing title is explained this way, "Did you know that a nightingale will never sing its song if it doesn't hear it first? If it hears robins or wrens ... it will never croak a note. But the moment it hears any part of a nightingales song, it bursts into this extraordinary music, sophisticate, elaborate music, as though it had known it all along ..." (p16)

With that the author, Timberg, launches into a complex narrative following 5 men who graduated from the US Naval Academy in the 1960s,...more
I found this book confusing. The author's choice, to profile five separate men involved in Iran Contra, from Annapolis through Vietnam and into the Reagan administration, left me with little understanding of the reasons behind the scandal. As always, a longer review appears at
Read it! I learned so much, my outlook on war and Cold War-era politics has changed significantly, or rather, broadened quite a bit.

I have one serious problem with it, and that is how Timberg deals with John McCain following the "Carpetbagger" chapter. He gives McCain a total pass for his role in the Keating Five scandal, despite the multiple stories in the Phoenix New Times proving that McCain was involved as deeply as anyone else named. If this book is only about the path from Annapolis to Ira...more
Interesting portraits of some of the pivotal characters of the Reagan Era. Most shocking to me was the impression that was created of President Reagan-- though he is not explicitly the subject of the book, the stories of the men around him paint a clear outline of the man as he interacted with key members of the cabinet, administration, and military. Of course senator-to-be John McCain is in there as well

The writing is pretty good, the author knows how to turn a phrase, writes evocatively, yet d...more
Robert Osenenko
Robert Timberg examines the progress and devious nature of the officer military class and their access and influence in the White House. He puts forth the comparison between their behavior and those of House and Senate leaders as they speak in code to one another. It doesn't take much of an imagination to realize near chapter 2-3 that Timberg is not just speaking about the plots that unfold. He is also speaking to other combat veterans working throughout the government who are contaminated by it...more
Intriguing approach to understanding the Vietnam War and it's effect on our country. Instead of exploring the War in depth, the causes that led up to it, or the immediate aftermath, it instead explores first, the lives of 5 famous Annapolis grads (John McCain, Bud McFarland, John Poindexter, Jim Webb, and Ollie North) during their time at the Academy; later, where they were during the war and how that shaped them as individuals; and finally, in the payoff, in a deep exploration of the Iran-Contr...more
Tony Randall
Very eye opening history as it relates to and was shaped by some very interesting men.
Nancy Garland
Should have listed this on my favorite books list. It is non-fiction and the author was Washington Bureau editor of the Baltimore Sun.It brings togeyther John McCain, Oliver North, Bud McFarland, John Poindexter and James Webb who were all at Annapolist at the same time and how their lives intersected before and after the Viet Nam War. Again for political junkies, these people were all players during the Reagan administration and several continue to be players today. I also knew some of the mino...more
David Jordan
A fascinating nonfiction portrait of 5 U.S. Naval Academy grads who rose to political power and/or infamy between 1958 and the Reagan years, when three of them were indicted for crimes connected with the Iran-Contra flap. The most interesting are Oliver North (what a head case!), John McCain (what a swashbuckler!) and James Webb (what a warrior!). The book also contains a gritty portrait of academy undergrad life, which makes a person wonder why anyone would choose to endure it.
Andrew Lubin
The story of 5 midshipmen at Annapolis in the mid-60's...and what a group they were: John McCain, Oliver North, James Webb, Bud McFarlane, and oliver Poindexter. Author Bob Timberg uses the Annapolis and other experiences of these men to explain what went wrong (and went right) with the military in the years following Vietnam.

This is the Vietnam-era story of those who served - a story that has been ignored by too many for too long.
Political history that reads like a pulp novel, tying together the careers of 5 politicians: Ollie North, Bud McFarlane, John Poindexter, James Webb and John McCain. Using the Iran-Contra affair as an end point, the book focuses more on boxing matches at Annapolis and in-country action during Vietnam. Though Ollie's antics are amusing, James Webb and John McCain are stars of this book, with the harshest criticism reserved for Ronald Reagan.
Tony Taylor
Robert Timberg weaves together the lives of five well-known Naval Academy graduates to reveal how the Vietnam War continues to haunt America. "This is an amazing piece of work that could make you cry over descriptions of bravery so bold and so big that you wonder how our country deserves such men. . . . It is about the soul of a nation."--Mike Barnicle, The Boston Globe Books. photo insert.
A fantastic, well-researched, elegantly written biography of five men whose lives were shaped by the Vietnam war. All of them became national figures, but two - John McCain and Jim Webb - have only become more pivotal in recent years. This is an especially fascinating read when you consider how McCain and Webb have continued to evolve since the book's publication.
Eric Swanson
This beautifully written, deeply reported book uses the careers of five Naval Academy graduates to explore the lingering impact of Vietnam on the American psyche. Mr. Timberg occasionally pushes his ruling metaphor too hard, but that's a minor flaw in an otherwise brilliant book.
Mar 18, 2008 Robert added it
Haven't finished it yet, but it's real good -- follows 5 men who attended the U.S. Naval Academy, went to Vietnam, and attained high positions in gov't:
John McCain, Oliver North, John Poindexter, Robert McFarlane, and James Webb. Great stories well told.
Rolando Gallegos
A book that ties together four figures who each in his own way shaped policy during the 80's and through today. Each a graduate of West Point and each a distinct personality. Do you want to know what makes McCain tick? Read this!
It's a riveting tale that spans the lives of 5 men, all Naval Academy graduates who would go onto serve their country during the upheavals of the Vietnam ear and the widening alienation between the military and society.
Follows 5 famous classmates of the Naval Academy, including John McCain, Oliver North, Bud McFarlane, John McNamara. Parts of it are pretty heavy in terms of in-depth history of Iran Contra scandal, etc.
This is a really interesting book that recounts the Naval Academy and Vietnam experiences of 5 Americans that were, and remain, important figures in our politics. I really enjoyed this.
This book was interesting but I think having more background knowledge of Vietnam and the Iran-Contra Affair would have been really helpful and given me more context.
the theme is a little contrived, but it's an interesting series of vignettes from the Annapolis and post-Annapolis lives of a number of noteworthies
Judy Atwood
Read for a book club and it was a wonderful, hard to put the book down read.
Douglas Graney
Want to find out what John McCain, Jim Webb and Ollie North were like at the Naval Academy and after? Get this. Great read.
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