A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam
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A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  5,447 ratings  ·  165 reviews
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

In this magisterial book, a monument of history and biography that was awarded the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, renowned journalist Neil Sheehan tells the story of Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann–"the one irreplaceable American in Vietnam"–and of the tragedy th...more
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Published October 20th 2009 by Vintage (first published 1988)
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Brendan
A great compliment to The Best and the Brightest.

This book focuses less on the domestic politics behind the Vietnam War and more on the military/operational realities than confronted the US military, as well as delving into the corruption of the South Vietnamese regime that the US tried to prop up 18 different ways, coup after coup after coup.

The conclusion of the book is basically that if the Vietnam War was ever winnable, it was no longer winnable after 1965-66. The failure of the LBJ administ...more
Kathleen
Nominally a biography of John Paul Vann--a soldier and civilian who was one of the first American Advisers in Vietnam at the beginning of American intervention and remained involved in the conflict until his death in 1972--this is actually the most complete history of the Vietnam War that I have ever read. I feel that, for the first time, I really understand this conflict, what lead to it, and why America could never have really won.

Among the things I never knew was that the Viet Cong was essen...more
David
Apr 22, 2012 David rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, inquiring minds
The Vietnam War is one of the most important events in modern history. This is one of the many books written about it.
The amount of detail is staggering. The research that went into this one book must fill a small library with notes, clippings, photographs, references, biographies, maps and more.
Take for example the first day in the Army of the central character in the book - John Paul Vann. This occurs on page 423 in my copy.
" During his first day at Camp Lee and for four days afterward the...more
John
I don't know of many books that win both the Pulizer and the National Book Award. Sheehan's book is one of them, and it shows.

An entirely engrossing narrative of the profound arrogance, paralyzing complaisance and careerism, and the incorrigible, altogether impenetrable ignorance of Americans in Vietnam. Generals Harkins and Westmoreland seem to have been the two most seriously impaired of the bunch. And as a result millions died. [Let's just say that in comparison 9/11 is only a vanishingly sma...more
Rick Saffery
Oct 17, 2009 Rick Saffery rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
I've read this book twice and recommended it perhaps a hundred times more. I'll always hold Mr.Sheehan in the highest regard for the way he crafted this impressive work. The epic drama of the Vietnam war, as expressed through the lens of John Paul Vann, profoundly resonates with me as a former infantry soldier of the post-Vietnam era. One of the things I took away from reading this book is Vann's insight with respect to keeping the war personal. He shrewdly observed and held that had we prosecut...more
Molly
A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan is a superior book that took 5 months, and every ounce of my concentration, to finish. I recommend it to anyone interested in American military history, specifically the Vietnam war, but warn you that you are in for a long, difficult read. Sheehan's research and writing style are without fault, I think. After all, he was there. The lynchpin of the book is John Paul Vann, a fascintating, complex man, who may have allowed the U.S. to win the war in Vietnam, had...more
Don
Perhaps the most comprehensive book I have read about the largest cluster-feck I am aware of - The Vietnam War. What resonates most with me, is that the general tenor of this book, comports with the memories that my oldest brother, who served two tours in Vietnam as an Officer (being Honorably Discharged as a Major), shared with me individually - before, during, and after that experience, paralleling his unique, distinct and personal recollections.

This is an important book about a time and place...more
Jeff
After absorbing this book I'm mentally exhausted from the sheer size and scope of the information contained in it. It was mind numbly daunting undertaking.

As much as I liked parts of it others became extremely taxing and confusing to follow. While I enjoy books with military engagements the endless stream of them, the personnel involved and the political intrigue around each of them in this one should have been significantly edited or removed altogether.

The same goes for some of the sections of...more
Randy
Walking through a book store one day I spotted this book and purchased it on the fly. Best that I can remember I purchased the book because: 1) It won a Pulitzer, 2) It won the National Book Award, 3) It was a National Bestseller; and 4) It's about the Vietnam War, a place and event I was told by the draft board that I could expect to visit (I didn't). This was an interesting book with lots of history. At the time I read it I had no idea who John Paul Vann was. And, maybe that was one point the...more
David
Sheehan's "...Vietnam" is certainly no disaster.
Kathryn Muratore
Dec 26, 2009 Kathryn Muratore rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who enjoy reading about military strategy
I learned an awful lot about the Vietnam war. I enjoyed the political history of the war and the more biographical sections of the book. But, overall, the book was way to detail-oriented and focused on military conflicts and strategy for my taste.
I was a little bothered by the hagiography feel the book had. John Vann was pretty despicable in my view as a person, but the author is willing to make excuses for him. To be sure, he had a bad childhood - a fascinating read in the rubber-necking at a...more
Evan
I've had this on my to-read list for 15 years or so, so when a copy became available a few days ago at Half Price Books for $1 it was a no-brainer. I started reading this today while waiting in the long line at the polling booth; I thought it entirely appropriate on election day to begin reading a book about a war and the conflicting policies that got us into it and kept us in it, since all the hubris and misguided do-goodery and righteousness that got us into Vietnam is of the same ilk as has g...more
Kenneth Barber
This book deals with the career of John Paul Vann and his career in Vietnam. He first went there as a military advisor with the US army. He served a year then left the army but later returned to Vietnam as a pacification person with the state department He saw clearly that we could not win the war without sweeping social changes in South Vietnam The government we installed was corrupt, stealing everything they could from our aid. They also lacked the urge to fight. They were more concerned with...more
Ann
What a magnificent book! It won a Pulitzer; it probably should have won ten. It is both the story of the war in Vietnam as well as the story of one very flawed man who fought it, ending up as the second highest commander, after Creighton Abrams, with control over all U.S. troops in the central highlands section of Vietnam.

Sheehan was a reporter in Vietnam and knew John Paul Vann very well. He gives us not only the history of the war, but a sense of the profound and systemic nature of the reason...more
Lyn
A Bright, Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan is an erudite, well-informed and exhaustive narrative of the Vietnam War. Sheehan provides a complete modern history of Vietnam, from the French Colonial period beginning in the 1850s to the end of French rule, particularly the period of Ho Chih Minh’s rise to power after World War II. As a reporter on the ground in the 1960s, he also provides a detailed analysis of American foreign policy in the region and the complicated cultural make-up of Vietnam, with i...more
Rachel
I read this book in 1988 while a member of the "Book of the Month Club," before it became a best-seller and Neil Sheehan won a Pulitzer for this remarkable book, 16-years in the making.

And I've been talking about it ever since.

"A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam" is THE primer on contemporary US foreign policy and should be read by every student of American history. School boards should buy this book and stock the high school libraries (excuse me, "media centers") with a...more
sckenda
The book centers on the career of Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, whose story illuminates America’s failures and disillusionment in Southeast Asia. Vann, a field adviser to the South Vietnamese Army, became appalled at the corruption of the South Vietnamese regime, South Vietnam’s incompetence in fighting the Communists, and the regime’s brutal alienation of the South Vietnamese people. He found his superiors too blinded by political lies to understand that the war was being thrown away, and he secretl...more
Jeffrey Miller
I read this book when it first came out and loved it. It's time to re-read this book again.
Hoskins Trible
It's only appropriate for a biographical history of the Vietnam War to open with the funeral of the protagonist. You know going into the whole thing that it won't be a happy tale, but it'll certainly be an interesting one.

The book uses the story of John Paul Vann's struggle against the ignorance of American leadership in Vietnam and the Southern Vietnamese's weak corrupt leaders to portray the wrongfulness of the motives behind the war, but especially the mistakes in the execution of the war.

If...more
Tom
A masterpiece. A history of America's involvement in Vietnam, woven into the biography of a very interesting man. This book could be the entire syllabus for a course on the Vietnam war. Maybe the best part is the understanding it conveys of characters such as Bundy, Rostow, and McNamara. In American culture they are often portrayed in black and white terms. Sheehan does much, much better than that. It's amazing to think that one man wrote this book and that it was only part of his life's work.
Procyon Lotor
Eccellente moneta nonconvertibile Un pregevole lavoro giornalistico scritto come un romanzo. Il chi come dove quando e perch� di un fallimento che secondo l'intervistato - tesi ancora oggi ritenuta dubbia - poteva essere un successo condiviso con le popolazioni locali. Contesto l'applicabilit� delle lezioni apprese alle situazioni odierne Iraq e Afghanistan inclusi. Un elemento, (non altro che ci� che fecero gli USA in Italia) la costruzione di rapporti paritari con la parte volonterosa della po...more
Brent
This is one of the best books I have ever read. A fascinating and engaging look at America's involvement in Vietnam, couched in the story of John Paul Vann's life. I poured through the 800+ pages in a short time because I was fascinated by the story, the writing and the historical perspective that Neil Sheehan brought to the book. It read very much like a novel, yet still was packed with insight, historical background and compassion for the real people involved. I will never look at the Vietnam...more
Michael Andersen-Andrade
A Bright Shining Lie is a brilliant book that chronicles the brutal, senseless and tragic U.S. war against Vietnam by following the career of John Paul Vann. Vann was a repugnant megalomaniac in both his professional and personal life and he epitomized everything that was evil and criminal about the mindset of the 20th Century American war monger. As I read this book it became crystal clear why the U.S. war against Vietnam was doomed from the beginning. I burned with anger, horror and disgust as...more
Robert Cruthirds
This is a great book about the history of the Vietnam War and a brilliant soldier named John Paul Vann. Sheehan is an excellent writer, he lived in Vietnam during the war as a journalist, and his research is meticulous.
Arcticvet
Very detailed, well written and comprehensive. This is required reading for those who attempt to understand why things went so wrong with Vietnam. After a second reading of this book, I still wonder.
AC
This book is powerful, intelligent, poignant -- in listening to it I found myself more than once shaking within. The tragedy described in the brilliant narrative lives with us still.
Steve Woods
It was bad enough to go through it to know who sent us there and why just makes it harder still!
Darryl Mexic
***”A BRIGHT SHINING LIE: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam” by Neil Sheehan. This is a work of non-fiction. It feels like I have been reading this book for months, although it is only a matter of weeks. It is long; over 800 pages of very small type. Initially it was mind blowing, but after the first third, it became tiresome. John Vann was a colonel in the U.S. Army and was one of the military advisors to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) during the Kennedy administration and durin...more
Roberta
Vietnam una sporca bugia (traduzione poco indovinata, a mio parere, di A Bright Shining Lie) racconta la storia della guerra del Vietnam attraverso la vita di un uomo che al Vietnam dedicò 10 anni della sua esistenza: John Paul Vann. La sua carriera iniziò nel 1962, quando giunse in Vietnam come militare. Nel 1972, ancora in Vietnam come civile, nell’ambito del corpo di pacificazione, morì in un incidente in elicottero. Questo libro, ben scritto, è il frutto di anni di ricerche approfondite sull...more
Howard
Using the life of one man as his framework, Sheehan has written the best book on America's involvement in Vietnam since Frances Fitzgerald's Fire in the Lake. John Paul Vann was a visionary as well as a gung-ho army officer. Arriving in Saigon in 1962 as a Lt. Colonel, Vann soon perceived something amiss in the US approach to the blossoming war. The American-backed ruling family, the Ngo Dinhs, were considered foreigners by most of the population; the ARVN existed primarily to protect them and g...more
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Cornelius Mahoney "Neil" Sheehan is an American journalist. As a reporter for The New York Times in 1971, Sheehan obtained the classified Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg. His series of articles revealed a secret U.S. Department of Defense history of the Vietnam War and led to a U.S. Supreme Court case when the United States government attempted to halt publication.
He received a Pulitzer Prize...more
More about Neil Sheehan...
A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon The Arnheiter Affair After the War Was Over: Hanoi and Saigon The Pentagon Papers: As published by The New York Times- The Secret History of the Vietnam War Bright Shining Lie John Paul Vann & Amer

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