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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

4.21  ·  Rating Details ·  8,554 Ratings  ·  255 Reviews
This passionate, epic account of the Vietnam War centres on Lt Col John Paul Vann, whose story illuminates America's failures & disillusionment in SE Asia. A field adviser to the army when US involvement was just beginning, he quickly became appalled at the corruption of the S. Vietnamese regime, their incompetence in fighting the Communists & their brutal alienati ...more
Hardcover, 1st, 880 pages
Published September 12th 1988 by Random House (NY) (first published 1988)
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Apr 30, 2013 Lyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 04, 2013 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Dec 01, 2009 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 29, 2012 Molly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 22, 2012 David rated it liked it  ·  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
Jun 27, 2015 Betsy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the first books I read about Vietnam, and that was years ago. I suspect that should I read it now I would give it more stars. It seems hard to believe that the Vietnam War, which played such an important in my young adulthood, has now been over for over 40 years. Also, "the domino effect" of losing the war never occurred. Unfortunately, we still have not learned all the lessons that war could teach us.
Jun 19, 2014 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sheehan's "...Vietnam" is certainly no disaster.
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
Carol Storm
Aug 07, 2016 Carol Storm rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up in a guest cottage on a New Hampshire vacation and could not put it down. This is so much more than just another serious-minded political/diplomatic/military history about why America lost the Vietnam War. This book really reads like the great American novel, featuring a fascinatingly detailed character study of a tragic hero.

John Paul Vann is not a household name, but from the first pages you totally get why he is a metaphor for everything that America lost in Vietnam. No
Aug 11, 2013 Don rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Larry Bassett
This book is an extensive coverage of the war in Vietnam and includes many of the details of covert actions that were withheld from the American public at the time they were occurring. At the end of the book there are extensive notes by the author about how he researched the book until it's completion in 1988. John Vann was a unique character in the war both as a soldier and an officer and ultimately as a civilian involved in depth with the decision making process at the highest levels. The Pent ...more
Feb 01, 2016 Karin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: readharder2016
Well, I did it. I read 790 pages about Vietnam. This was my #readharder2016 book written in the decade I was born.

This is incredibly well researched. In some parts it's detailed down to the hour. The amount of detail is staggering.

However...I have some criticisms. This book is also, IMO, trying to be too much. It's both a history of the VW as well as a biography of John Paul Vann, hence the 790 pages of text and then 100+ of notes and indexing on top of that.

I didn't like the format of the book
Rick Saffery
Oct 17, 2009 Rick Saffery rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Feb 15, 2010 Randy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 16, 2008 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All citizens
An articulate and heartbreaking analysis of America's war in Vietnam that is more relevant now than it has been for over a generation in light of the war in Iraq. Sheehan uses the life and career of one American officer, Colonel John Vann, to show the evolution, corruption, and destruction of a nation's policy and strategy over time. We seem to be making the same mistakes now, with results that are likely to be just as bad for Iraq as they were for Vietnam, and a lot worse for the West. Much bet ...more
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.
Michael Burnam-Fink
Just like John Paul Vann was the "single essential American in Vietnam", A Bright Shining Lie is the single essential general history of the Vietnam War. Sheehan ably blends the overall history of the war, which we know all too well, with the career of one of it's strangest figures: the renegade Lt. Colonel, counter-insurgency expert, early war Cassandra and late war Pangloss, civilian general, good friend and depraved predator, who was John Paul Vann.

Lt. Col Vann went to Vietnam in 1962 as an
Aaron Million
Aug 07, 2014 Aaron Million rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Sobering, grim look at the incredible hubris that led to America becoming hopelessly (and, at times, helplessly) entwined in Vietnam. Sheehan, who was a reporter for UPI and, later, the New York Times, frames the book generally around a biography of a maverick Lt. Colonel in the Army: John Paul Vann. However, there are sections of the book where Vann is either not mentioned at all, or only fleetingly. For most of the book, Sheehan deftly juxtaposes something specifically having to do with Vann, ...more
Kathryn Muratore
Oct 14, 2009 Kathryn Muratore rated it it was ok  ·  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
Apr 06, 2013 Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 15, 2015 Monica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian, historical, vietnam
More than four decades after the end of our war in Vietnam, (the one the Vietnamese call the American War), the war and its aftermath still haunt us.

When any country engages in the wrong war for the wrong reasons, and then puts the wrong people in charge, bad things happen, and it is foolish to think the US might be an exception. As Sheehan points out, we entered the war assuming that Communism was a monolith and all communists were Stalin. We ignored Ho Chi Minh’s approaches to the West followi
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
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
Erik Graff
Jul 28, 2016 Erik Graff rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: US citizens
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
This book begins deceptively. John Paul Vann, it's biographical subject, was a supporter of the USA being militarily involved in Vietnam. Consequently, author Sheehan begins, after a brief review of Vann's funeral, with a description of the war from what appears to be a supportive position. Vann didn't approve of how it was conducted, but throughout he believed he knew how the 'hearts and minds' of the southern population of Vietnam could be legitimately captured. Thus, a war, yes, but one with ...more
Kenneth Barber
Apr 04, 2013 Kenneth Barber rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 25, 2008 Patrick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A stunning piece of biography and history. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this book is the way Sheehan constructs the book. The first part of the main body of the book starts with Lt. Colonel John Paul Vann landing in Vietnam and discovering the substantial difficulties the U.S. faces in defeating the Viet Cong. In this first part, Vann comes off as the unlistened to, wise sage who, if we the generals and politicians had only listened, would have provided a real opportunity to preserve ...more
Aug 05, 2014 Kurt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
This is one long, arduous, meticulously-researched and detailed book about our involvement in the Vietnam War. The author did his homework well, and earned a Pulitzer prize for it. Only the most die-hard readers of war history should attempt it. The book is very challenging to read because of the preponderance of Vietnamese names, political figures, and geography. That being said, it is worth the time spent. As a Vietnam-Era veteran, it filled in a lot of blank spaces for me. The story fixates o ...more
gwen g
I'll admit this book was a slog for me; 800 pages of non-fiction on any topic would have been a slog for me, but 800 pages on such a profoundly violent and depressing topic as the Vietnam War was especially so. But I am very glad I read it and very glad that J. recommended it in the first place.

Neil Sheehan started out with a strong concept: Take one man's life and use it as a kaleidescope for the whole war. He took that concept further than I could have imagined -- by the end, you feel like yo
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I continue read the book. 6 19 Mar 07, 2015 08:23AM  
  • Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam
  • Vietnam: A History
  • The Best and the Brightest
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  • Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina
  • They Marched Into Sunlight: War And Peace, Vietnam And America, October 1967
  • Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
  • Children of Crisis: Selections from the Pulitzer Prize-winning five-volume Children of Crisis series
  • Once Upon a Distant War: David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett--Young War Correspondents and Their  Early Vietnam Battles
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  • In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam
  • Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45
  • The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966
  • Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families
  • The Cat from Hue: A Vietnam War Story
  • The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu And the French Defeat in Vietnam
  • About Face: Odyssey Of An American Warrior
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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 about Neil Sheehan...

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“When Gene Crutchfield brought his troubled friend to Hopkins in 1938, Hopkins was twenty-four years old and in charge of LeKies Memorial, the Methodist church in the Atlantic City neighborhood. He had taken over the parish the year before and wore a mustache to try to make himself look older. It complemented his horn-rimmed glasses and added a bit of distinction to an otherwise unimpressive medium height and build. Hopkins’s father and grandfather had been Methodist ministers, but tradition was not the reason he had dropped out of law school and entered the ministry. He had been attracted by the ideas then being promoted within the Methodist Church in Virginia. They were ideas of the kind that are now taken for granted in American life—nutrition and welfare support for dependent children; free medical care for the impoverished and the aged; the right of workers to organize a union, to receive a minimum wage, to strike; interracial cooperation.” 0 likes
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