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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

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  9,827 ratings  ·  335 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
Paperback, 896 pages
Published September 19th 1989 by Vintage (first published 1988)
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4.22  · 
Rating details
 ·  9,827 ratings  ·  335 reviews

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Apr 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I skimmed this book again over the last couple of weeks having plowed my way through it over some months in 1989, me a 30 year old twit in grad school in New Hampshire, co-reading with my historian of war Dad in Wyoming. He is a pro-military, conservative (Boll Weevil) type Democrat, and everything I read across the disciplines were pushing me further and further hard-left. I'm assuming that Ken Burn's series on Vietnam will drive further interest in Sheehan's story, and that will be good as it ...more
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites

Well, I've finally finished this epic. Now all I have to do is read it a second time, and maybe I'll be able to retain close to 50% of it. Robert Stone wrote that it belongs to the same order of merit as Michael Herr's Dispatches, and I agree, but the contents of the two books are very different. Dispatches is like a painting that conveys the impression of being there, at the ground level, as things were ramping up in the late 60s. Sheehan's book is also impressionistic, somewhat, but offers dif
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
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
Jun 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
May 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's surprising that such an idiosyncratic book has become the most popular history on the Vietnam War. While it offers some historical background, this isn't a general history of the war or of America's involvement in Vietnam. Some parts of the war are handled in great detail (the Battle of Ap Bac), whole periods of the war (including its climax in '68-'69) are glossed over.

What Sheehan gives us the story of John Vann, a remarkably complex man who through sheer force of will and personality pr
Apr 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Well, I finally finished this beast last night, and with it my sudden interest in anything and everything Vietnam War. I think I leapt headlong into the subject because I was convinced that this was where America started to get it really wrong--fighting colonialist wars, whose outcomes were manipulated by unscrupulous actors like Nixon and Kissinger; having the knowledge of the atrocities we were capable of but not holding ourselves accountable, because patriotism/tribalism wins out over the hum ...more
Full Review to follow.
Jun 27, 2015 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 22, 2012 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
Carol Storm
Aug 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
If it is your first read no doubt, you will find the book a very good classic of American Military History and the involvement in Vietnam, many topics of which have become pivotal in addressing the topic since it was first published. However, for a new and a more contemporary read do have a pinch of salt handy for a much more deeper understanding of the message of the book. As tragic as it is we are all humans and can stomach somewhat of a reality.
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.
Kathryn Muratore
Oct 14, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Feb 01, 2016 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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 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
Feb 27, 2008 rated it it was ok
The book begins with the idea that Vietnam sucked and there were lots of lies surrounding the war. We then get a blow-by-blow of those lies. And so on.

OK, so I skipped ahead to page 800 just to make sure that Vietnam did, in fact, suck. But I couldn't slog through this jungle. No wonder it took Neil Sheehan til 1988 to finally publish the book.
Steve Woods
Jul 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
It was bad enough to go through it to know who sent us there and why just makes it harder still!
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An amazing, incredible, overwhelming book. Ostensibly a biography of John Paul Vann, it is many, many things. For me, the experience of reading it was like reading a massive 19th century novel (and I want to be clear, it is not a novel--it is non-fiction, biography and history). There are significant reversals; your understanding of the earlier sections deepens and evolves the further you go into it; there are overlapping family sagas; complicated psychologies; tons of unfamiliar names; tons of ...more
Michael Burnam-Fink
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Dan Murillo
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Exceptional. Incredibly well written and insightful. Has to be the greatest book written on the Vietnam War.
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Goodreads Librari...: Combine Editions 2 13 Nov 01, 2017 03:29AM  
I continue read the book. 8 22 Sep 09, 2017 12:23AM  
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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
“Prevost was an imaginative gladiator of the air. He persuaded Vann to give him a pair of the new lightweight Armalite rifles, officially designated the AR-15 and later to be designated the M-16 when the Armalite was adopted as the standard U.S. infantry rifle. The Army was experimenting with the weapon and had issued Armalites to a company of 7th Division troops to see how the soldiers liked it and how well it worked on guerrillas. (The Armalite had a selector button for full or semiautomatic fire and shot a much smaller bullet at a much higher velocity than the older .30 caliber M-1 rifle. The high velocity caused the small bullet to inflict ugly wounds when it did not kill.) Prevost strapped the pair of Armalites to the support struts under the wings of the L-19 and invented a contrivance of wire that enabled him to pull the triggers from the cockpit to strafe guerrillas he sighted. He bombed the Viet Cong by tossing hand grenades out the windows.” 2 likes
“Lansdale was a victim in Vietnam of his success in the Phillipines. Men who succeed at an enterprise of great moment often tie a snare for themselves by assuming that they have discovered some universal truth.” 2 likes
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