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The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam
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The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  181 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
The Father of All Things is a riveting, haunting, and often hilarious account of a veteran and his son’s journey through Vietnam. As his father recounts his experiences as a soldier, including a near fatal injury, Tom Bissell weaves a larger history of the war and explores the controversies that still spark furious debate today. Blending history, memoir, and travelogue, Th ...more
Kindle Edition, 432 pages
Published (first published March 1st 2007)
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Jun 14, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot more about the history of the end of the Vietnam War than I knew before, but the book was oddly (and I thought jarringly) constructed. The interweaving of very detailed history with personal story was not fully successful, especially in the first part of the book. And the very final section (brief personal testimonies from the children of Vietnam War vets, from both sides), which I found to be one of the most interesting parts of the book, was too short and, structurally speaking ...more
Jul 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are a history fan, you need to read this book. Initially picked up because it was on sale, I was absolutely blown away. i have attempted in the past to read books about the causes and effects of Vietnam, but they always were too dry. This book tells the story of the war through the experience of a son and his veteran father returning to Vietnam. The author does a great job balancing the autobiographical narrative and his descriptions of the war, as well as tying the two together. His desc ...more
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I just couldn't get through this one. The author goes back and forth between the history of the end of the vietnam war and what he imagines the actons of his father to be at that time. What I read of it was okay I realized picking it up to read it was starting to feel like an assignment not something I wanted to do. Maybe it's just me and I will finish it one day when I am more ready for this book.
Bob Schmitz
My wife and I are leaving for a 3 week trip to Vietnam tomorrow and this book was recommended to me by a friend of hers. It was a mix of a memoir, travel guide, father-son story and history of Vietnam framed around a trip the liberal author son takes with his dad a Marine Vietnam vet. The father has been haunted by his experience there in 1965 which contributed to his drinking an divorce and the son is interested in finding out about and helping heal his dad. The writing is casual, touching, pro ...more
Jul 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As part of Citizen Reader's Book Menage, I read Tom Bissell's The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam. Bissell addresses the first question I had about this book in the opening sentences of the book. Do we really need yet another book on Vietnam? Bissell says that he has grown up with the war because of how it changed and affected his father. Although the book centers on a trip to Vietnam that Bissell takes with his father, it is also a book with rich analysis of t ...more
Aug 22, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: vietnam war buffs, those interested in vietnamese history
I really enjoyed this book largely because I'll be going to Vietnam shortly. Tom Bissell has an amazing writing style and knows how to improbably place some of the funnier one-liners in his historical commentary. His interpretation of seemingly unimportant facts can lead to some interesting insights:

"Today Hanoi really DID have a Hilton - called, naturally, the Hanoi Hilton. What was strange was how little comment such ironies elicited from the Vietnamese themselves. Hien, for instance, saw not
Sep 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book, in many ways. The history of the war is deep and broad, and it is clear that the author spent a great deal of time researching the war, for reasons that are very personal. I have a lot of respect for him, and for his father, for making the journey to Vietnam, and for asking themselves hard questions while they were doing it. That being said, the author does not seem to have done much reading about Vietnamese culture, or about orientalism or racism. He regularly makes ...more
Eric Piotrowski
Tom Bissell is a tremendous writer. I first learned of his existence through his video-games book Extra Lives. More than anything, I was impressed by his ability to criticize a game's faults, reward its successes, and avoid hyperbole, demonization, and hagiography. So I was very keen to see how he would approach the contentious topic of Vietnam.

I am woefully ignorant about that conflict, and I found this book to be a superb introduction. Intensely personal, it follows a trip Bissell took to Viet
Jul 18, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read lots of Vietname books, both fiction and non-fiction, and while this wasn't my favorite, it definitely belongs in the canon. Of course, I'm biased, since I spend lots of time kicking Tom's butt in video games, but he really does write beautifully, and his style blossoms in this book. Tom also did an amount of research that would put any doctoral student to shame, and perhaps even more impressive--and I say this as someone who wrote a 500-page dissertation based primarily on secondary s ...more
May 30, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If you can get a hold of it, read Tom Bissell's article, "War Wounds," in the December 2004 issue of Harper's Magazine. It has all the best bits of this book, distilled into 4 or so tightly written pages. The book has moments of genuine insight or emotion, but they get overwhelmed by Bissell's need to add so much historical context to his personal journey with his father. If I wanted to read an hour-by-hour account of the fall of Saigon, I would pick up a straight-forward nonfiction history book ...more
Feb 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderfully structured exploration of themes of war, fatherhood, and the space between people. Bissell's artful intertwining of the stories of his parents' failing marriage, the fall of Saigon and his own return with his father to a deeply changed Vietnam some 30 years after the war is not simply effective; it should daunt and inspire anyone wishing to write nonfiction on any topic. The personal and the political are on display here, with family memories drawn out along with a sort of crash-co ...more
Apr 19, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had to read this book to do a review for the Oral History Review- and while it could be disputed as lacking the neutraility of a good piece of oral history writing, I think it would waste my breath. This story is true to its title- a journalist son is given the opportunity to travel to Vietnam with his veteran father. Bissell provides social commentary and reflects on the altogether outrageous political dealings during the Vietnam era. More importantly, he and his father experience intense emo ...more
Aug 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, biography
This is really two books in one. One part is the authors synthesis of certain aspects of the Vietnam War. If one is unfamiliar with the history, it is a good introduction. However, if you already know the history, you can skim right past those sections.

The second part is the story of the author and his father's (a Vietnam veteran) trip back to Vietnam. I throughly enjoyed this part of the book. The conversations between father and son were very touching -- so honest and at times very raw. The fi
I learned that I must go to the 'right' places when visiting Viet Nam (five times) because I've not experienced the begging, pushing, not-so-nice things that this father and son experienced.

Good history writing but the personal side reminds me of my mother-in-law asking (often) why my husband doesn't talk about his experiences as a young Marine in the Chu Lai area. He doesn't but he loves visiting Viet Nam and we've been to Chu Lai.

For anyone who hasn't been...some of the tales of unpleasant exp
Dec 18, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book shines when discussing the effect Vietnam war had on the American psyche, although, distinct from previous works, the effect talked about here focuses on the younger generation who grew up in the shadow of their father's struggle with Vietnam memories. Alex Garland made a similar, albeit less serious, point in The Beach. The historical accounts I thought were somewhat of a weakness, but the contemporary reminiscences, the examination of the father-son relationship, and the book's final ...more
Jun 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent writer who doesn't try to milk from the relationship with his father what isn't there. No Hollywood ending, but educational on both their parts. Especially educational for me to return to those years that I've ignored of Vietnam's horrors and what the vets returned to after fighting with too few of the right weapons against a country that, after all, was the only one to beat Genghis Khan in ancient history and the Chinese in recent history. Highly recommended as a book written with a c ...more
Pam Lindholm-levy
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this on CD, mostly in my car. I liked the personal aspects of the book (I took a class from the writer), especially the father's history. Bissell's history of the Viet Nam war was hard to follow at the same time I was driving on I-5, but the parts I could pay strict attention to taught me things about that war I never knew, or took the trouble to know. The individual fall out and the bigger picture of the current wars will be in the same pattern for those of us at home who read a b ...more
Feb 05, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-book, owned
This one dragged a bit in the middle. The idea appeals to me - son is brought up in a stressed out home. Dad is a Vietnam vet and struggles upon coming home. Relationships not so great. Cut to 20 years later, son is now a writer and takes his father on a trip to Vietnam. Enjoyed the history of the war, liked the father-son scenes. The last part of the book (the final 10%) did not work at all for me, otherwise this was a 4-star offering.
May 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, in truth I did not quite finish it before I accidentally left this library book in New Jersey over the weekend. But I had read 9/10ths of it by then. Has anyone else seen Little Dieter Needs to Fly? Taken together the book and the documentary complement each other quite well. The emotion in this book is so complex that I cannot do justice to it in this short review. Beatiful writing Tom.
Jun 02, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am still plowing through this books slowly b/c I find myself rereading many parts of it b/c I am not very knowledgeable on the Vietnam War.
I love the idea that this book was written by someone from my generation. Besides giving an awesome overview of parts of the war and the exit from Saigon, the author's relationship with his father adds a perspective that is invaluable.
I will update this when I finally finish the book!
I did not expect this book to focus so much on Vietnam War history. I blame the NPR interview that focused on the part that is interesting to me, the growth of understanding in a difficult father-son relationship. I did learn a lot from the history parts, and I did enjoy the parts that were more relationship oriented. Overall, I did not enjoy this book but I must admit that it was exceptionally well written, well researched, and well presented.
Dec 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a feat this book is. It took me a while to get through it, in part due to it being a dense historical account of the war and in part my frustrating inability to finish books, but it was well worth it. Tom Bissell is a courageous and detail-oriented writer (every other page has a custom header describing the contents).
Peter Helff
Mar 31, 2007 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Just underway with this. Read an article about Tom Bissel in the latest issuce of "Poets & Writers" and the book caught my eye. It's a travelogue of a man and his father, and I thought it might help give me inspiration to write a similar tale when I'm finished writing my fantasy novel. I'll keep you posted.
Oct 02, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read this one because of a good review in the Wall Street Journal. I thought it might bring some insight to my own father's experience in Vietnam. Interesting read about a terrible US experience.
Mar 20, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Didn't care for the way the book was laid out.
The author was speaking for his father, and his feelings. Statistics and Political information to me got in the way. At times I felt like I was reading a chronological account of the Vietnam War.
Very detailed account of the VietNam ward-too detailed sometimes but maybe necessary.. Many passages remind of the war we're in now; poorly planned, poorly equipped and government dishonesty.
Amy Jenkins
Aug 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all
See my review on Amazon.
Sep 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great job weaving together historical fact and personal accounts.
Oct 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really superb
Dec 21, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bissel covers some new territory and it is certainly a novel approach to the war. He gets a little preachy which is annoying but this is a good book worth a read if you are interested in vietnam.
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Tom Bissell (born 1974) is a journalist, critic, and fiction writer.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
More about Tom Bissell...
“In the emergency of growing up, we all need heroes. But the father I grew up with was no hero to me, not then. He was too wounded in the head, too endlessly and terribly sad. Too funny, too explosive, too confusing. Heroes are uncomplicated. *This* makes them do *that*… But the war does not make sense. War senselessly wounds everyone right down the line. A body bag fits more than just its intended corpse. Take the 58,000 American soldiers lost in Vietnam and multiply by four, five, six—and only then does one begin to realize the damage this war has done… War when necessary, is unspeakable. When unnecessary, it is unforgivable. It is not an occasion for heroism. It is an occasion only for survival and death. To regard war in any other way only guarantees its inevitable reappearance.” 8 likes
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