Mark Bowden's Recommended Wartime Reading

Posted by Goodreads on June 5, 2017

Author and journalist Mark Bowden has chronicled some of the most dangerous events in modern history, with books such as Black Hawk Down, Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw, and The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden. In his new work, Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam, Bowden takes us inside the deadliest battle of the Tet Offensive, which marked the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War.

By January 1968, America's war in Vietnam appeared to be at a stalemate. But the North Vietnamese's leadership in Hanoi had started planning an offensive intended to win the war in a single stroke. Part military action and part popular uprising, the effort included attacks across South Vietnam, but the most dramatic and successful would be the capture of Hue, the country's intellectual and cultural capital. The Battle of Hue played out over 24 days and ultimately cost more than 10,000 combatant and civilian lives. It was by far the bloodiest month of the entire war.

"The best books about combat are not so much about war as the people caught up in it, sometimes by choice but often by terrible chance," Bowden says. Here are his recommendations for books that show the human toll of military conflict.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
"In prose that is moving and memorable, it captures the tedium, suspense, fear, and exhilaration of combat, and the love Jordan feels for Maria, a young Spanish girl who has watched the execution of her parents and been raped by fascist soldiers. In their relationship Jordan's passion for life becomes bound inextricably with his willingness to die."

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
"Grossman is less concerned with strategy and tactics than with the lives of a multitude of common soldiers and civilians, men and women, caught up in this greatest of urban battles…It is as if Tolstoy had returned a century later to capture the story of another great Russian war being fought by an entirely new breed of his oppressed countrymen."

The Thin Red Line by James Jones
"Jones writes with unflinching and searing intensity about fear and cruelty, killing and death, about the then-forbidden subject of homosexuality, about the terrible privation of men trapped in a combat zone, about stupidity and courage and ambition, and about intense loneliness and desire. He captures, as all the best war stories do, the starkly random nature of death in battle, which is the most frightening truth for soldiers to accept."

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
"Based loosely on Marlantes' own war experience. Mellas is an Ivy League graduate who volunteered for Vietnam, where his idealism and dreams of glory collide hard with the pointless brutality of the conflict…Marlantes' wrenching prose captures the bloody and terrifying struggle against a tenacious enemy and against the difficulty of their unforgiving terrain."

The Hunters by James Salter
"Based on Salter's experience as an American fighter pilot flying F86s during the Korean War, the book captures the peculiar nature of aerial combat in the jet age. Salter was celebrated for the spare elegance of his prose, and his descriptions of flight here are among the best ever written. But the real story concerns the relationships between ambitious pilots who compete to prove themselves in deadly single combat against the Chinese MiGs that rise to challenge them."

Want more book recommendations from authors? Check out our Good Minds Suggest series.

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by David (new)

David Hauntz Everyone needs to read "The Last Stand of Fox Company".

message 2: by Tim (new)

Tim I recommend, All Quiet on the Western Front, by Remarque

message 3: by Liz (new)

Liz Biss My previous partner is a former Vietnam helicopter pilot. He has PTSD and went completely bonkers. I want to read Hue 1968 because I know that is when he was serving.

message 4: by Kanzi (new)

Kanzi I'd recommend "Dispatches" by Michael Herr.

message 5: by Duane (new)

Duane Liz wrote: "My previous partner is a former Vietnam helicopter pilot. He has PTSD and went completely bonkers. I want to read Hue 1968 because I know that is when he was serving."

It might or might not shed any light on what happened to your friend.

A lot of helicopter pilots came back in a really bad state. I had a friend whom I corresponded with while he was there, and he came back a complete wreck and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia... apparently that's really common with helicopter pilots.

message 7: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Franke Greetings to all in this thread.

Hope I can somehow eventually get a copy to read and review.

I was there during and after Tet 1968, at a fire-base north of Hue with an airborne infantry battalion of the 2d Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (AASLT).

As the intense urban battle for relief of Hue continued, my battalion and another "bat" of the 2d Brigade eventually deployed into Hue. Our mission was to reinforce and relieve the embattled and bloodied US Marine units and the valiant US Army military advisors who had been under ferocious and prolonged siege in their MACV compound south of the Perfume River. We also patrolled through the battle-scarred remains of the old Citadel, in which the ruined HQ of 1st ARVN Division.

My interest in this book about Tet 1968 is magnified by the fact that, IMPO, Mr. Bowden's previous book _Guests of the Ayatollah_ is an excellent and insightful treatment of that episode (I am also a Foreign Area Officer with regional concentration and related operational and embassy experience in the Middle East, specifically in the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region, including Iran and the Persian language).

Hope this helps. Today is Friday, 9 June 2017.


Stephen H. Franke
LTC, US Army Retired
San Pedro, California

message 8: by William (new)

William Martin Liz wrote: "My previous partner is a former Vietnam helicopter pilot. He has PTSD and went completely bonkers. I want to read Hue 1968 because I know that is when he was serving."

Chickenhawk is by Robert Mason is a very good book about helicopter pilots in Viet Nam. While I'm writing, I have an interest in books about resistance fighters, particularly the unsung of Poland and the Philippines. Can anyone make a recommendation.

message 9: by Milton (new)

Milton Chemhuru I have been a guerrilla during the armed struggle to liberate Zimbabwe and during my school days before I joined the armed struggle in 1974 I used to enjoy to read the journals about he sad war in Vietnam.
Now that I'm retired and old I need to read mor about the war in Vietnam especially from the combatants or fromnthe journalists who were involved in that war.
The issue about helicopters against guerrillas was a menace during our war of independence. Had it not for the helicopters the war could had taken less period than it did in Zimbabwe. The ground forces could not match us as guerrillas for we were dominating the terrain and the hardships experienced in the bush. Hence itvwas these helicopters who could come ro the rescue of the ground forces and for sure they were able ro drive us from the scene of the battle some of us dead or injured. I have experienced the fire from the helicopter and I should con face it was a nasty moment for me and up today I wonder how I survived. Vietnam war is one of the most interesting war experience I have ever read so I need to read more about it.
Thank you
Dr. Milton Chemhuru
(Guerrilla expert)

message 10: by Sandy (new)

Sandy Jacobs War novels I recommend--some obscure, some well known, some about the effects of war--all excellently written:
J.G.Farrell, THE SIEGE OF KRISHNAPUR (Muslim soldiers mutiny against British overlords in 1857);
Olmstead, FAR BRIGHT STAR (American soldiers hunt for Pancho Villa in Mexico);
Afghanistan & Iraq: Dexter Filkins, THE FOREVER WAR.

message 11: by Sandy (new)

Sandy Jacobs Tim wrote: "I recommend, All Quiet on the Western Front, by Remarque"
Definitely. It should be read by every teenager and their parents.

message 12: by Raymond (new)

Raymond Firehock We Were Soldiers Once, and Young -- Ia Drang Valley campaign; Ghost Soldiers; Bernard Fall's accounts of the French-Indo-China War; The Longest Day; Bridge Too Far.

message 13: by Juan (new)

Juan The 13th Valley by John M. Del Vecchio one of best Viet Nam War novels ever written, probably hard to find these days as it was published some time ago.

message 14: by Charlie (last edited Jun 18, 2017 12:55PM) (new)

Charlie  Ravioli Sandy wrote: "War novels I recommend--some obscure, some well known, some about the effects of war--all excellently written:
J.G.Farrell, THE SIEGE OF KRISHNAPUR (Muslim soldiers mutiny against British overlor..."<

Great list. I also recommend Redeployment and The Yellow Birds to add to your Iraq/Afghanistan books. I also love The Marines of Autumn and The Coldest Night for book about Korea, the forgotten war.

back to top