Matt's Reviews > The Tunnels of Cu Chi

The Tunnels of Cu Chi by Tom Mangold
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Feb 07, 2011

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As "war" books go, this is a great one. The authors took one slice of the Vietnam war and painstakingly interviewed and researched everything about it. The result is a very dense and complete discussion of the tunnels. I imagine this is a favorite for anyone who studies this war in particular. For my purposes, it may be a little much.

There is one big reason to read this book, and that's the fact that the story itself is impossibly remarkable. You read some books for their style and others for their content, and this one is squarely in the latter category. The writing is dry and a bit rambling, but the details of the tunnel-building and life in the tunnels is incredible. The Vietnamese who spent years underground and the American teenagers who came after them are both groups whose stories should be told.

That said, it seems to go beyond the ridiculous sometimes, sticking with the theme of high melodrama. The writing is heavy in intrigue and symbolism, laden with language contrasting the high-tech west with the rag-tag east. A literal underground railroad. Coke cans turned into hand grenades. "The knife, the pistol, and the flashlight were to be the basic tools of combat and survival inside the tunnels of Cu Chi. Indeed, the very reverse of high-tech weapons development took place within the tiny ranks of the tunnel rats." Admittedly, the contrast is hard to exaggerate, but sometimes I might as well have been reading about ewoks taking on Darth Vader and the Empire. ("The most precious currency below ground was the plastic or steel containers the Americans left as litter on the battlefield above us.") Napalm versus coconut mines and crossbows. There's a whole section devoted to the baby born in a tunnel. And a whole chapter about the bugs and vermin. "They rediscovered the satisfaction of old-fashioned unarmed combat, where individual strength, guts, and cunning counted for more than massive air and artillery support." It's an amazing story, and the treatment here is fairly balanced and decidedly thorough.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 19, 2011 – Finished Reading
February 7, 2011 – Shelved

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