Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried (original 1990; edition 1990)

by Tim O'Brien

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8,725250348 (4.2)518
Title:The Things They Carried
Authors:Tim O'Brien
Collections:Your library
Tags:Vietnam war, truth, stories, PTSD

Work details

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (1990)

  1. 70
    All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (chrisharpe)
  2. 10
    Beaufort by Ron Leshem (SqueakyChu)
  3. 10
    Chickenhawk by Robert Mason (chrisharpe)
  4. 21
    The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh (ateolf, chrisharpe)
    chrisharpe: A similar novel, just as powerful - from the North Vietnamese perspective...
  5. 00
    A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo (mcenroeucsb)
  6. 00
    The Five O'Clock Follies: What's a Woman Doing Here, Anyway? by Theasa Tuohy (Preatarius)
  7. 00
    What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes (TooBusyReading)
  8. 00
    Adjusting Sights by Haim Sabato (SqueakyChu)
  9. 11
    The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer (ateolf)
  10. 00
    Loon by Jack McLean (SqueakyChu)
  11. 22
    Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (andyg227, chrisharpe)
    andyg227: An incredible journey of soldiers fighting and dying in the Vietnam War.
  12. 28
    The Iliad by Homer (jrgoetziii)
    jrgoetziii: Because The Iliad is a classic war story and The Things They Carried is not, but took a number of passages almost directly from The Iliad (one of these is the catalog in the first book, but there are many others, too). The Iliad covers significantly more range and depth, and its themes are timeless.… (more)

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 518 mentions

English (248)  Spanish (2)  All languages (250)
Showing 1-5 of 248 (next | show all)
[The Things They Carried] is composed of a series of linked stories set during the Vietnam War. The extent to which these reflect the author’s actual experiences in Vietnam remains unclear to me. But what is clear is that the book is both a statement on the Vietnam War and an exploration of the purposes and nature of storytelling. The stories are narrated in the first person by O’Brien’s fictional self, who like the author, is a Vietnam veteran and seemingly shares the same writing career. The timeline jumps back and forth, playing with issues of time and memory.

While ostensibly a war novel, the enemy and events of battle barely make an appearance. In an interview published online by the New York Times, O’Brien states that this is consistent with his own war service, where he encountered the enemy alive only once, seeing mostly “…flashes from the foliage and the results, the bodies.” The stories focus mainly on the relationships and emotions of the narrator and fellow members of Alpha Company, to whom O’Brien dedicates the book. I never felt certain whether they were based on actual persons or merely representative of the many servicemen who fought in the war. This was especially the case with Norman Bowker, who wrote a letter encouraging O’Brien (or the narrator?) to write his story, before committing suicide.

Events are described in an understated manner, unexpected given the context of war, but consistent with a sense of being viewed through the haze of time. Having “come of age” during the Vietnam era, I was conscious of the author’s words being enhanced by my own imaginings of what the war experience was like. The horror of Curt Lemon’s body parts blown into the trees after stepping on a booby-trapped round while playing catch. Kiowa drowning in a field of shit where the company has unknowingly set up night camp. The mystery of Mary Anne, a visiting girlfriend who becomes addicted to the “…unnamed terror and unnamed pleasure…”of war. The narrator’s killing of a Vietnamese man, later revealed as not having happened, but present in his assertion to his fictional daughter that it is true both that he had killed and not killed in the war.

O’Brien creates and plays with a sense of ambiguity, stating that things are true, and then asserting that “Almost everything … is invented.” He inserts comments on issues of storytelling and truth throughout the narrative, sometimes devoting entire chapters to this discussion.

“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”

“By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain.”

“I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.”

“We kept the dead alive with stories.”

“In Vietnam there was a general aimlessness, not just in the physical sense, but beyond that in the moral and ethical sense.'' O’Brien’s use of the word “aimlessness” in this interview quote summed up for me the atmosphere of the War that he portrays – subdued yet insidious. Some of the stories felt as if with a few changes to the details, they could have been set in more ordinary places and circumstances, as universal characterizations of human nature and relationships. For me, this work did not hit hard as a war novel, but was extremely interesting as a fictional substitute for what otherwise might have taken the form of memoir. What I found most intriguing was the way in which O’Brien used his memories to portray how it felt for him to serve in the Vietnam War, while leaving the reader to contemplate the relationships between memoir and story, truth and fiction.
  Linda92007 | Feb 6, 2016 |
I read it at Mt. Hood College Vietnam War Lit and loved it. That was a long time ago, I wonder how I'd feel about it now. ( )
  thukpa | Feb 6, 2016 |
I read it at Mt. Hood College Vietnam War Lit and loved it. That was a long time ago, I wonder how I'd feel about it now. ( )
  thukpa | Feb 6, 2016 |
I read it at Mt. Hood College Vietnam War Lit and loved it. That was a long time ago, I wonder how I'd feel about it now. ( )
  thukpa | Feb 5, 2016 |
I wasn't expecting the short story format, so repetition was a bit surprising at first. Thoughtful story of a young man's war time experience. I appreciated the references to Worthington, MN. ( )
  deldevries | Jan 31, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 248 (next | show all)
"Many people think this is the best work of fiction ever written about Vietnam. Some even think it is the best work of fiction ever written about war. Both are right, and they were right 20 years ago when this book came out for the first time."
"As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on, O’Brien’s powerful depictions are as real today as ever."
"...he not only crystallizes the Vietnam experience for us, he exposes the nature of all war stories."

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tim O'Brienprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cranston, BryanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
This book is essentially different from any other that has been published concerning the 'late war' or any of its incidents. Those who have had any such experience as the author will see its truthfulness at once, and to all other readers it is commended as a statement of actual things by one who experienced them to the fullest.
-- John Ransom's Andersonville Diary
This book is lovingly dedicated to the men of Alpha Company, and in particular to Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa.
First words
First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They werre not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack.
It was my view then, and still is, that you don't make war without knowing why.

I was a coward. I went to the war.
Garden of Evil. Over here, man, every sin's real fresh and original.
"Well, right now," she said, "I'm not dead. But when I am, it's like . . . I don't know, I guess it's like being inside a book that nobody's reading."
I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth. Here is the happening-truth. I was once a soldier. There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and I was afraid to look. And now, twenty years later, I'm left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief.

Here is the story-truth. He was a slim, dead, almost dainty young man of about twenty. He lay in the center of a red clay trail near the village of My Khe. His jaw was in his throat. His one eye was shut, the other eye was a star-shaped hole. I killed him.

What stories can do, I guess, is make things present.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0767902890, Paperback)

"They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing--these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice.... Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to."

A finalist for both the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Things They Carried marks a subtle but definitive line of demarcation between Tim O'Brien's earlier works about Vietnam, the memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone and the fictional Going After Cacciato, and this sly, almost hallucinatory book that is neither memoir nor novel nor collection of short stories but rather an artful combination of all three. Vietnam is still O'Brien's theme, but in this book he seems less interested in the war itself than in the myriad different perspectives from which he depicts it. Whereas Going After Cacciato played with reality, The Things They Carried plays with truth. The narrator of most of these stories is "Tim"; yet O'Brien freely admits that many of the events he chronicles in this collection never really happened. He never killed a man as "Tim" does in "The Man I Killed," and unlike Tim in "Ambush," he has no daughter named Kathleen. But just because a thing never happened doesn't make it any less true. In "On the Rainy River," the character Tim O'Brien responds to his draft notice by driving north, to the Canadian border where he spends six days in a deserted lodge in the company of an old man named Elroy while he wrestles with the choice between dodging the draft or going to war. The real Tim O'Brien never drove north, never found himself in a fishing boat 20 yards off the Canadian shore with a decision to make. The real Tim O'Brien quietly boarded the bus to Sioux Falls and was inducted into the United States Army. But the truth of "On the Rainy River" lies not in facts but in the genuineness of the experience it depicts: both Tims went to a war they didn't believe in; both considered themselves cowards for doing so. Every story in The Things They Carried speaks another truth that Tim O'Brien learned in Vietnam; it is this blurred line between truth and reality, fact and fiction, that makes his book unforgettable. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:48 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

This depicts the men of Alpha Company. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 10 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
5 avail.
340 wanted
6 pay10 pay

Popular covers


Average: (4.2)
0.5 4
1 25
1.5 4
2 72
2.5 21
3 279
3.5 81
4 729
4.5 150
5 976


2 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

See editions

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Store | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 103,084,902 books! | Top bar: Always visible