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A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (1988)

by Neil Sheehan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,994277,072 (4.22)63
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time In this magisterial book, a monument of history and biography that was awarded the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, renowned journalist Neil Sheehan tells the story of Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann-"the one irreplaceable American in Vietnam"-and of the tragedy that destroyed that country and the lives of so many Americans. Outspoken and fearless, John Paul Vann arrived in Vietnam in 1962, full of confidence in America's might and right to prevail. "A Bright Shining Lie" reveals the truth about the war in Vietnam as it unfolded before Vann's eyes: the arrogance and professional corruption of the U.S. military system of the 1960s, the incompetence and venality of the South Vietnamese army, the nightmare of death and destruction that began with the arrival of the American forces. Witnessing the arrogance and self-deception firsthand, Vann put his life and career on the line in an attempt to convince his superiors that the war should be fought another way. But by the time he died in 1972, Vann had embraced the follies he once decried. He went to his grave believing that the war had been won. A haunting and critically acclaimed masterpiece, "A Bright Shining Lie" is a timeless account of the American experience in Vietnam-a work that is epic in scope, piercing in detail, and told with the keen understanding of a journalist who was actually there.Neil Sheehan' s classic serves as a stunning revelation for all who thought they understood the war. "From the Hardcover edition."… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Incredibly informative book about the Vietnam War, told in part through the experiences of Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, an early military advisor and advocate for a change in what ultimately proved to be a losing and costly war strategy. Neil Sheehan, a New York Times war correspondent, provides insights into the thoughts and policies of American and Vietnamese political and military leaders, and why the war failed to accomplish its intended outcome. It's NOT a bash-America book, and is respectful of the individual serviceman. There seems to be an eerie parallel to the political and military leadership of the initial phase of the Vietnam war and the leadership during the initial phases of the 2003 Iraq invasion. It'd be nice to think that the lessons of the book would be absorbed by our own political and military leaders of today. ( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
I read this a long time ago. A found it to be very depressing BUT interesting history on how we ever got involved in that Cluster F**k (my opinion) to begin with and the machinations that kept us involved. ( )
  feralcatbob | Dec 22, 2020 |
This is a supremely important book about the Vietnam war and the US. It is, however, huge, a little too huge. There are tangents in here that simply leave one wondering, did no one think to clean this up a little. That said, though, I made it thru and it is a devastating indictment about a country with too much power and money and near unlimited destructive capability.

And, yet, all that power is limited. Politics limited by the military, the military limited by the politicians, one country limited by the politics and capabilities of the other. All resulting in a despicable history of the actions of the US.

This book is a must read, along with H. R. McMaster's book on Vietnam, "Dereliction of Duty." ( )
  tmph | Sep 13, 2020 |
Still a great book, but reading now reveals a fair amount of misogyny, as women are described as "still pretty enough to attract a man," etc., barf. ( )
  MaximusStripus | Jul 7, 2020 |
In some ways, Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie is the best of the Big Three works on the war from the American viewpoint, the other two being Stanley Karnow's history of Vietnam and David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest. Like the other two, Sheehan was there. And as a result, his description of the corruption, incompetence, and egotistical vanity of the South Vietnamese and the Americans rings all too true. His detailed description of how the war moved from a a handful of American advisors to a cataclysm involving over half a million American servicemen is invaluable.

Sheehan's particular hook in this book was to center the history around the biography of maverick American Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, whose early criticisms of the conduct of the war influenced Sheehan, Halberstam, and Karnow. As a biography, the work does a good sell. Vann was a rapist, child abuser, serial adulterer, wife abuser, liar, and victim of an horrific childhood. Sheehan never moralizes or excuses, he simply describes. And whatever it was that made Vann who he was, it also made him uniquely suited to the war in Vietnam. As Sheehan makes clear, Vann couldn't imagine life outside the war.

A couple of problems, in my view. Sheehan is far to eager to picture the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong as completely clear headed and superior in their strategy and tactics. They were not. They were just as capable of fooling themselves and misreading the populace as were the Americans. Tet showed that. I think Sheehan gives North Vietnam and the NLF in the south unearned praise for their concept of honorable mission and purity of purpose. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sheehan, NeilAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Beneich, DenisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carlotti, GiancarloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mehl, RolandTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph

We had also, to all the visitors who came over their,
been one of the bright shining lies.

—John Paul Vann
to a U.S. Army historian,
July 1963
Dedication

Once Again and Always for Susan
A First Time for Maria and Catherine
And for my Mother and Kitty
First words
It was a funeral to which they all came. They gathered in the red brick chapel beside the cemetery gate.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time In this magisterial book, a monument of history and biography that was awarded the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, renowned journalist Neil Sheehan tells the story of Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann-"the one irreplaceable American in Vietnam"-and of the tragedy that destroyed that country and the lives of so many Americans. Outspoken and fearless, John Paul Vann arrived in Vietnam in 1962, full of confidence in America's might and right to prevail. "A Bright Shining Lie" reveals the truth about the war in Vietnam as it unfolded before Vann's eyes: the arrogance and professional corruption of the U.S. military system of the 1960s, the incompetence and venality of the South Vietnamese army, the nightmare of death and destruction that began with the arrival of the American forces. Witnessing the arrogance and self-deception firsthand, Vann put his life and career on the line in an attempt to convince his superiors that the war should be fought another way. But by the time he died in 1972, Vann had embraced the follies he once decried. He went to his grave believing that the war had been won. A haunting and critically acclaimed masterpiece, "A Bright Shining Lie" is a timeless account of the American experience in Vietnam-a work that is epic in scope, piercing in detail, and told with the keen understanding of a journalist who was actually there.Neil Sheehan' s classic serves as a stunning revelation for all who thought they understood the war. "From the Hardcover edition."

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