Vietnam – An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975 by Max Hastings – Book Review

This book is a unique historical account of the Vietnam War written through the eyes of prominent British journalist Max Hastings.

Vietnam An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975
Max Hastings
Harper Collins 2018
Paperback 752pp RRP $34.99

Hastings served as a political correspondent for the Vietnam conflict from 1968 to 1974. In this largely primary account, gathered through personal experience, records and interviews, Hastings delivers a gripping and thorough analysis of some of the most controversial political decisions and events during the period. Throughout the book, Hastings effortlessly meanders his writing style from informative accounts to personal reflections. In this way, he works to grapple with the most pervading elements of the conflict’s political context, as well as showcase the consequences of these political moves on a variety of stakeholders from presidents, to soldiers, to Vietnamese villagers, and to the global public.

As a result of this style, the book is incredibly diverse in the subject matter it discusses. Where this book is strongest is in its pairing of the ‘on the ground’ conditions within Vietnam through interpersonal accounts and details, with the overarching diplomatic landscape and domestic fervour brewing in the States. He seems to seamlessly tie each together into a highly logical and easy to follow narrative, that also reaches some informed and well – supported conclusions regarding the prudency of some of the most prominent matters of statecraft.

This book’s propensity to read like a narrative makes it more – fit for those who intend to read out of their own personal interest and to acquire a well – informed perception of the war from a macro lens. It is not necessarily a first port of call for those who intend to research specific events within the conflict’s timeframe, as chapters are named in an imaginative but vague manner. The work also contains a variety of the war’s most famous images, alongside a few of what seem to be from his own collection from when he worked as a correspondent. Chapters detailing military operations are also aptly accompanied with maps, and an extensive glossary for military terms and organisation names. Overall it is an incredibly strong background history of the Vietnam War that could be considered a stalwart within the relevant literature.

Reviewed for RUSIV by Michael Hili, August 2019

Contact Royal United Services Institute about this article.

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