‘The Vietnam War’ may be the best book written on any war since the ‘Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’

Reviewed by Dennis Ray

Historian Geoffry C. Ward and filmmaker Ken Burns have put together a compelling and informative book with “The Vietnam War,” which is also a 10-part, 18-hour documentary television series on PBS beginning in September 2017.

Although I haven’t seen the film but have looked over the actual hardcover book filled with hundreds if not thousands of photos, listening to this audio-book became a stunning if not an all captivating experience.

The audiobook uses the fact that it is in audio format to its fullest potential by using actual interviews allowing the listener to hear the real voices of the interviewees, a kind of mesh between the series and book.

Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (2014), The Central Park Five (2012), reads the audiobook and does a near flawless reading that engages the reader through an authoritative resonance. Burns may not have the voice to read something like Shakespeare or even a book by whomever, but his voice and speaking mannerism is spot on for this project.

In the early days of books on cassette, (when most recorded books were abridged almost to the point that comprehension wasn’t possible, let alone even wanted) the idea was as long as you got some person, any person for that matter, reading, and they spoke the words correctly, it was good enough. Today it is understood, just as it is understood Tom Cruise isn’t perfectly cast in any role, the same goes for those who read for audiobooks.

Like a character in a movie requires a certain actor the same applies to reading. It’s not just reading. After listening to this book, I could not imagine a better voice than Burns for this interpretation.

The book The Vietnam War starts off in 1858 giving a history to why the conflicts began leading to the US involvement in May of 1961 with Kennedy sending 400 US Army Special Forces personnel to South Vietnam to train South Vietnamese soldiers. It then continues through April 30, 1975 with the fall of Saigon (now Ho Chin Minh City).

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany was called “one of the most important works of history of our time” (The New York Times). That quote can easily apply to Ward and Burn’s War. Just as Reich isn’t only about Hitler’s rise to power and the collapse of it in 1945, The Vietnam War covers more than the US involvement and departure. It, like Reich, is as much about why as it is about when and how explaining the events as they spiraled from dozens of different directions toward one pinnacle point in history only to reverberate outwards again. Ward and Burn show us the perspective from all sides. This isn’t a propaganda book. Nor is it an apology. It’s a book historians will read and reference centuries from now.

Ken Burns | Author
Ken Burns, the producer, and director of numerous film series, including The War, founded his own documentary film company, Florentine Films, in 1976. Burns’s films have been honored with dozens of major awards, including 13 Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and two Oscar nominations; and in September 2008, at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, Burns was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award. His landmark film The Civil War was the highest-rated series in the history of American public television. He lives in Walpole, New Hampshire.


The Vietnam War

By: Geoffrey C. Ward & Ken Burns
Narrator: Ken Burns
Imprint: Random House Audio
Genre: History – Military – United States
Release Date: September 05, 2017
31 Hours and 15 Minutes