With the combined impact of robustly detailed writing and more than 500 staggering photographs, Ward and Burns thoroughly chronicle horrific combat and relentless bombing missions, the mass deployment of napalm and Agent Orange, the suffering and death of civilians, the resiliency of North Vietnamese forces, and the powerful antiwar movement. The eye-opening stories of key public figures, from Ho Chi Minh and Ngo Dinh Diem to Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, are matched by those of 'ordinary' people, including American and South and North Vietnamese soldiers and their families; an American doctor POW; a woman field nurse; a young, long-separated North Vietnamese couple; antiwar activists, including war veterans; and Vietnamese refugees. With reflections by prominent journalists and writers, including Philip Caputo and Viet Thanh Nguyen, this is a vivid, affecting, definitive, and essential illustrated history.
To distinguish this book, Burns and Novick, in their introduction, proclaim their intention to do what few have done: recount the war from not just the American viewpoint but from that of the North and South Vietnamese too. This intention is laudable...In the end, though, apart from a few sections — including an oddly starry-eyed sketch of Ho Chi Minh — Ward pursues this goal of a multinational account in only a desultory, sporadic way ... Once again, the personal testimonies effectively capture the ground-level experience of the conflict. Memorable vignettes and arresting details abound...And yet to those who’ve read in the existing literature, many of these soldiers’ stories will sound awfully familiar ... Undercutting the narrative thrust further is the layout — sumptuous to behold but unfriendly to readers. The main text is laced through a gallimaufry of maps, photos, captions and sidebars, and rendered mostly in flat prose. The result is a coffee-table book aspiring to be a history book that reads like a textbook ... One highlight of the book is the five brief stand-alone essays that seek to examine a single question about the war in depth ... If The Vietnam War falls short as scholarly or even bedside reading, though, it remains a vivid and often captivating volume — and, construed literally as a companion to the television series, a valuable resource.
...[an] exceptionally engaging, if not wholly satisfying, companion book ... It’s unquestionably an appealing formula, and Ward’s companion book, a visually stunning tome weighing in at more than 600 pages, overflows with moving profiles of not just soldiers, sailors and airmen, but also doctors, nurses, prisoners, journalists, activists, mere bystanders and more ... These portraits are accompanied by a spectacular array of photographs likely to be the book’s most striking feature for many casual readers ... Ward is less successful when examining those leaders, who get little of the nuanced, sympathetic attention reserved for the book’s cast of lesser-known characters ... In places, this narrative is superb. Ward draws skillfully, for example, on recent studies by historians who have conducted pathbreaking research into the Vietnamese side of the war...Still, Ward’s account of decision-making offers little that is entirely new and fails to probe many of the fascinating controversies driving inquiry into the war these days, a missed opportunity to add something of value beyond the television program.