Customer Reviews


102 Reviews
5 star:
 (83)
4 star:
 (9)
3 star:
 (6)
2 star:
 (2)
1 star:
 (2)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


77 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Commonality of the Combat Soldier
As a Vietnam combat veteran, I was imbued with the belief that my war was "special," a unique experience in the world's military history. In reading Dr. Shay's book, I had to re-think that thesis and am now struck with the obvious conclusion that all combat, be it with Alexander the Great or Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf, inflicts psychological damage that can...
Published on December 30, 1998 by Steve Banko, Duffysboss@aol.com

versus
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An engaging book, but a little dated
As part of a personal project, I sat down to read four books about PTSD. I was told Achilles in Vietnam was a classic, and I did see it referenced in some other books about PTSD. There is something important here. The author's central idea is that a soldier must live by a certain code of what is right, if that code is violated it leads to a breakdown of belief, which...
Published on July 30, 2012 by Marine Reader


‹ Previous | 1 211 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

77 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Commonality of the Combat Soldier, December 30, 1998
This review is from: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (Paperback)
As a Vietnam combat veteran, I was imbued with the belief that my war was "special," a unique experience in the world's military history. In reading Dr. Shay's book, I had to re-think that thesis and am now struck with the obvious conclusion that all combat, be it with Alexander the Great or Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf, inflicts psychological damage that can last a lifetime. Only geography changes.
Realizing that and reading the vast parallels between The Iliad and Vietnam PTSD symptomology, I was able to understand my own emotional scars and through that self-realization, truly begin to heal those scars. I referred my therapist to the book and she told me it offered her more insight into the cause and treatment of PTSD among Vietnam veterans than any of the seminars or textbooks she'd ever encountered. This is a must read for Vietnam vets and those who care about them.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We are not alone., June 26, 2005
This review is from: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (Paperback)
As a Marine recently returned from his second combat tour in Iraq, I have found this book to be immensely helpful in understanding the changes that have taken place in my life as a result of traumatic experience. While the vietnam war may be 30 years gone, the lessons of those who have experienced war first hand are as timeless and relevant today as they ever were.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Odysseus cried..., July 16, 2004
By 
Douglas Todd "Poet" (Warm Springs, AR United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (Paperback)
In "Healing and Tragedy" (Chapter 11) Shay says that "Healing is done by survivors, not to survivors" and he is right. He also speaks of the healing power of narrative and says, "The ancient Greeks revered Homer, the singer of tales, as a doctor of the soul. In the Odyssey, Homer paints a (self-)portrait of the epic singer whose healing art is to tell the stories of Troy with the truth that causes the old soldier, Odysseus, to weep and weep again. (Odyssey 8:78ff)"
Something like that seems to happen to Combat Veterans when they read this book. Shay is neither the bard telling the story nor the warrior who lived it, but he takes the stories of those who were there and presents them in such a way that, reading them, "the old soldier weeps and weeps again...".
The truth is here. Another reviewer has viewed some of the stories with a measure of skepticism -- and there are some "red flags" in some of the stories -- but that is the nature of "War Stories" and those who know what "the facts on the ground" were can see therough all that to the essential truth that Shay so eloquently presents.
I bought this book because it was recommended to me by readers of my own book, "Aftermath: A Song For Tyrone..." and I am glad I did! I wish I had read it years ago!
If you are a Veteran -- or if there is a veteran who means a lot to you -- or if you just want to understand more about war and what it does to the soldier and to those who love him and to society in general -- buy this book! Buy it -- read it -- give it as a gift!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I realize that, after 33 years, I am not alone in my thought, April 21, 1999
This review is from: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (Paperback)
My emergence from the hidden life that I have inside my mind, and the recent diagnosis of Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, has, after 33 years of isolation, allowed me to understand all the Dr. Shay has written about. I also realize that my feelings and emotions are no different than other veterans and warriors, no matter what war, has felt upon his return. A search for my lost identity, trying to find a place in this world, and to be able to function within that place, is my goal thru the therapy that I am receiving now. Dr. Shay succinctly captures the emotions and perceptions that I have lived with for many years since my return from NAM. Also, I realize now that I am not alone with the losses of relationships, jobs, friends, and the seeking of isolation that I sought.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of "Achiiles in Vietnam", March 28, 2007
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (Paperback)
One of the books I had been planning to read for several months is Dr. Jonathan Shay's groundbreaking work: "Achilles in Vietnam - Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character." I am glad that I finally found the time to acquaint myself with its message. The book is remarkable for several reasons. On its surface, it is one of the most comprehensive examinations of the phenomenon of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among Vietnam veterans. Beneath the surface level, it is a brilliant exposition of the experience of Vietnam veterans in comparison with - and in contrast to - the warriors whose battlefield experiences in Troy are described in Homer's Iliad. To look at the tragedy of what our Vietnam veterans have experienced in returning home from that war through the lens of Homer's epic adds a poignancy and depth that is utterly without peer in my knowledge of PTSD literature.

My reading of this book is both timely and relevant, in light of the ongoing investigation of current conditions and practices of treating veterans returning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also timely in that the televised coverage of the conflict in Mesopotamia has ripped open scabs and exposed unhealed emotional and psychological wounds in a large number of Baby Booker generation Vietnam veterans. They are returnign to VA hospitals and clinics in droves.

"Such unhealed PTSD can devastate life and incapacitate its victims from participation in the domestic, economic and political life of the nation. The painful paradox is that fighting for one's country can render one unfit to be its citizen." (Page xx)

Dr. Shay does a masterful job of using his own deep clinical experience of treating veterans at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Boston to lay out a clear and disturbing picture of how the way in which the Vietnam War was waged led to a staggeringly high percentage of returning veterans who are plagued with PTSD. I have enormous respect for the work he has done, for work as an author in sharing his understanding with the wider community. One caveat I must mention is that Dr. Shay clearly has a strong animus against traditional monotheistic religion in general - and the Judeo-Christian tradition in particular. He lays at the feet of organized religion much of the blame for the dire straits that our Vietnam veterans still find themselves. I do not necessarily agree with the conclusions that his philosophical position has led him to make, but with that exception, he lays out lucid and cogent explanations, diagnoses and prescriptions for addressing the troubling issue of persistent PTSD among Vietnam veterans.

An overarching principle that permeates the book is Shay's belief that healing from PTSD can only begin to happen when veterans are empowered to tell the narrative of what they saw and experienced in Vietnam, and that narrative must be communalized among other veterans and then more widely among family, friends and the broader community. For most Vietnam veterans, the conditions have not always existed to foster and to enable such difficult and painful communication. A veteran shares his frustrations in trying to tell others about his Vietnam experiences:

"I had just come back [from Vietnam] and my first wife's parents gave a dinner for me and my parents and her brothers and their wives. And after dinner we were all sitting in the living room and her father said: `So, tell us what it was like.' And I started to tell them, and I told them. And do you know within five minutes the room was empty. They were all gone, except my wife. After that I didn't tell anybody I had been in Vietnam." (Page xxii)

Dr. Shay ends his introduction with a clarion call to his readers to take an active role in the healing that is long overdue and the prevention of future hurt:

"To all readers I say: Learn the psychological damage that war does. There is no contradiction between hating war and honoring the soldier. Learn how war damages the mind and spirit, and work to change those things in military institutions and culture that needlessly create or worsen these injuries. We don't have to go on repeating the same mistakes. Just as the flak jacket has prevented many physical injuries, we can prevent many psychological injuries." (Page xxiii)

A motif that runs throughout this book is the strong belief that everything about the way in which the Vietnam War was fought - by the enemy and by American leaders and policy-makers - violated fundamental assumption of what is right and wrong in the world. This violation of basic assumptions is seen, by Shay and others, as the root cause for many of the psychological problems that attend those who returned from Vietnam as different men than the innocents who had first landed in Southeast Asia.

"The moral dependence of the modern soldier on the military organization for everything he needs to survive is as great as that of a small child on his or her parents. One Vietnam combat veteran said: `The U.S. Army [in Vietnam] was like a mother who sold out her kids to be raped by [their] father to protect her own interests.'" (Page 5)

"When a leader destroys the legitimacy of the army's moral order by betraying `what's right,' he inflicts manifold injuries on his men. The Iliad is a story of these immediate and devastating consequences. Vietnam has forced us to see that these consequences go beyond the war's `loss upon bitter loss . . . leaving so many dead men' to taint the lives of those who survive it." (Page 6)

"Veterans can usually recover from horror, fear and grief once they return to civilian life, as long as `what's right' has not also been violated." (Page 20)

In the chapter entitled "Grief at the Death of a Special Comrade," Dr. Shay lays out his premise about the need for communalization of grief:

"Any blow in life will have longer-lasting and more serious consequences if there is no opportunity to communalize it. This means some mix of formal social ceremony and informal telling of the story with feeling to socially connected others who do not let the survivor go through it alone. The virtual suppression of social griefwork in Vietnam contrasts vividly with the powerful expressions of communal mourning recorded in Homeric epic. I believe that numerous military, cultural, institutional, and historical factors conspired to thwart the griefwork of Vietnam combat veterans, and I believe that this matters. The emerge of rage out of intense grief may be a human universal; long-term obstruction of grief and failure to communalize grief can imprison a person in endless swinging between rage and emotional deadness as a permanent way of being in the world." (Pages 39-40)

The author shares several vivid descriptions of those combat veterans who have devolved to a berserk state. He also points out, in contradistinction to the "berserkers," the value of those who experience the horrors of war and yet somehow resist the pressure to become subhuman in their response:

"Gentle people who somehow survive the brutality of war are highly prized in a combat unit. They have the aura of priests, even though many of them were highly efficient killers." (Page 44)

This arresting description of "gentle warriors" makes me think of many friends I know - Renaissance Men who are also patriotic soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines - who have returned from their deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. To be sure, they have returned changed - in terms of their frame of reference and the vast library of memories and experiences they amassed in war. But they have remained essentially unchanged in terms of basic character and temperament. As Shay has indicated in this book, they tend to be individuals who have strong networks of support that they have used as platforms for telling the narrative of their combat experiences. Many began that narrative process even before returning home - through e-mails, Blogs and published articles and books.

In the chapter, "What Homer Left Out," Dr. Shay offers a very helpful and concise summary of the four kinds of traumatic war experiences that lead to PTSD:

"These four clusters are exposure to combat, exposure to abusive violence, deprivation, and loss of meaning and control. The four clusters are all aspects of war trauma, and PTSD symptoms are the lasting results for the veteran after the war." (Page 123)

This is a book that will add value and insight to any individual who is committed to helping veterans - from the Vietnam era and the most recent wars in the Gulf - to find healing and wholeness after experiencing the devastations of war. Those of us, as civilians, who feel we are unqualified to participate in the communal healing that is sorely needed, will find comfort and challenges in the truths that Dr. Shay presents in this seminal work. If we, as a society, fail to respond - pro-actively and with compassion - to the chronic challenge of PTSD and those who suffer from it - it will remain our "Achilles' heel."

Al
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I thought I had cried enough., January 4, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (Paperback)
When I read this book I thought I was alone watching my husband die inside every day. By the tenth page of this book, I could not read through the tears. Part relief knowing that I was not alone and saddness knowing far too well that there were too many like my husband and my family. I have read a great deal about the illness but nothing like what Jonathan Shay had put into words. His dedication to our veterans and the obvious love he has for them is rare. *(He is a great writer too)
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Achilles In Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Charac, March 14, 2002
I have always understood that being a combat veteran joins one up with all the warriors of the past. Somehow the U.S. Government, MacNamara, WW II vets, and many others forgot that about returning Vietnam vets. We were ostracized on all sides by youth and older men who "won their war." I found all this amusing for many a year. Luckily for me, I flew with the 175th Outlaws in the Delta, which had to be the most affectionate unit in the war. From the start of my tour in 1966-67 at Vinh Long, I knew I had a good deal, and so did all the men who ever served in this aviation company. Sometimes,over the years thereafter, we almost doubted our sense of personal history because of the suffering of so many other vets. "Vietnam was the best year of my life," so say many an Outlaw helicopter pilot and crew member. It is from this high point of contrast that I have had to evaluate many a war novel, or historical piece, or psychological treatise as the aftermath of the Vietnam war has gone on.
We lucked out.
I have contributed to a Vietnam PTSD control group out of the Manchester, NH VA office and know full well how this affliction has puzzled the top-most shrinks in the country. Here in the New England area of greater Boston, we at least had the best in the business--examining our heads and trying to come up with some answers of how Vietnam vets bore this distress more than any other group's individuals. I think I learned a lot donating myself as a "guinea pig" for all the developing ideas and research on assisting troubled minds from this experience.
It was this in mind, that I read this book by Shay. It was given to me in friendship by those kind to vets, who hope to be of some help in some way. I liked the book, and think it will be remain valuable for some time. Most of the things he recommends for veterans returning from the war I had already realized staying in touch with my fellow Outlaws over the years. We are special indeed..... I am glad to have finally written my book about flying those beautiful Hueys in Vietnam.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars groundbreaking analysis of war, psychology, and literature, March 31, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (Paperback)
This is a rare sort of work that provides entirely new insight to subjects that have been discussed to death. It shows that the Viet Nam combat experience was not new, was not strange, but was in reality very much like what soldiers have experienced in all wars, minus the patriotic sugarcoating and macho posturing. The book is a plea for society not simply to understand the horrors experienced by soldiers in the past but to make real efforts to prevent soldiers in future wars from experiencing severe psychological injury.
Frankly, the book is pretty depressing and and I don't see much hope for Dr. Shay's goal. The military is isolated from society at large as never before and even from its own leadership. The current conduct of the war in Afghanistan is not encouraging. The brass obviously wants to cover up mistakes and neither the press nor the general public has enough knowledge of military affairs to question them. The press, if they are the tough questioners of the government they claim to be, need to take an activist approach to this. They must educate themselves in military affairs. Colleges must offer classes in military affairs because the elite students who will go on to hold influential positions in government and the media are not going to be serving in the military.
Still, Dr. Shay has made a brave effort to expose things normally kept hidden and propose new ways of doing things. If you are concerned about the American military's role in the world, you should read this book. If you have a real interest in military affairs ans history, as opposed to just enjoying the romantic, warm and fuzzy stories of heroes, read it. If you have ever read "The Iliad", read it, it will illuminate that book like nothing else possibly could. If you suffer from PTSD and are not well through a treatment program, don't read it, because it may be too disturbing.
I'm the farthest thing from a bleeding heart, and I believe aggressive military action is required when our nation or our values are at stake. But I won't whitewash the cost either. As Dr. Shay says, a world without war would be the best world, but as long as we send soldiers to fight for us, we have an obligation to see they don't suffer any more than necessary.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book works very well on two levels., October 24, 2002
By A Customer
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (Paperback)
....

First, .... Many of my friends went to Vietnam. Of those whose names didn't end up on the wall, many returned but were never the same. This book explained to me what happened to them, and and why. I have always sensed their pain, but the explanation was simply beyond them to express, and beyond me to understand.

Second, as a survivor of traumatic stress in an entirely different environment, this book was spooky in the number of parallels I discovered between Shay's recounting of veterans' experience, and my experiences growing up in a religious cult. Shay's contention is that violation of "what's right" by those in positions of authority makes the effects of taumatic stress much worse, whether it be loss of abilitiy to trust, generalized alienation, "authority issues" resulting in an inability to stay employed, hyperalertness, or many other patterns of behavior. My own experience tends to bear Shay's contention out in some remarkable ways. ...

I also took great courage from the last chapter where Shay discusses prospects for recovery. One is never the same after traumatic stress, so going back is simply not possible; some survivors recover more than others for unknown reasons; and some survivors learn to live lives full of meaning and value to themselves and their associates. This was realistic good news indeed to one who has stared the black hole full in the face.

I found the book to be full of compassion and understanding. Shay has done a great service for all traumatic stress survivors.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Original and profound, February 15, 2009
By 
T. Graczewski "tgraczewski" (Burlingame, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (Paperback)
Few individuals could have written this book. Author Jonathan Shay is a clinical psychiatrist with a specialty in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who, as it happens, maintains a passion for the classics, the great Greek historian Homer in particular. This uncommon mix of professional knowledge of traumatized Vietnam veterans along with a close understanding of the Illiad led to "Achilles in Vietnam" - one of the most powerful and compelling reassessments ever of Homer and his work.

Succinctly put, Shay argues that the Illiad is a genuine analysis and interpretation of the timeless effects of close order combat on the human psyche and resulting bestial behavior. His insights occurred when he began working with Vietnam vets suffering from PTSD. Shay noticed striking parallels between what the vets told him about their experiences and the story of Achilles as told by Homer.

Horrific acts by otherwise honorable men begins with a "betrayal of what's right." Shay uses the Greek term themis, which encompasses a culture's understanding of right and wrong, ethics, and social values. Shay argues that themis for the ancient armies centered on honor and avoidance of social shame; for the contemporary American soldiers it is "fairness." For Achilles it was Agamemnon's taking of his war-prize, the beautiful Briseis; for the Vietnam vet it was likely "unfairness" as represented by certain units or individuals being made to do dangerous or unpleasant work. One might imagine that today's Iraq and Afghanistan vets are triggered by the unfairness of stop-gap measures and repeated tours down range. The response to the betrayal of themis, Shay argues, is menis, or indignant rage.

Once themis has been betrayed the social horizon of the individual shrinks to a small group, or in the case of Achilles, to a single individual, Patroklos. Ultimately, Shay argues, an "us against them" mentality develops where supreme loyalty is owed to the group and little, if any, compassion is shown to outsiders. In the case of Achilles, he went from loving and caring for the entire Greek army to just Patroklos. He noticed the same pattern in Vietnam vets, who went from holding deep pride in their country and armed service to just their platoon.

The next critical stage of descent is the death of a close comrade, which leads to grief and warrior's rage. In the Illiad, the death of Patroklos fundamentally changes Achilles' character; whereas once he respected enemy dead and preferred taking prisoners, he emerges from the death of his mate hardened and embittered, defiling the corpses of the enemy and showing no mercy on the captured.

Finally, the gods in the Illiad are equated to the unseen but all powerful policymakers back in Washington (or more colloquially REMFs - rear-area-mother-f#ckers). Both the gods and American REMFs have life-and-death power over the troops, but they are self-absorbed, capricious and petty. In the Illiad the war is nearly settled by a personal duel between Paris and Menelaos, but the gods intervene to sabotage the truce and impending peace because Hera, Zeus' wife, and Athena, his daughter, hate Troy. Although Zeus is sympathetic to Troy he agrees to have it destroyed on the condition that he can raze a city of his choosing at a future date without Hera's interference. All the while, the gods (and the REMFs) believe that they have compassion for the soldiers and cities, even though their actions do not reflect that.

It is rare to find a book so concise, convincing and revolutionary. In that sense, it is unlike anything else I have ever read. If you are at all interested in the history of war, the trauma of combat or the interpretation of Homer, this book could not be more highly or enthusiastically recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 211 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character
Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character by Jonathan Shay (Paperback - October 1, 1995)
$16.00 $13.87
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.