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A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam Paperback – September 19, 1989

4.6 out of 5 stars 203 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This passionate, epic account of the Vietnam War centers on Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, whose story illuminates America's failures and disillusionment in Southeast Asia. Vann was a field adviser to the army when American involvement was just beginning. He quickly became appalled at the corruption of the South Vietnamese regime, their incompetence in fighting the Communists, and their brutal alienation of their own people. Finding his superiors too blinded by political lies to understand that the war was being thrown away, he secretly briefed reporters on what was really happening. One of those reporters was Neil Sheehan. This definitive expose on why America lost the war won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1989.

From Publishers Weekly

Killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam in 1972, controversial Lt. Col. John Paul Vann was perhaps the most outspoken army field adviser to criticize the way the war was being waged. Appalled by the South Vietnamese troops' unwillingness to fight and their random slaughter of civilians, he flouted his supervisors and leaked his sharply pessimistic (and, as it turned out, accurate) assessments to the U.S. press corps in Saigon. Among them was Sheehan, a reporter for UPI and later the New York Times (for whom he obtained the Pentagon Papers). Sixteen years in the making, writing and re search, this compelling 768-page biography is an extraordinary feat of reportage: an eloquent, disturbing portrait of a man who in many ways personified the U.S. war effort. Blunt, idealistic, patronizing to the Vietnamese, Vann firmly believed the U.S. could win; as Sheehan limns him, he was ultimately caught up in his own illusions. The author weaves into one unified chronicle an account of the Korean War (in which Vann also fought), the story of U.S. support for French colonialism, descriptions of military battles, a critique of our foreign policy and a history of this all-American boy's secret personal liehe was illegitimate, his mother a "white trash" prostitutethat led him to recklessly gamble away his career. 100,000 first printing; first serial to the New Yorker; BOMC main selection ; a uthor tour.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 896 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (September 19, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679724141
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679724148
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (203 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Neil Sheehan is the author of A Fiery Peace in a Cold War and A Bright Shining Lie, which won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1989. He spent three years in Vietnam as a war correspondent for United Press International and The New York Times and won numerous awards for his reporting. In 1971, he obtained the Pentagon Papers, which brought the Times the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for meritorious public service. Sheehan lives in Washington, D.C. He is married to the writer Susan Sheehan.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on March 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
Having served in Pleiku for two years (4/68-4/70)in the II Corps Interrogation Center as an MACV Team 21 advisor to the ARVN, I turned two days ago to the last third of the book that has been in my library, untouched for years, to read about Vann's time as II Corps Advisor after I had left Pleiku. This was all I planned to read. But once I started I could not put it down --going to sleep was difficult.
Mr Sheehan has performed a critical service by exposing how our system operated, and he has been justly recognized for it. I think Mr. Sheehan's readers can confirm what they probably already suspect: That all "great powers" operate like this -- from the beginning of time, and I'm sure to the end. The US was, tragically, no different than the English, Germans, French, Spanish, Medieval Popes, Chinese, Arabs, Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, you name them at their respective heights. The difference, which I believe Mr. Sheehan was telling us, is that in our relatively free and democratic system there is a greater likelihood that the truth will be communicated in an unvarnished manner, and acted upon, but this did not happen in Vietnam for the many and varied reasons so vividly explained by Mr. Sheehan. What is so incredibly amazing, and I think a tremendous strength in this book, is how close one man, John Paul Vann, got to making the truth crystal clear at a high enough level where it might have done some good at the crucial time just prior to the beginning of the US military buildup. Think about it -- a lowly Light Bird Colonel ready to give the briefing of his life at one of the highest policy levels, and it was stopped only hours before the dam could have been burst.
One area I was hoping Mr.
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"A Bright Shining Lie" is a masterfully written history of America in Vietnam. Written by Neil Sheehan, a former Southeast Asian correspondent for United Press International (UPI) and later "The New York Times," this book combines a biography of John Paul Vann, considered by some to be ". . . the one irreplaceable American in Vietnam," with a spellbinding narrative of the miscalculations, blunders, and self-deceptions which marked America's decade-plus involvement in Vietnam.

John Paul Vann's career in Vietnam spanned a decade, from its beginning in 1962 with Vann as U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and advisor to the South Vietnamese, to its end in 1972 with his death in a helicopter crash, Vann having become the civilian equivalent of a two-star general. During his decade in Vietnam, Vann was consistently frustrated and angry with the pusillanimous and corrupt performance of South Vietnamese forces and the frequent incompetence of American senior political and military leaders. He repeatedly urged his superiors, through normal channels and in the press, that the U.S. government could not defeat the Communist forces in South Vietnam with its military might alone. The war could only be won by the South Vietnamese with American assistance. That help, Vann recommended, should take the form of facilitating social change and providing military equipment and advice. By the time of his death, however, Vann's views had changed. After the near destruction of the Vietcong during the 1968 Tet offensive, he came to believe that America could indeed achieve a military victory in Vietnam.

Sheehan explores every aspect of Vann's life with the keen eye of the best biographers.
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2 Comments 133 of 140 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
"A Bright Shining Lie" is a brilliant, if flawed, masterpiece. Journalist Neil Sheehan first made a name for himself as a reporter in part thanks to the enigmatic American Hero, John Paul Vann. Vann's story is both fascinating and tragic. His military career was seemingly derailed by his attempts to tell the truth about the war during the advisor period (1962-64), but in fact it was his personal indiscretions that did him in. The book was the work of a lifetime for Sheehan (taking him many years to complete) and it shows. The only problem is that Vann's later career in Vietnam as a civilian advisor (1967-1972) gets the short shrift. Sheehan uses Vann's combat death in 1972 as a metaphor for American involvement in Vietnam. But in fact, by 1972 Vann truly believed that the South Vietnamese were winning the war and had they not been abandoned by their American allies, they might have. Nevertheless, this is a vital book for anyone who wants to understand America's lost war.
1 Comment 52 of 55 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
Sociologist C.Wright Mills once wrote that the key to meaningful social analysis was to understand the actions of an individual in the context of his or her social situation, to place the person in a historical context so as to better appreciate the aspects of the social environment that motivate the individual to act and react in a particular way. Thus, to understand the actions of a middle aged German Jew in the context of the 1930s, one must understand the nature of the Nazi society he lived his daily routine within. Here we can observe how brilliantly this principle can be used with journalist Neil Sheehan book, "A Bright Shining Lie", a book in which he not only tells the story of a single man, John Paul Vann, but also explains the history of American involvement in Vietnam. This is a marvelous tale of a modern tragedy, not only for Vann himself, but for the American people and of course, the poor Vietnamese, who had nowhere to run when the bombs started falling.

Vann began his involvement with Vietnam as an Army Lt. Colonel. Because of both some personal troubles and his outspoken criticism of the ineffective and unnecessarily cruel way in which the war was being conducted, he was in effect cashiered, and he returned briefly to civilian life back in the United States. Yet Vann couldn't help but be drawn back into this country he had fallen in love with while doing his initial military tour. He found the opportunity to return to Vietnam as a civilian supporting the American military mission, and threw himself into the opportunity with characteristic energy and enthusiasm.
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