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Dispatches Paperback – August 6, 1991

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Editorial Reviews Review

Michael Herr, who wrote about the Vietnam War for Esquire magazine, gathered his years of notes from his front-line reporting and turned them into what many people consider the best account of the war to date, when published in 1977. He captured the feel of the war and how it differed from any theater of combat ever fought, as well as the flavor of the time and the essence of the people who were there. Since Dispatches was published, other excellent books have appeared on the war--may we suggest The Things They Carried, The Sorrow of War, We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young--but Herr's book was the first to hit the target head-on and remains a classic.

From Publishers Weekly

American correspondent Herr's documentary recalls the heavy combat he witnessed in Vietnam as well as the obscene speech, private fears and nightmares of the soldiers. "Herr captures the almost hallucinatory madness of the war," said PW. "This is a compelling, truth-telling book with a visceral impact, its images stuck in the mind like shards from a pineapple bomb."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 6, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679735259
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679735250
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (247 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 95 people found the following review helpful By James Ferguson VINE VOICE on June 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
Certainly one of the most visceral descriptions of the Vietnam War. Herr dispenses with politics to get to the heart of the matter - the soldiers in the field. He tells so many compelling stories of the front line experience, which served as fodder for both "Apocalypse Now" and "Full Metal Jacket," co-writing the movie scripts. What makes the book stand out is the empathy Herr had for the soldiers' experiences, subliminating himself in the course of the narratives.
Khe Sanh is indeed the centerpiece of the book. He describes the battle from ground level, drawing comparisons to the infamous Battle of Dien Bien Phu, which brought the French chapter of the Vietnam War to an end. Commanding officers bristled at the comparison, yet here were the Americans entrenched in a remote outpost, with the mysterious presence of the Viet Cong all around them. Herr gives you the perspective of a handful of soldiers he was in closest contact with, following up on their fates in later chapters.
Herr doesn't try to make sense of the war, simply presenting it as the maelstrom it was. Chaos reigned. All you could do was keep your head down. He ties you in to some of the other reporters covering the war, including the flambouyant Sean Flynn, who would ride into most any situation with the aplomb of his legendary father, Errol Flynn. It is such a fantastic range of dispatches giving the reader a real feel for what went on in Vietnam.
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63 of 64 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
A classmate gave me this book in 1980, when I was a 13 year old girl with a voracious reading appetite. Strange as it may seem, girls do like war books and this one still stands out in my mind as one of the best written from a nitty-gritty, no-holds-barred point of view. Our history classes never quite made it to an in-depth look at Vietnam even though we were born of an era that witnessed Vets coming home, injured, despondent and forever changed. This book gave me my first understanding of what it was like to be a "grunt" in that war, which the antiseptic history books would never do. It also gave me respect for all who were stuck in that quagmire and how war could make anyone go quite loony. It's very compelling and hard to put down, even for a 13 year old.
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Joe Kenney on May 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
Maybe it's because Michael Herr wrote the narration for the film, but reading Dispatches, you can't help but feel that you're getting another peek into the thoughts of Martin Sheen's character Captain Willard, from Apocalypse Now. Willard if he was wimpier, actually; Herr makes no bones about the fact that he was scared out of his wits throughout most of his stay in Vietnam. One of the pieces in Dispatches, "Illumination Rounds," really slams this point home; Herr comes off like a paranoid wreck in it.
Beyond that, Herr's writing is almost poetic. His descriptions of the war and the men who fought in it are impressive, borderline masterly. In addition he throws off gems of impromptu character studies, almost throw-away sentences that describe the very core of the soldiers he met. One of my favorite lines that Herr wrote for Apocalypse Now is when Willard meets the PBR crew; he says they're "rock and rollers, with one foot in their graves." Dispatches is filled to the brim with such lines, and if you enjoyed Martin Sheen's voice-over in the Coppola film, you'll really enjoy this book.
I've read Dispatches a few times, and each time I've taken something new from it. The "Khe Sanh" section is obviously the centerpiece of the book; it dwarfs all of the other stories. Stuck in the bombed-out, besieged base, Herr effectively conveys the sense of doom and paranoia that gripped the Marines trapped inside. This section features one of the more memorable soldiers in the book, the black Marine Day Tripper, as well as a mysterious grenade launcher who provided the inspiration for the character Roach in Apocalypse Now.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
A warts-and-all account of the Vietnam War. Possibly the best book on this subject in the last thirty years, Michael Herr gives us an objective look into the horror of combat without looking through the eyes of rose-tainted patriotism. He invokes the dread and chaos of the battlefield and weighs out the whims of human behaviour, bravery and insanity, meekness and humanity, without the judgement or condemnation that might be meted out by a loftier author.
Herr's use of brutal imagery absorbed me into his savage surroundings. From the soldier who can't stop drooling as a result of a particularly dreadful gun battle, to the scenes of the dead, American and Vietnamese, adult and infant, on eclectic battlefields and village streets.
The characters are real people in a situation that most of them neither like nor understand. They are young men who invoke the same shortcomings we all have. But they are a step above the common reader. They are professional soldiers and act that way despite their misgivings. They push past the boundaries of fear and into the realms of heroism or insanity or death. Everyone that he introduces is individual. There are no carbon copy soldiers here. They are funny or musical or religious or delusional, whatever their idiosyncrasy may be. I felt as though I was being introduced to people I knew throughout the book.
Most books on the topic of war that I have read tend to stay with one platoon. Herr constantly shifts places and battalions and makes the reader feel as though he/she is part of something bigger. There is no single climax in the book. An honest reflection of that war perhaps. Each chapter is as horrific and exhilarating as the next.
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