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Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 6, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

Historian Douglas Brinkley's insightful Tour of Duty covers John Kerry's heroic Vietnam service (where he won the Silver and Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts) and the fervent antiwar campaign it eventually spawned. Born to Boston Brahmin heritage, the son of an American diplomat, John Forbes Kerry was a child of good fortune--an eventual Yalie whose personal hero (John Fitzgerald Kennedy) shared his initials. However, Kerry's privileged upbringing instilled in him not a sense of entitlement, but a burning sense of public service. Though equally obsessed and revulsed by the burgeoning Vietnam conflict, Kerry's sense of duty led him to enlist in the Navy (after graduating Yale), and then volunteer for training as captain of a Swift boat (small aluminum vessels that patrolled the coastal waters and narrow, dangerous tributaries of Vietnam's massive Mekong delta). Brinkley's meticulous research relies on Kerry's detailed wartime diaries, logs, and interviews, (published here for the first time) as well as a wealth of accounts of the Navy's first extensive "brown water" riverine campaign since the Civil War. Those harrowing months only deepened Kerry's antipathy to the war, and he returned to become one of the most articulate leaders of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Brinkley's account gives crucial human dimensions to a man whose seeming aloofness has long plagued him. With Americans again dying in a controversial war halfway around the world, one cannot help but wonder if Kerry will yet again be able to pose the haunting question first put to a Congressional panel thirty years ago: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" --Jerry McCulley

From Publishers Weekly

Popular historian Brinkley's account of John Kerry's Vietnam experience could easily serve as the first part of a multivolume biography, examining the senator and presidential candidate's early life in rigorous detail. Entering the U.S. Navy soon after graduating from Yale in 1966, Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry commanded two Swift boat crews on river patrols in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts. He kept "voluminous" notes during his service, maintained extensive correspondence with friends and family, and tape-recorded interviews with combat-seasoned comrades. With unrestricted access to this archival material and interviews with Kerry and surviving crewmates, Brinkley (coauthor with Stephen Ambrose of The Mississippi and the Making of a Nation) depicts war in riveting detail, down to what music the crew of PCF-94 listened to on patrol. Though clearly centering his attention on Kerry, Brinkley also stresses the navy's under-recognized role in Vietnam while emphasizing the "true battlefield heroism" of American forces. Kerry's combat experiences make for gripping reading, and later sections on his high-profile role in the antiwar movement are equally engrossing, including the Nixon White House's efforts (involving a young Armistead Maupin) to discredit veteran-turned-antiwar-activist Kerry as a "phony." Final chapters fully address Kerry's political failures in the early 1970s while quickly summarizing later successes and how these successes were shaped by his Vietnam experience and ongoing relationships with fellow veterans. Though never intended as a political biography, this book offers perhaps the most insightful examination available of the character of this or any other Democratic candidate. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (January 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060565233
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060565237
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,733,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Douglas Brinkley is currently a Professor of History at Rice University and a Fellow at the James Baker III Institute of Public Policy. He completed his bachelor's degree at Ohio State University and received his doctorate in U.S. Diplomatic History from Georgetown University in 1989. He then spent a year at the U.S. Naval Academy and Princeton University teaching history. While a professor at Hofstra University, Dr. Brinkley spearheaded the American Odyssey course, in which he took students on numerous cross-country treks where they visited historic sites and met seminal figures in politics and literature. Dr. Brinkley's 1994 book, The Majic Bus: An American Odyssey chronicled his first experience teaching this innovative on-the-road class which became the progenitor to C-SPAN's Yellow School Bus.

Five of Dr. Brinkley's books have been selected as New York Times "Notable Books of the Year": Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years(1992), Driven Patriot: The Life and Times of James Forrestal, with Townsend Hoopes (1992), The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House (1998), Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company and a Century of Progress (2003), and The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2006).

Five of his most recent publications have become New York Times best-sellers: The Reagan Diaries, (2007), The Great Deluge (2006), The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion (2005), Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War (2004) and Voices of Valor: D-Day: June 6, 1944 with Ronald J. Drez (2004). The Great Deluge (2006), was the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy prize and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book award.

Before coming to Rice, Dr. Brinkley served as Professor of History and Director of the Roosevelt Center at Tulane University in New Orleans. From 1994 until 2005 he was Stephen E. Ambrose Professor of History and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans. During his tenure there he wrote two books with the late Professor Ambrose: Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938 (1997) and The Mississippi and the Making of a Nation: From the Louisiana Purchase to Today (2002). On the literary front, Dr. Brinkley has edited Jack Kerouac's diaries, Hunter S. Thompson's letters and Theodore Dreiser's travelogue. His work on civil rights includes Rosa Parks (2000) and the forthcoming Portable Civil Rights Reader.

He won the Benjamin Franklin Award for The American Heritage History of the United States (1998) and the Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt Naval History Prize for Driven Patriot (1993). He was awarded the Business Week Book of the Year Award for Wheels for the World and was also named 2004 Humanist of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. He has received honorary doctorates from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

Dr. Brinkley is contributing editor for Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Times Book Review and American Heritage. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic Monthly, he is also a member of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Century Club. In a recent profile, the Chicago Tribune deemed him "America's new past master."

Forthcoming publications include The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the crusade for America and a biography of Walter Cronkite.

He lives in Austin and Houston, Texas with his wife and three children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Doginfollow on May 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
When excerpts from Douglas Brinkley's forthcoming book on John Kerry and the Vietnam War appeared in The Atlantic in December 2003, I couldn't help feeling sorry for the author. Obviously he had spent a lot of time researching and writing a book that would be forgotten before the ink was even dry. Of course, at that time Senator Kerry's campaign for the presidency was dead in the water, while the supposedly smart money was accumulating around Howard Dean.
Now Douglas Brinkley has the last laugh. His time spent on "Tour of Duty" looks like a shrewd bet. Not only has Kerry locked up the Democratic nomination to challenge George W. Bush--his experiences in the Vietnam War have become central to the campaign in a way few could have predicted.
Anyone hoping to gain a better understanding of the veteran senator who would be president should start here. Brinkley shows Kerry's growth from youth to manhood through the harrowing crucible of the Vietnam War. Anyone who doubts the genuine courage and skill that Kerry showed as a Navy lieutenant in that conflict must contend with the evidence that Brinkley has amassed. With the cooperation of his subject, he has also produced a highly intimate portrait of Kerry's thoughts and writings at the time. Brinkley thereby succeeds in warmly humanizing a public figure often criticized for aloofness.
Brinkley's Kerry is a compelling Renaissance Man: brave soldier, compassionate friend, charismatic politician, agile intellectual, avid sportsman. In short, he's a little too good to be true. And that's where one begins to have some doubts about this book. An associate of the late Stephen Ambrose, Brinkley seems to be a serious historian.
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87 of 115 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I saw Doug Brinkley interviewed on the Today Show about this book and, although I don't know much about John Kerry, I thought "Tour of Duty" sounded interesting so I got a copy. Regardless of one's political views, this is an extraordinary book about the life and experiences of a young soldier in Vietnam grappling with what it's like to kill, survive emotionally and physically in a hellish environment (Kerry was wounded several times), and come to terms with a conflict he ultimately thought to be unwinnable--even thought he was right in the middle of it. This is not a Kerry campaign book, but a phenomenal, unbiased work of history on Professor Brinkley's part and, without question, one of the best and most riveting war books I've read. And I read a lot of them.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Military Brat on September 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Douglas Brinkley, a respected historian and biographer, has put together an extensively researched, well-written portrait of a young John Kerry as well as a fascinating account of an important period of American history.

Whether you like Kerry the candidate or not, this book will provide insight to the man. Kerry, by the way, gave Brinkley unrestricted access to his letters, journals, and personal papers, and exercised no editorial control over the end result. (And yes, Brinkley interviewed dozens of vets who served with Kerry.)

It is telling of Brinkley's professionalism that in almost every subsequent article or commentary about Kerry, "Tour of Duty" is used as a point of reference. The book is cited line and page to settle points about Kerry's life and times. It is also a mark of Brinkley's journalistic integrity that the paperback edition contains clarifications suggested by readers and interviewees.

When you scan the O'Neill/Corsi hit piece, compare the quality of the writing, research, and tone to Brinkley's. Like comparing Rush Limbaugh to Edward R. Murrow.

(An aside to a prior reviewer - even the FR site has exposed the old "Giap thanks Kerry" bit as an urban legend. Get with it.)
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jack Stoner on October 29, 2013
Format: Paperback
Anyone who takes this book as factual needs to read Unfit for Command by John O'Neil .

The lie of John Kerry serving 2 tours in Vietnam is the most blatant lie . He served his 1st tour on a ship that spent 4 months in Vietnam waters and the rest of the time off the coast of California . His 2nd term lasted 5 months . He then gets out of Vietnam since he received 3 purple hearts . A rule most vets knew nothing about . The nature of these Purple Hearts is dubious at best . The doctor who treated his 2nd wound questioned why he was even at the aid station for a scratch .He spent less than one year in Vietnam yet claims he did 2 tour . Flat out lies are more like it . Anyone who lies about their service is the most despicable human beings on the planet .

Douglas Brinkley has written some good books . This one is not . It is full of lies and misrepresentations . It is fortunate this charlatan "Kerry" do not ascend to the presidency . I find it disgusting he is our current Secretary of State .

Douglas Brinkley needs to realize lying for a man like John Kerry in his bid to become president is dangerous . I would like to know why Brinkley undertook this task ? Was he fooled or simply complicate with lying for John Kerry ?

Do yourself a favor and don't buy this book . Pick up Unfit for Command and get the true story of John Kerrys service in Vietnam straight from the men who served beside him . It is not a flattering portrayal of Kerry . Instead of being embarrassed by his behavior he comes home and calls all his fellow veterans war criminals and exaggerates his actions . In truth he was a coward that no one liked or trusted . The worst kind of soldier and the worst kind of human being . And this is who is one of the top leaders of our once great country . No wonder our government is such a mess .
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