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The Best and the Brightest Paperback – October 26, 1993

4.5 out of 5 stars 183 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"For anyone who aspires to a position of national leadership, no matter the circumstances of his or her birth, this book should be mandatory reading. And anyone who feels a need, as a confused former prisoner of war once felt the need, for insights into how a great and good nation can lose a war and see its worthy purposes and principles destroyed by self-delusion can do no better than to read and reread David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest."
--from the Foreword by Senator John McCain

"The most comprehensive saga of how America became involved in Vietnam. . . . [I]t is also The Iliad of the American empire and The Odyssey of this nation’s search for its idealistic soul."
--The Boston Globe

"Seductively readable. . . . [I]t is a staggeringly ambitious undertaking that is fully matched by Halberstam’s perfor-mance."
--Newsweek

"A rich, entertaining, and profound reading experience."
--The New York Times

From the Publisher

The Vietnam War has seemed more shadowy and cinematic to me than anything else for most of my life. I was born during the Watergate Hearings. My generation was touched by the war in Vietnam, but only in the sense that our parents were part of it--whether they marched for peace or served in the military or fell somewhere in between. But unlike the Baby Boomers, we are not defined by the war--it, literally and figuratively, did not make us. So, as a consequence, when I think of the Vietnam War it is the images that the generations before me created that come to mind--Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon...

When I read The Best and the Brightest, that all changed. For the first time, I understood. No matter what your position may have been or may be, this book fully and expertly explores the American foreign policy decisions and actions that led to this war and its execution and paints a clear picture of its catalytic role in the shaping of today's America.

-Kelly Lamb, Marketing Coordinator
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 20 Anv edition (October 26, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449908704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449908709
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I read "The Best and the Brightest" I could not believe how fresh it was, despite the fact that it was written in 1972 it feels as if it were written yesterday. I am amazed at how much information Halberstam was able to collect in the late 1960s, before the Freedom of Information Act, and while the war was still raging, about the Vietnam War and the decisions that led up to it. If Halberstam were to sit down today to write this book, with another 30 years of historical documentation available he might write a different book but I cannot see how he could write a better one. Halberstam shows how bad decisions, dishonesty, an unwillingness to face facts and sheer basic stupidity got America into a war that was lost from the start. The amazing thing that this book reveals is how so many smart, well-accomplished people, the best and the brightest of the American foreign policy and military were so incredibly wrong for so incredibly long. I wish that I had read this book a long time ago, I'm glad that I've read it now.
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Format: Paperback
Nothing so brilliantly crystallized and clarified the epic true story of how the American people were led into the tragedy of Vietnam better than did this classic book by David Halberstam. Already famous for his journalistic overview in "The Making of a Quagmire", Halberstam riveted the nation with his absorbing, literate, and very detailed account of how the arrogant, insular, technocratically well educated, and affluent sons and daughters of the Power Elite in this country led us into the unholy miasma of Vietnam. This is a classic story superbly told by a journalist with impeccable credentials.

Halberstam already had a wealth of personal experience as a correspondent in Vietnam before initiating the research for this book, and he draws a number of fascinating, intimate, and quite absorbing in-depth portraits of the major figures involved in this fool's errand formerly referred to as French Indochina. From the feckless and perhaps clueless Robert McNamara to McGeorge Bundy, brother William Bundy, former Oxford Scholar Dean Rusk, George Ball, William Westmoreland, Maxwell Taylor, and Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, all these alumni of the best schools and best families (with the single exception of LBJ, an accidental president) pranced their pseudo-macho way toward the single most disastrous series of military decisions this side of Pearl Harbor.

Unlike those of us who actually saw the jungles of Vietnam up close and personal, these men were neither ignorant, nor provincial (at least not in the ordinary use of that term), nor poorly informed; rather, they both considered themselves and were considered by others to be the most outstanding, capable, and effective members of the contemporary "Power Elite" i.e.
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Format: Paperback
David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest is the Iliad of America's doomed involvement in Vietnam, a book of audacious scope and intense human drama. Want to know why America became enmired in Vietnam, and why we lost? One could argue that there isn't a more important question to ask about any aspect of American history in the last 30 years, and Halberstam answers it as fully as it can be answered in a single narrative. Reading this book thirty years after it was published, one can't help but be struck by the extent to which Halberstam's version of events has become THE standard account; his argument is thorough, and thoroughly damning, and it is a difficult one to refute. Halberstam succeeds utterly in making palpable the forces that acted on the collection of flawed individuals who found themselves in the White House during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, a cast of characters brought to life with novelistic virtuosity. To coin a cliche, if you're only going to read one Vietnam book, this is surely it
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Format: Paperback
This is a truly excellent book on American policy making in Vietnam.

I first read it in 1973 or 1974. It blew my mind that 'the best and the brightest' could act as they did, whether from honest but gross misjudgments to outright lies, most often bound with incredible arrogance.

Some of the material is found in the Pentagon Papers, the Defense Department's own study of the war. Another reviewer commented that they had not yet been published, but Halberstam, ace that he was, apparently had access to them.

This book provided another, and large, nail in the coffin of my naive idealism of someone growing up in post WWII America (college, class of 1966) with respect to the US government.

I was totally absorbed when reading it. Halberstam does occasionally overuse some of his pet phrasings,e.g. 'rare ability'.
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Format: Hardcover
Halberstam's book's most illuminating quote is attributed to one of Walt Rostow's (the chief architect of the US bombing of North Vietnam) Harvard colleagues. After his friend departed Cambridge, to take up his position the Kennedy administration, this colleague walked into a roomful of students, and said, more or less, "you never sleep as well at night when you actually know people running the country."
This book is all about the men (the best and the brightest) who mired this nation in Vietnam. It's also about other men, men like John Peyton Davies, perhaps the State Department's best Asian expert, purged from public service after the McCarthy juggernaut swept through the country. It's also about applying the wrong lessons of history to wrong problems: Kennedy and Johnson learned from Munich that nations shrink from "tyranny" at their own peril, and therefore decided to confront the "tyranny" of North Vietnam communism, which, according to Halberstam, was simply nationalism -- the extension of their colonial wars of the 1950s. Men like Davies would have realized this, and then warned against intervention; but men like Davies, ostensibly "soft" on communism, had already been run out of Washington (during the Vietnam War, Davies, the man Halberstam uses to personify the flight of those who really understood the intentions of North Vietnam, was making furniture in Peru). Men like McNamara, the Bundys, and Dean Rusk, despite their rationalism and considerable mental horsepower, didn't get this. Nor did they understand how to bring themselves (and the country) back once they'd stepped beyond the brink.
For all its quality and insight, the book makes a little much of the "establishment" credentials of the war's architects.
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