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The Nightingale's Song Paperback – September 11, 1996

4.6 out of 5 stars 114 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Looking at the lives and careers of five Naval Academy graduates?among them John Poindexter and Oliver North?fellow alumnus Timberg probes the connections between the legacy of the Vietnam war and the Iran-Contra scandal.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Overtly the life stories of five graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy--John McCain, John Poindexter, Bud McFarlane, Jim Webb, and Oliver North--this probing tale implicitly examines the academy's institutional soul. A survivor of Annapolis, abbreviated by cognoscenti as IHTFP (I Hate This F . . . ing Place), Timberg knowingly examines how the academy indoctrinated undergraduates in the '50s and '60s. All five men saluted and went to Vietnam--three were wounded--and in Timberg's telling of their specific combat experiences, insightful angles on their subsequent careers emerge, such as North's penchant for exaggeration. When the Iran-Contra affair broke, its Watergate motif gradually became displaced by the old passions surrounding Vietnam, which, as Timberg writes, cropped up in the actions and justifications of Reagan's national security advisers McFarlane and Poindexter and their aide North. In the meantime ex-POW McCain had gotten himself elected to Congress, and Webb became a novelist, secretary of the navy (ironically staging his induction at the academy he used to hate), and promoter of adding a statue to the stark Vietnam Memorial. A well-researched and well-written account of five interesting lives. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Touchstone ed edition (September 11, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684826739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684826738
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on March 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
I first read this book when it was originally published. Now, with the potential presidential campaign of John McCain unfolding, I revisited it, and in so doing, reaffirmed to myself what a tremendous story this is. Robert Timberg presents a fascinating study of five contemporary American men, their formulative years, their central experience...Vietnam, and then their post-war life and public service.
During Iran-Contra, I was never a fan of either MacFarlane or Poindexter. North was something else, though, especially intriguing in his defiant testimony before Congress. But I came away from this book with a much different feeling towards these three men. My impression of Poindexter changed very favorably, not because of his actions but because of his sense of responsibility. I found myself to be very sympathetic towards MacFarlane ...a reasonably good man in a situation out of control. North, to me, became the villain...an extremely loose cannon with no controls from above.
My admiration of McCain and Webb continues to grow. McCain's experiences, especially aboard USS Forrestal and then as a prisoner of war, are riveting. The parallel heroics of McCain's wife during the war is just as inspirational. But I found James Webb to be the most interesting character. Here is a very young man distinguishing himself as a outstanding combat leader, but powerless to prevent the slaughter of his men. Returning to law school, he faces an almost hostile enviornment, ridiculing his service and the sacrifice of his comrades. In the midst of this, Webb embarks on a process of establishing himself as a significant author, and also becomes a significant but controversial figure within the Navy.
This is a book dealing with service, courage, honor and commitment, of paths which diverged and paths which converged. Above all, it is a book dealing with obediance to orders, and the consequences this obediance can produce.
Read this book.
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Format: Paperback
After reading "Into Thin Air" a year ago, I thought that it would be a long time before I read anything quite so mesmerizing. Well, "The Nightingale's Song" rivals "Into Thin Air" in this regard. Written by a Naval Academy graduate, Robert Timberg, "The Nightingale's Song" is chock full of incredibly interesting insights about the lives and careers of five Naval Academy graduates who are somewhat familiar to anyone with an interest in national politics. Additionally, Timberg's nuanced analysis of the political innerworkings of the Reagan Administration which contributed to the Iran Contra debacle seems to be completely on the money. Relative to the five individuals profiled (Messrs McCain, North, Webb, Poindexter and McFarlane), Timburg paints five fascinating profiles which honestly deals with the strengths and weaknesses of each. One can read the book and still feel great respect for Oliver North, whose penchant for excess is thoroughly documented, due to his undying commitment to getting the mission accomplished (whatever it might have been). Case in point: Timberg's account of how North went back to Vietnam (after having ended his tour) on his own time and money to defend a former colleague on an unfair charge is one of the most inspiring of many inspiring stories in the book. My admiration for John McCain, which was high before I read the book, is through the roof after reading about the courage and tenacity with which he conducted himself while in the Hanoi Hilton. If anything, Timberg's own personal connection with the Academy gave him a great perspective with which to delve into the lives of each of these men and what forces might have shaped their individual characters.
I can't recommend this book strongly enough.
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By Dave on February 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
The author's thesis about the connections between the Vietnam experience, the overall substance and process of policy-making in the Reagan administration, and the Iran-Contra affair is well-supported and compelling. As someone who was born during Vietnam and who watched the Iran- Contra hearings on TV during high school, the book did me a great service by suggesting a connection between these two experiences that was not obvious from learning about each of them in isolation. The biographies of the five key figures in the book are fascinating in and of themselves, quite apart from their role in advancing and supporting the author's main argument. The material on McCain is especially interesting, particularly in light of his current bid for the presidency. The author gives a gripping account of McCain's extraordinary heroism and sacrifice, but stops well short of uncritical hero-worship, portraying McCain's flaws and mistakes as well. I disagree with the previous reviewer who thought that Reagan and North didn't get a fair shake in the book. The book's criticisms of both men were supported by ample evidence and in my opinion were on-target. The treatment of North in particular was actually quite balanced -- the author tells us an awful lot about how truly impressive North was in many respects. The author doesn't have a whole lot good to say about Reagan, but that seems to be because there's really not a whole lot good to say about Reagan's role in these events. I don't take the book to mean that there was nothing at all redeeming or successful about the Reagan presidency in other respects. Overall, a great book, well worth reading.Read more ›
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