The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost Warby Paul Hendrickson
This brilliant, explosive, and passionate book reveals the Vietnam War as we never before have seen it - through the prism of Robert McNamara's crucial and tangled decision-making. It is a book that examines not only the genesis - in McNamara's life and character - of his wartime decisions, but how they altered forever the fates of four men and a woman who, beyond… See more details below
This brilliant, explosive, and passionate book reveals the Vietnam War as we never before have seen it - through the prism of Robert McNamara's crucial and tangled decision-making. It is a book that examines not only the genesis - in McNamara's life and character - of his wartime decisions, but how they altered forever the fates of four men and a woman who, beyond their own human importance, might be said to stand in for all who were caught in the maelstrom that was Vietnam. In McNamara's looming shadow we are shown, in equally intense detail, five people who were caught up in the wake of his life-and-death decisions: an artist whose long-harbored rage erupts on a Massachusetts ferry as he tries to kill McNamara, by then retired from the Cabinet; a young Marine physically and psychologically scarred by Vietnam battle; a Quaker who immolated himself in protest outside the Pentagon; a nurse desperate to believe her agonies in Vietnam were for a good cause; and a member of a Saigon family enlisted, and then tragically abandoned, by the Americans. More than a decade in the making, The Living and the Dead is meticulously researched, astonishing in its revelations, and often in conflict with McNamara's own version of events.
This gracefully written and meticulously researched book takes a penetrating look at the psyche of McNamara and at the lives of five other people who were shaped indelibly by the Vietnam war. In compulsively readable prose, Hendrickson succinctly traces how the US became involved in Vietnam under presidents Kennedy and Johnson, how the war was prosecuted, and why it turned out so badly. Hendrickson, a veteran Washington Post reporter (Seminary; Looking for the Light; both not reviewed) interviewed hundreds of people, including McNamara himself, and exhaustively researched the complex details of American policies in the 1960s. He interweaves these elements with the stories of former Marine James Farley, onetime Army nurse Marlene Vrooman Kramel, Quaker activist Norman Morrison, the expatriate Vietnamese Tran family, and a Massachutes artist who in 1972 tried to do McNamara bodily harm. Ultimately, though, this book will be remembered for its author's uncannily perceptive portrait of a man whose life he calls "a kind of postwar technocratic hubristic fable." Hendrickson doesn't neglect McNamara's courage or intelligence, but he devastatingly catches his weaknesses: arrogance, his ingrained habits of lying to the public and to politicians; and obfuscating when it served his purposes. McNamara, Hendrickson says in what could pass as an epitaph, did not resign in 1965 "when he no longer believed [the war] could be won militarily. And he didn't speak out after, not for almost 30 years, when it was too late. Those facts form the box he can't get out of . . . The lesson sits there, shining, intractable."
Exuberant and compulsively readable, Hendrickson's work easily stands with the very best literary nonfiction on the Vietnam war.
- Random House Value Publishing, Incorporated
- Publication date:
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >