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One of the finest books to emerge from the Vietnam experience, The Living and the Dead presents a brilliant study of Robert McNamara, his decision-making during the war, and the way his decisions affected his own life and the lives of five individuals. A monumental work about power, its abuse, and its victims, this meticulously researched, beautifully written, explosive, and passionate book is often in conflict with McNamara's version of events. 8 photos.
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.
|Prologue: A Story Out of Time||5|
|Pt. 1||At the Open Noon of His Pride||15|
|Pt. 2||Photograph of a Life, 1916-1960||43|
|Pt. 3||Died Some, Pro Patria, 1965 in America||119|
|Pt. 4||Shadows, and the Face of Mercy, 1966 in America||241|
|Pt. 5||Wound Like a Wheel, 1967-1968 in America||289|
|Epilogue: Because Our Fathers Lied||349|
|A Word About Interviews||383|
|Notes on Sources||389|