Medic’s All Star Reading List

Many novels, poems and nonfiction accounts have been written about war, as well the American war in Vietnam. Below is Medic’s completely subjective reading list.


Paco’s Story, Larry Heinemann. Farrar Straus, Giroux, 1986. National Book Award, 1987. Reissued by Viking Press, 1989. Reissued by Penguin, 2002. The only man to survive a ferocious attack, after recuperating Paco returns home to a small town, a simple job, and the task of confronting his literal and figurative ghosts.

Close Quarters, Larry Heinemann. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1977. Reissued by Penguin, 1986. Out of Print. Considered one of the best American written combat stories to have emerged from Vietnam. Available used.

The Short Timers, Gustav Hasford. Harper Row, 1979. The book upon which Kubrick based Full Metal Jacket. Hasford (Private Joker in the movie) was a legendary war correspondent for Leatherneck magazine. The Short Timers has obtained cult status. Before Hasford died in 1993 he wrote The Phantom Blooper (Bantam, 1990). Both books are out of print and costly. Both are available to read online here.  Medic has written about Hasford here.

The Sorrow of War, Bao Ninh. Riverhead, 1996. Bao Ninh, an ex-NVA sapper relates a harrowing account of war and love. The novel has received world wide acclaim. See Medic’s 1999 interview with Ninh, as well a 2018 interview by Rohit Inani.

The Quiet American, Graham Greene. Bantam, 1955. Reissued. The classic novel of America’s early involvement in Vietnam pits a young, naive American against a mature, informed British foreign correspondent. (NB: the first American casualty in Vietnam was Lt. A. Peter Dewey, KIA 26 September 1945 in Saigon while serving with the OSS under the Truman Administration’s MAAG program).

Red Cavalry Days, Isaac Babel. 1938. Various publishers. Various translations. With remarkable prose Babel relates his combat experiences while riding with the Russian Cavalry. His combat writing is considered remarkable for its stark and straightforward detail. Find the best translation.

The Sevastopol Stories, The Collected Short Stories of Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy. Various publishers, various translations (Medic favors those by David Magershack, Rosemary Edmonds. Though many readers are intimidated by the length of War and Peace, in his short stories (including Hadji Murad, The Raid, The Cossacks) Tolstoy masterfully renders the mundane life of the soldier and the sudden ferocity of combat.

In Country, Bobby Ann Mason. Harper Perennial Library, 1985. Reissued. The novel concerns a teenage girl whose father was killed in Vietnam before she was born and experiences many of the same stresses as those who returned home.

Dispatches, Michael Herr. Knopf, 1977. A Vietnam war correspondent, the author provides a series of incandescent combat vignettes. Considered a classic of American combat writing. Reissued.

Night, Again, Linh Dinh, editor. Seven Stories Press, 1996. An impressive collection of postwar stories written by many of Vietnam’s best writers. The quality of writing and variety of human experience are instructive.

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace, Dang Thuy Tram. At age 22 the author, a doctor, volunteered to work in a Vietcong hospital in Quan Ngai. In the two years before her death in 1970, she recorded all she saw and felt at the hospital in the pages of her diary.  A thoughtful American intelligence officer saved the diary from being destroyed. Decades later, he returned it to Tram’s family. An international best seller.

Good Bye to All That, Robert Graves. Doubleday, 1957. Reissued. Graves is most remembered for his poetry and the book turned TV series I, Claudius. Although the first fifty pages of Good Bye to All That involve pre-war autobiographical details, this account of World War I combat has remained in print for seventy-five years and is hauntingly applicable to Vietnam veterans.

Afghanistan, A Russians Soldier’s Story, Vladislav Tamarov. Ten Speed Press, 1996. In this extended photo essay (the text and photographs are extraordinary) Tamarov has written a deeply moving account of his eighteen month tour during Soviet-Afghan war. At books end he makes clear his affinity with Vietnam veterans.

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien. Broadway Books, 1990. One of the most widely read Vietnam veteran writers,’ this collection of short stories provides the reader with tale after exquisite tale of how the ordinary American grunt fought and survived in Vietnam. Other books by Tim ‘O’Brien include: In the Lake of the Woods, If I Die In a Combat Zone, Going After Cacciato, Tom Cat in Love, and July, July.

Non Fiction

Winners and Losers, Gloria Emerson. Random House, 1976. National Book Award. Emerson spent two years as a war correspondent in Vietnam. After returning to the United States she interviewed hundreds of veterans, their family’s and ordinary citizens. The book provides a genuine sense of what American combatant’s and non combatants felt about the American war in Vietnam. Her other books include Some American Men, Gaza, A Year in the Intifada and Loving Graham Greene. Medic has written about meeting Gloria.

Home Before Morning, Linda van de Vanter. Beaufort Books, 1983. Reissued. During her one year Army nurse tour in Vietnam, Van Devanter’s idealism shifted from war in the name of freedom to a senseless massacre of young soldiers and an invasion into the lives of Vietnamese people. Much of the memoir details the carnage of war and the surgical work required to treat the often catastrophically injured soldiers. Her self-portrayal is searing. Her transition to civilian life was marked by difficulties. Considered a classic, the book was panned by a small group of nurse veterans who felt it negatively represented American nurses and doctors in Vietnam.

Dersu Uzala, V. K. Arseniev. McPherson, 1996. A memoir based on the authors travels in the Ussuri basin in the Russian Far East. Dersu Uzala (c. 1849–1908), a Nanai hunter, acted as a guide for Arsenyev’s surveying crew from 1902 to 1907 in the inhospitable taiga. They have extraordinary adventures. Dersu is portrayed as an animist who sees animals and plants as equal to man. The book as well the movie (Medic prefers the 1975 Akira Kurosawa version, which won the 1976 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) are unforgettable. See also Across the Ussuri Kray: Travels in the Sikhotte-Alin Mountains, by VK Arsenyev, translated by Jonathan C. Slaght.

Grizzly Years, Doug Peacock. Holt reprint, 1996. The author served two tours in Vietnam as a Green Beret medic and saw heavy combat. Once home, disillusioned by the war, he retreated to the woods and drink. Eventually he took an interest in grizzly bears, and through them found a way out from ptsd. The book integrates his war experiences (and they are harrowing) with his many years tracking, close encountering, and protecting the bears of Montana.

Four Hours in My Lai, Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim. Viking, 1992. The documentary film and book tell the story of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, from its training to deployment in Vietnam. Former 11th LIB veterans and and massacre survivors are interviewed; both provide context for what happened at My Lai. The film has photos of American’s torturing civilians before the massacre and tells of American’s raping South Vietnamese women and children prior to the massacre. The trials of the soldiers at My Lai are examined. The film aired on PBS Frontline as “Remember My Lai.”

Then The Americans Came: Voices From Vietnam, Martha Hess. Rutgers University Press, 1996. Twenty years after the war the author traveled in Vietnam to collect first hand war accounts from the Vietnamese. The short, spare recollections are indispensable for seeing the enemy as human. The book contains many black and white photos taken by members of the Vietnamese Photographers Association and some taken during the war by Hanoi-based photojournalists.

The Vietnam Wars, Marilyn Young. Harper Collins, 1991. Reissued. A clear, concise, and highly respected history of Vietnam’s numerous wars, of which the American involvement is one in a long historical progression of larger countries seeking but failing to conquer Vietnam.

Reporting Vietnam, Library of Congress, 2000. In chronological order the book contains much of the best war reportage. The final chapters are particularly instructive about the American abandonment from Saigon.

The Mark, Jacques Leslie. Four Walls Eight Windows in Spring, 1995. A war correspondent during the last two years of the American war in Vietnam, the author admits to being addicted to the thrill of combat. Leslie was the first journalist to enter a VC liberated zone. His reporting of the 1972 Easter Offensive is breathtaking. His non-combat pieces make for great reading. His comments on fellow journalists are noteworthy. With photographs. Cited by Projected Censored as one of the top censored books of 1995.

Our Vietnam, Jack Langguth. Harper Row, 2000. A highly respected detailed analysis of American foreign policy and its fatal consequences in Vietnam.

Hearts of Sorrow,  James Freeman. Stanford University Press, 1989. Although marred structurally, the book relates in modified oral history format the lives of numerous South Vietnamese who endured great hardships after the war. The chilling accounts of NVA re-education camps are instructive.

Portrait Of The Enemy: The Other Side of the War in Vietnam Told Through Interviews with North Vietnamese, Viet Cong and Southern Opposition Leaders, David Chanoff and Doan Van Toai. Random House, 1986. Reissued. Describes in detail combat perspectives from the point of view of NVA and VC. A compelling and instructive read.

Vietnam: Inside Story of the Guerilla War, Wilfred G. Burchett. International Publishers, 1965. Out of Print. An eyewitness account based on the legendary author’s stay with the NLF in late 1963 and the first three months of 1964. Available via used book stores, etc.

Chicken Hawk, Robert Mason. Penguin, 1983. Reissued. A conversational, personal and formal account of aerial combat by a chopper pilot in Vietnam during 65-66. A classic in the literature of [American] combat writing about Vietnam.

After Sorrow: An American Among the Vietnamese, Lady Borton. Viking, 1995. A Quaker administrator in Quang Ngai province, the author provided medical aid to both the North and the South Vietnamese. The book is less about the war than village women and traditional Vietnamese culture.

Reflections on Men in Battle, J. Glenn Gray. Harcourt Brace, 1959. Written by a World War II intelligence officer, with a forward by Hannah Arendt, this is perhaps one of the first books to address what became known in 1980 as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The writer alternates philosophic/analytical meditations on combat with unsparing descriptions of warfare and how men’s psyche’s respond to combats unsparing demands. (The reader may wish to follow up with Meditations, by the Roman general Marcus Aurelius, available in translation).

Vietnam-Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir, W.D. Erhart. University of Massachusetts Press, 1995. Donald Anderson, editor of War, Literature & the Arts, said Vietnam-Perkasie is “the best single, unadorned, gut-felt telling of one American’s route into and out of America’s longest war.” Ehrhart is a long time active member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW).


The Collected War Poems of Wilfred Owen, Wilfred Owen. New Directions, 1963. Reissued. Owen, an English infantry officer in World War I (and an acquaintance of Graves and the war poet Siegfried Sassoon) was killed in action. His poetry remains in print for it’s power in conveying war’s infinite horror.

The Moon Reflected Fire, Doug Anderson. Alice James Books, 1994. The winner of numerous literary awards, a Vietnam heavy combat Marine corpsman, Anderson’s relentless imagery captures the awful drumbeat and sudden staccato of day-to-day guerrilla warfare. See also Horse Medicine.

Obscenities, Michael Casey. Yale University Press, 1972. Yale Younger Poets Award. Reissued. One of the first Vietnam war poets to gain national recognition, the author relates via subtle complex use of language the art and terror of combat.

Playing Basket by With the Viet Cong, Kevin Bowen. University of Massachusetts, 1997. The author (the former director of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and its Social Consequences) relates in vigorous, emotional detail his war and postwar encounters with the Viet Cong.

Song of Napalm, Bruce Weigl. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988. Reissued. A heavy combat vet with the First Cavalry Division, Weigl is recognized as having written some of the finest American war poetry. Other books by Bruce Weigl include Executioner, 1976; A Sack Full of Old Quarrels,1977; A Romance, 1979; The Monkey Wars, 1985; What Saves Us, 1992; Sweet Lorain, 1996; Archeology of the Circle: New and Selected Poems, 1999; After the Others,1999; The Circle of Hanh, 2000.

A Language Full of Wars and Songs, Richard Levine. Pollack Press, 2004. “Richard Levine is a seasoned word-respondent. From the fragility of nature … to the war-world of his “Mud-Walking” poems, always he sings a polished tune, at time elegiac or with light playfulness, but always with intelligence flaming in it.”
James Ragan  “… (Levine’s) poems amaze me. I feel the air stutter, see rain turn to rice, feel the abrupt distillation down to “the father I am today.” Thank you for this book.” Kim Stafford. See for example Mud Walking.

Beautiful Wreckage: New & Selected Poems, W.D Erhart. Adastra Press, 1999. A Marine heavy combat veteran, Erhart’s work has been much anthologized and is a staple in the literature of Vietnam prose and poetry. His poetry works include: The Distance We Travel, Adastra Press, 1993; Just for Laughs, Viet Nam Generation & Burning Cities Press, 1990; The Outer Banks & Other Poems, Adastra Press, 1984; To Those Who Have Gone Home Tired, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1984; The Samisdat Poems, Samisdat, 1980; A Generation of Peace, New Voices Publishing Company, 1975.

Dien Cai Dau, Yusef Komanyakaa. Wesleyan University, 1988. This collection of war poems from the Pulitzer Prize winning author remains steadfastly potent for it’s mastery of language in depicting combat. Several of the poems are included in many war poetry anthologies. Other works include: Neon Vernacular, I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head, and Thieves of Paradise.

The Country Between Us, Carolyn Forche. Harper Row, 1981. This collection relates the poet’s experiences during her time in war torn El Salvador. The day to day torment of the civil conflict is etched on each unforgettable page. She is widely published and has received numerous awards for her poetry and prose. Other prose or poetry books include: Against Forgetting (a anthology), Blue Hour (poems), The Horse on Our Balcony (memoir), What you have Heard Is True (memoir), and In the Lateness of the World (poems).


Vietnam, Inc., Philip Jones Griffith, 1971. Reissued by Phaidon Press 2001. One of the first photographic collections to emerge from the war it remains deeply moving and contains quite vivid images which reveal the horrors of combat. In the accompanying text the author provides a study of Vietnamese folk life and argues against the de-humanizing power of technology. He also sets forth his views on American foreign policy. The new edition recreates the original and contains a foreword by Noam Chomsky, who was profoundly affected by the book when it was first published.

Requiem: By the Photographer’s Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina. Editor, Horst Fass. Text, Tim Page. Random House, 1997. Contains numerous award winning combat phonographs by international combat photographers killed in action.

The Mindful Moment, Tim Page. Thames and Hudson, 2002. A remarkable collection of combat and non combat images which portray life in Southeast Asia. A legendary war photographer, Page has returned to Indochina thirty times, with an ever-increasing awareness of the true concerns and beliefs of its inhabitants. No other Western photographer knows the region or captures the emotions and memories of its people as he has. 136 photographs, 126 in color.

Vietnam, Larry Burrows. Knopf, 2002. Introduction by David Halberstam. Larry Burrows photographed the American war in Vietnam from 1962 until 1971, when he died in a helicopter shot down on the Vietnam–Laos border. His images, published in Life magazine, brought the war home, searing the consciousness of the public and inspiring much of the anti-war sentiment that convulsed American society.

Vietnam Veterans: Inconvenient Stories, Jeffrey Wolin. Umbrage Editions. Fifty energetic interviews and stunning full page portraits provide the reader with unsparing accounts of combat and its aftermath. Here is war as it is and not as we think or hope or want it to be.


Both Sides, edited by Philip Mahoney. Scribner, 1988. An extensive and impressive collection of American and Vietnamese war poetry.

Poems From Captured Enemy Documents, edited by Bruce Weigl and Thanh T. Nguyen. University of Massachusetts Press, 1994. A unique collection of translated NVA and VC poetry, most often found in the journals of NVA or VC KIA.

Mountain River, Vietnamese Poems from the War, edited by Kevin Bowen, Bruce Weigl, and Nguyen Ba Chung. A stunning variety of war poems written by NVA and VC soldiers which conveys the long tradition of poetry in Vietnamese culture.

And finally, an extensive bibliography covering all facets of the American presence in Vietnam has been compiled by Edwin Moise and can be found here.

top photo: World War I New Zealand soldiers with a copy of ‘New Zealand at the Front’, 1917. National Library of New Zealand, Ref: 1/2-012980-G.