Dispatches

by Michael Herr

Hardcover, 1977

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Knopf, 1977.

Description

One of the greatest examples of war journalism ever written, Michael Herr's clearheaded yet unsparing retellings of the day-to-day events in Vietnam take on the force of poetry, finding clarity in one of the most incomprehensible events in our modern era. A National Book Critics Circle finalist and highly acclaimed upon its publication, Dispatches still retains its resonance as America finds itself amidst another military quagmire.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Stbalbach
According to LibraryThing stats this is the second most read book on the Vietnam War, after The Things They Carried. Critics have called it one of the best books of the war. Micharl Herr passed away a few weeks ago so I thought I would honor his memory by reading his most famous book. Although Herr's prose style is disjointed and lacks narrative, chronological order or main character (other than Herr himself), it is brimming with the sights, sounds and smells of the war told through small stories, "dispatches". I feel as though I just took a trip back in time. It's so dense with incident it will reward re-reading on occasion. With all that said, with the distance of time Herr's narrative feels overdone at times. Speaking of nightmares that will never end, etc.. there has been healing in the past 50 years and as time passes those comments will seem increasingly remote, perhaps even cliche. However they do give a sense of how that generation reacted to the war - there is a sense of betrayal, abandonment. All wars suck in their own special way, but nothing like the toxic mix of problems that came together in Vietnam.… (more)
LibraryThing member Luchtpint
Overtly pretentious, nihilistic, narcissistic, self-absorbed, chaotic, disjointed, and totally unbearable hallucinogenic drug-fueled ranting, coupled with feeble, far-fetched psycho-babble, attempting to extol the supposed machismo of waving a camera in a war zone and Herr's pseudo-intellectual ego-mania jotted down on paper after 'having lived through it all'. So what ?

It takes a lot more to make a book really interesting, turning a war into a cold turkey-kind of experience gets boring after a while (i.e. after 20 pages in this case). So much so in fact, that I started cranking up the reading speed to get it over and done with, only to find much more of the same drivel. Totally useless and irritating.

I suppose in the sixties and seventies, this used to be exactly what people expected of puerile 'cult' war correspondents beating themselves on the chest, today you'd at least require some background info and insights with regards to the countries and conflicts visited to make it stick in the reader's mind. The Vietnam War doesn't really come to the fore anywhere in this book, which is unsurprising.

This is very Burroughs-esque indeed. And that should definitely NOT be taken as a compliment !
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LibraryThing member DRFP
An excellent account of the Vietnam war, though not * about * the war.

Herr's writing and tales from the grunts are top-rate and it's easy to see why this became such an iconic and influential book from Vietnam.

A couple of very minor criticisms: firstly, "Dispatches" is perhaps structured a little oddly. Herr throws the reader in at the deep end, no doubt on purpose, but perhaps it would make more sense to put the final section, on he and his colleagues at the front. Also, Herr mentions TET a lot yet doesn't really go into much detail. I was hoping for a little more there.

Those two little quibbles aside, "Dispatches" is still a great book and one very much worth reading.
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LibraryThing member jayne_charles
I often find I learn a lot about geography and history through reading fiction, and though this book isn't fiction but a war correspondent's account of being in Vietnam in the late '60s, I hoped for the same here. My knowledge of the Vietnam war isn't good, and I hoped this book would remedy that. Unfortunately it's not an ideal first port of call, as it assumes a lot of prior knowledge that non-Americans may not possess, and was peppered with initials and acronyms but had no glossary or any other means of explanation. I connected with it only in patches - where the narrative occasionally narrowed its focus down to to a single person, and then it was possible to understand and to empathise, but these sections were relatively sparse. All in all I would concede it is fantastically well written, and worthy of more than the speed-reading I resorted to in the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member JesperCFS2
This book is highly acclaimed, and I do understand why. No doubt that Michael Herr catches the madness of the Vietnam War. But at the time I read it, I was not ready for a book with these literary qualities and I did not read it through. But, maybe, some day . . . .
LibraryThing member dryfly
This is the best book I've read on the Vietnam war. I'm not telling how books I've read on this subject though. Well written and grabbed my attention: I couldn't put it down.
LibraryThing member jensho
Harrowing accounts of the experiences of journalists during the Vietnam War.
LibraryThing member klarusu
One of the books I bought ages ago and that has, much to its disservice, lain on my bookshelf for too long unread. I'm also one of life's sceptics when it comes to heavily lauded books, but this one certainly deserves its reputation as a seminal tome on war. Herr's writing is both guttural and poetic - he captures the essence of chaos, confusion and waste surrounding the Vietnam War. Acutely well-observed portraits of soldiers that pass in and out of his acquaintance during his time in Vietnam convey well the diversity of characters found in this conflict. This is combined with politically informed accounts of some of the major offensives and the ulterior motives of the 'powers that be' in ordering these men to their deaths. It expresses well the futility of many of the actions in Vietnam. Despite the brilliance of the descriptions and analysis of the conflict, for me the real gem in this novel is the section where Herr pertinently turns his writer's eye on the journalists themselves, giving the reader an insight into the effect this war had on them. This is definitely much, much more that another tired text trying to decipher Vietnam - more of a tour-de-force of brilliant writing and originality.… (more)
LibraryThing member jcbrunner
"There is nothing so embarrassing as when things go wrong in a war" (p46). Michael Herr witnessed the Tet offensive and Khe Sanh in 1968, he saw American violence, arrogance, ignorance and pain. He shared the choppers and foxholes with the grunts and jabs at the air-conditioned officer corps. His observations have an eerie ring regarding the current US debacle in Iraq. Timeless reading.

Based on this book, the author wrote the script for the Stanley Kubrick film "Full Metal Jacket".
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LibraryThing member Borg-mx5
An excellent account from the Vietnam War. Heartbreaking at times,
LibraryThing member JTJonesberry
Powerful read. The good the bad and the ugly. Read it and think twice.
LibraryThing member latefordinner
Powerfull front line account from the briefing room to the wire at Khe Sahn. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member Autodafe
I consider this to be the best personal narrative written about the Vietnam War.
LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
Vietnam was the world of my childhood. I remember watching it on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. I can remember the incredible gut-wrenching footage and some of the absolutely breathtaking still photos. I remember the footage of Saigon falling and the day Jimmy Carter gave amnesty to the folks who left for Canada. My interested was further piqued by my parents, who were both anti-war activists.

In high school I started reading some books about the war and one of them was Dispatches. I read a lot of Vietnam books in my life, but this one is the best of the best. First there's the writing style which is hard-hitting but poetic - stream-of-consciousness when the consciousness is out on the ragged edge. I realized re-reading this that my fiction writing was definitely influenced by his writing style.

Next, there's the gut cold honesty of the book, the author's ability to tell a story, and his fearless self-reflection. Particularly valuable is his analysis of his own compulsion to go to Vietnam, to voluntarily ride out with the Marines, and the dangerous romanticism of that choice. This is a man wrestling with the knowledge that he voluntarily put himself in harm's way and that there is damage from that that he'll struggle with for the rest of his life.

Also prominent are thoughts about American soldiers, particularly Marines, and all the ways they both disgust and compel him. He presents a clear picture of men and boys who are as brutal as they are compassionate and he ponders their futures.

I have always thought that the reason we've gone into recent conflicts and stayed for years is in part due to the lock-down of the press by the military. War correspondents and photographers no longer roam free. Footage and photos tend to be pretty sterilized. I suspect that if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be over if they were in our living rooms every night.

If you want to read a beautifully written, highly intelligent, and heartbreaking memoir of the Vietnam War, this is the one to read. It will inform you in ways you can't currently imagine and it will make you think differently about Vietnam, but also about our current warfare. It's a beautiful, amazing book.
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LibraryThing member awilson
After reading this book you'll feel like you came home from Vietnam with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
LibraryThing member Sandydog1
Very Burroughs-esque. A taught, rambling, disjointed, gritty correspondent's account of the Vietnam experiences with special emphasis on Tet and Khe San. Herr co-wrote the screenplays in "Apocolypse Now" and "Full Metal Jacket". Soldiers from this memoir clearly ended up in those movies.
LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
I was saddened to read the obituaries of Michael Herr who died just a few days ago at the age of seventy-six. For a lot of people, particularly men, of around my age his book Dispatches captured the essence of the Vietnam War, a campaign with which I have always had a bit of an obsession.

I turned twelve years old in 1975, just as the Americans withdrew from South Vietnam and, shortly afterwards, the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. For the previous few months I had been captivated by the seemingly interminable reports each night on the television news showing firefights, helicopter sorties and general mayhem as the war drew gradually towards it close. Of course, I had very little idea what it was all about but to a young boy it simply all looked very exciting.

The Vietnam War was perhaps the first multimedia engagement, with footage broadcast nightly to the rest of the world, courtesy of a huge corps of reporters (from both the traditional press and the burgeoning television companies who were eager to fill their news programmes with footage from the front). Michael Herr spent several years as part of that press corps, travelling all over the country in military helicopters and planes, writing articles for Esquire, Time and Life magazines.

The book is very difficult to describe – Herr effortlessly conveys the horrors of engagement, the terror and the brutality, yet also the camaraderie and sensitivity that the troops displayed, all set against the backdrop of the draft and the Civil Rights movement back home. His style is vibrant – Herr was, after all, one of the earliest and most adept exponents of what was then the emerging literary form of ‘New Journalism’. Fact written as seamlessly and engagingly as fiction.

Herr’s prose is meticulous, often veering towards the poetic, paradoxically often hitting its most purple patches when tackling the most awful subject matter. He also captures the zeitgeist of the times. Rest and recreation spells in Saigon were played out to an amazing sound track of 1960s rock, fuelled by handfuls of hallucinogens and downers. There is a wistfulness there, too (‘Of course, coming back home was a down. What could you do for a finish’), and a feeling that the rest of his life would always be coloured by his experiences in Vietnam. (‘I think that Vietnam was what we had instead of happy childhoods.’) He doesn’t glamourise war, but there is an inescapable sense that participation made combatants different from the rest of us.
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LibraryThing member Tanya-dogearedcopy
Dispatches is Michael Herr's first-person account of his experience as a freelance journalist - embedded with various USMC units in Vietnam, 1967-68. It is, admittedly, an extremely difficult novel to get traction on as the opening passages seem wildly discursive. The trick is to let go of trying to parse out sentences or even whole paragraphs, and just roll with it as whole as the picture comes into focus. In many ways, Dispatches is like an Impressionist painting: best appreciated with some distance from the object rather than with intentness upon its component parts. What emerges from the writing is the inanity of The Vietnam War for all the high ideals propounded by Mission commanders. In many ways, the insensibility of the War is reflected in Herr's rambling, at times near stream-of-consciousness, prose. The images coalesce into the run-up, action of, and the end of the three-and-a-half month Battle of Khe Sanh.

As the North Vietnam Army (PAVN) feinted and eventually engaged at Khe Sanh, the Marine base there was besieged. The US committed all resources to operations at Khe Sanh, President Johnson mandating that the base be kept at all costs. Ultimately, the base was destroyed, the Marines pulled back and, the US claimed victory on the premise of casualty figures and the fact that PAVN forces withdrew suddenly afterward. PAVN forces also claimed victory, as after all, they destroyed the base and forced the Marines to evacuate. Dispataches questions the significance of the dual claims of victory and the sudden withdrawal of the North Vietnamese Army, especially in context of the Tet Offensive.

Herr's portrayals of the men who fought and reported in the war are the smaller brushstrokes that make up the bigger picture of that time and place. Herr talks and travels with Marines and other reporters, perhaps none more poignant and intriguing than that of his colleagues, Sean Flynn , Dana Stone and Tim Page. Flynn, Stone and Page were photojournalists who cut careless, romantic figures. They were each extremely intelligent, talented men whose ambitions and impulses exacted dear prices. Their legacies and fates are equally breathtaking.

Ray Porter is the American narrator who reads Dispatches. The book is either the result of giving a typewriter to an inebriated soul and/or; drugs and alcohol to a journalist. Either way, managing the text and propelling it forward had to have been a challenge. Ray Porter met the challenge, framing the material in a natural voice without caving into a hyperbolic interpretation of extreme and intense situations. There may be a mispronunciation or two ("artillery" is pronounced as "artillerary" in one instance); but over all the delivery is on point.

Redacted from the original blog review at dog eared copy, Dispatches; 03/22/2012
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LibraryThing member tommi180744
Dispatches is a magnificently sprawling word-on-the-page, in-your-face account of humans-at-war and captures the gross wretchedness of the Vietnam War. A conflict as we all now know, fought for no other purpose than 2 bloodily unfeeling ideologies who could not care less for their peoples - - caught in the middle: the "grunts" of both sides though Herr naturally, understandably concentrates on his armed forces personnel - - Herr throws out line after line of instant graphic comment and observation in the heat of battle and in the grind of waiting, preparing for it and its grim aftermath. More than that, by focussing on the individuals' buried alive by the brutality of the melee he puts the US Military Command through the ringer of factual reality on the ground exposing their glib, colossally complacent summations, misinterpretations, miscalculations. Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon... who'd want to be a President & Commander-in-Chief as that bunch of 4 & 5 star numbskulls gave advice!… (more)
LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
In Dispatches Michael Herr recaptures his time in Vietnam in a vivid and stylishly harsh manner. As an independent journalist, he was able to choose which story to follow and often would catch helicopter rides between locations. He covered a huge part of Vietnam, including Saigon, Khe Shan and Hue. This is an excellent read about Vietnam but it is full of fear, death and the ravaging effect that this war had on both the people there and America as a whole.

He was able to get up close and personal with the serving soldiers and it is here, with a backdrop of rock and roll music, the psychological effects of drugs and the general demoralization of the troops, that one gets the clearest picture of the turmoil and uncertainty that the average grunt was facing. In covering the war, Michael Herr became one of them, eating their food, smoking their joints, and sharing their bunkers as bombs fell around them. One particular story of him being the only living passenger on a chopper full of body bags was particularly harrowing.

Michael Herr guides his reader through the craziness that was Vietnam and by the end of the book I felt numb and drained. From the chaos to the inhumanity, Herr doesn’t flinch from showing us the way it was.
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LibraryThing member breic
The writing did not work for me. Too impressionistic, with too few specific details or actual elaborated stories. The constant generalities and second-person narration made the book feel nebulous instead of arrestingly concrete. Herr is obviously passionate, but I think there are better Vietnam memoirs.
LibraryThing member mumoftheanimals
I found it somewhat dated and hard-going although I can understand why it was considered a classic in its time.
LibraryThing member cwhouston
A very vivid account of what life on the ground was like in Vietnam. I have some knowledge of the war, which was at times necessary to understand a number of references in the text. Hence, I'd suggest reading a more conservative history of the conflict before taking on 'Dispatches'.

The sections at the beginning and end of the book are rather garbled and I did not enjoy reading what, in my opinion, represent little more than rather pretentious ramblings. However, these do not form a large proportion of the text, and the rest is very good and incredibly atmospheric. The battles at Khe Sahn and Hue are featured and I have never read anything that conveys the spectrum of experiences and views of the men involved, both soldiers and reporters, as well as this book.

A considerable achievement in fewer than 300 pages.
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
A gritty, somewhat gruesome foray into investigative journalism. Vietnam in all its whacked out glory. If you didn't live through those times, I recommend this book and Frances Fitzgerald's _Fire in the Lake_.
LibraryThing member jwrudn
Michael Herr’s account of the Vietnam war as a free-lance journalist. A flat-out masterpiece. I have read this book several times and never fail to be thoroughly engrossed: horror, butt-clenching fear, brutality, black humor, folly, stoicism, superstition and, even, beauty – the whole whacked-out, hallucinogenic quality of the Vietnam war. Firsthand accounts of the grunts who fought it and the correspondents who covered it. Form perfectly meshed with function. The book has a dreamlike, nightmarish quality that is more real than facts. Probably no one who was not there (and I wasn’t) can know what it was like, but this book comes as close as anything.… (more)

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