A couple of years ago, when Robert McNamara's really dreadful book, "In Retrospect", came out, I had gone over to Charlie Rose. There was a question: "Why does Vietnam hang on us so heavily, long after, 20 years after, the last troops left?" I had said, not even thinking about it, that it was the second Civil War, us against us, and the Vietnamese were bystanders. -- David Halberstam
The Vietnam War is still debated in America, a quarter century after Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. And those who wish to learn about the war still turn to one book above all others: The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam (1972).

This book ultimately stands as an indictment of America's political and military leaders. Halberstam slowly unfolds the history of America's involvement, details the backgrounds of the people involved, shows how they deluded themselves and each other, and the American public.

Halberstam, at the time a Pulitzer prize winning journalist for the New York Times, painstakingly documents everything. There is little or no room to challenge his points. Thousands of references from personal interviews to official government documents fill the book. This is not an op/ed piece, but a scholarly examination of one of the most divisive chapters in American history. Yet, for all this, it still reads like the bestseller it was (9 months on the New York Times list).

The book's title comes from the men who ran the war - both civilian and military. It especially refers to the men of the Kennedy administration; MacNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, Robert Kennedy, William Bundy, Maxwell Taylor and others. These were the "best and the brightest" minds America had to offer. But rather than praise, the phrase becomes an almost sarcastic comment on them and the elitist establishment that produced them.

For anyone interested in the history of the Vietnam War, this book is the definitive reference and a must read.

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