A. J. Langguth, 1933-2014

 

A. J. “Jack”  Langguth, who covered the Vietnam War for The New York Times  and who went on to have a long career as an author and journalism professor at the University of Southern California, died on September 1 in Los Angeles. The author of—among many other books—the award-winning Our Vietnam: The War, 1954-1975,  was 81 years old.

“Unable to set Vietnam aside, Langguth spent seven years researching and writing Our Vietnam: The War 1954-1975 (2000), which won acclaim for telling the Vietnamese side of the story as well as it did the American side, through solid analysis, mastery of detail and deft portraits of pivotal figures, including Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, ” his Los Angeles Times obituary noted.

“The book does not develop new arguments or explicitly address the many war issues that still divide Americans, ” historian George C. Herring wrote in his 2000 review . “Its strengths, rather, are in its skillful retelling of a well-known story, and in the way it captures the many dimensions of the war.”

Here’s our review of the book, from the October/November 2000 issue of The VVA Veteran:

Making History Come Alive: Jack Langguth’s Readable Our Vietnam

There have been readable narrative histories of the American war in Vietnam. There have been exhaustively researched histories of that war, combining material from original interviews, archival sources, and the best secondary sources. Now comes A.J. “Jack” Langguth’s Our Vietnam: The War, 1954-1975  (Simon & Schuster, 794 pp., $35), a history of the Vietnam War that is both compulsively readable and thoroughly researched.

Langguth, the former New York Times correspondent who teaches journalism at the University of Southern California, focuses on American policy-making in Washington, particularly during the Johnson administration. But he also includes fascinating material on concurrent planning by our Vietnamese allies and by the Vietnamese communists.

Langguth tells his story chronologically; he offers no surprises. But Langguth does bring something new to the table: insights into some of the war’s most pivotal events gleaned from interviews with lesser known but consequential American and Vietnamese eyewitnesses. That group includes William Kohlmann of the CIA; Viet Cong Lt. Ta Minh Kham; Foreign Service Officer Paul Kattenburg; North Vietnamese Army Col. Ta Minh Kham; Nguyen Dinh Tu, a one-time South Vietnamese newspaper reporter; and Jack Smith, the veteran ABC-TV News reporter who fought with the U.S. First Cavalry Division at the 1965 Battle of the Ia Drang.

Langguth also interviewed well-known pivotal players and mined the best primary and secondary accounts. With an eye for the telling anecdote, Langguth uses dozens of individual stories to create this personality-driven saga. The result is a long, compelling narrative. The book is short on analysis, but sets out the politically charged policy-making story of the Vietnam War in a complete and seamless manner.




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