The Vietnam Experience: A Concise Encyclopedia of American Literature, Songs, and Films, by Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, Conn., 1999, $65.
This is a very unusual book on the Vietnam War, in that it covers virtually every conceivable aspect of it in print, sounds and motion pictures. As the preface notes, “Some of the most dramatic and compelling efforts to explore the Vietnam War’s impact on its participants and on the collective American psyche have been made by American writers, filmmakers, and musicians. The themes of these works reflect no emerging national consensus; indeed, the best of the songs, novels, poems, plays, and films that rose to prominence during and after the war are notable not only for their power, but for their diversity of opinion and ideological orientation. Yet all of these works’ creators sought to convey some fundamental truth about the war as they saw it….”
This comprehensive reference includes insights into the Vietnam-era experiences and views of the primary creative force of each work considered, a discussion of the circumstances surrounding the creation of the work, a plot summary when appropriate, the critical reaction to the work, and sources for further reading.
Other topics in the encyclopedia include a wide array of subjects, from the Battle of Khe Sanh to the Tet Offensive; from the Kent State shootings by the Ohio National Guard to drug abuse in the U.S. Army; from the Nixonian “Vietnamization” of the war to the experiences of African-American troops in-country. The volume finishes with an appendix listing more than 275 other works about the war. Truly, this is a fine book and one well worth the read.