The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War

Finalist, National Book Awards 1996 for Nonfiction

The Living and the Dead- Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War by Paul Hendrickson book cover
ISBN 9780679427612
Alfred A. Knopf
paul hendrickson author photo
Paul Hendrickson

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More than the two presidents he served or the 58,000 soldiers who died for his policies, Robert McNamara was the official face of Vietnam, the technocrat with steel-rimmed glasses and an ironclad faith in numbers who kept insisting that the war was winnable long after he had ceased to believe it was. This brilliantly insightful, morally devastating book tells us why he believed, how he lost faith, and what his deceptions cost five of the war’s witnesses and McNamara himself.

In The Living and the Dead, Paul Hendrickson juxtaposes McNamara’s story with those of a wounded Marine, an Army nurse, a Vietnamese refugee, a Quaker who burned himself to death to protest the war, and an enraged artist who tried to kill the man he saw as the war’s architect. The result is a book whose exhaustive research and imaginative power turn history into an act of reckoning, damning and profoundly sympathetic, impossible to put down and impossible to forget.