A Rumor of War

“A singular and marvelous work.” —The New York Times

A-Rumor-of-War-by-Philip-Caputo

A RUMOR OF WAR (1977)

The classic Vietnam memoir, as relevant today as it was thirty-five years ago.

In March of 1965, Marine Lieutenant Philip J. Caputo landed at Da Nang with the first ground combat unit deployed to Vietnam. Sixteen months later, having served on the line in one of modern history’s ugliest wars, he returned home—physically whole but emotionally wasted, his youthful idealism forever gone.

A Rumor of War is more than one soldier’s story. Upon its publication in 1977, it shattered America’s indifference to the fate of the men sent to fight in the jungles of Vietnam. In the years since then, it has become not only a basic text on the Vietnam War but also a renowned classic in the literature of wars throughout history and, as Caputo explains, of “the things men do in war and the things war does to men.”

 

Rumor of War DVD

 

Praise

“To call it the best book about Vietnam is to trivialize it . . . A Rumor of War is a dangerous and even subversive book, the first to insist—and the insistence is all the more powerful because it is implicit—that the reader ask himself these questions: How would I have acted? To what lengths would I have gone to survive? The sense of self is assaulted, overcome, subverted, leaving the reader to contemplate the deadening possibility that his own moral safety net might have a hole in it. It is a terrifying thought, and A Rumor of War is a terrifying book.”
—John Gregory Dunne, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Caputo’s troubled, searching meditations on the love and hate of war, on fear, and the ambivalent discord warfare can create in the hearts of decent men, are among the most eloquent I have read in modern literature.” —William Styron, The New York Review of Books

“Every war seems to find its own voice: Caputo . . . is an eloquent spokesman for all we lost in Vietnam.” —C. D. B. Bryan, Saturday Review

“A book that must be read and reread—if for no other reason than as an eloquent statement against war. It is a superb book.” —Terry Anderson, Denver Post

“This is news that goes beyond what the journalists brought us, news from the heart of darkness. It was long overdue.” —Newsweek

“Not since Siegfried Sassoon’s classic of World War I, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, has there been a war memoir so obviously true, and so disturbingly honest.” —William Broyles, Texas Monthly

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A Rumor of War

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Comments (27)

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  1. Scott says:

    The first book I read of yours…summer of what must have been 1985…reading a copy while handing-out stacks of them to freshmen cadets at the Air Force Academy…a compelling read, each of the three or four times that I’ve read it now. Too young to have gone or to have been sent, the words are enough to transport the reader to that other time, to cause us to begin to understand or feel what the soldiers and marines felt…and yes, to wonder how we would have survived, both when we were there and after we had returned, had we been so fortunate.

    • Philip Caputo says:

      Thank you for taking the time to write. I appreciate your sentiments, and your attention to good grammar.

  2. Scott says:

    That second sentence doesn’t make sense…please change it to “Too young to have gone or to have been sent, the words were enough to transport me to that other time, to cause me to understand or feel what the soldiers and marines felt, and yes, to wonder how I would have survived, both when I was there and after I had returned, had I been so fortunate.”

    Thank you.

  3. William Hunt says:

    I just finished reading A Rumor of War. I just want to say that I really enjoyed it. Your story left me with a deeper respect and a greater appreciation for all those young men that served in Vietnam. Thank you for the book and your service.

    Semper Fi
    Bill Hunt
    Retired MSgt, USMC

  4. Ralph Hilsman says:

    I’ve read many of the Vietnam era authors/book but somehow missed this gem. What is so unusual that this is set in the early part of the war and really gave me a view I had not read-the splendid little war. It really is an insightful coming of age story. I am a little younger than you and just missed out on the draft, but not the anti war sentiment. What really brought it home though was your last chapters which so clearly articulated the schizophrenic nature of the war where you didn’t know if your enemy was the Vc or Uncle Sam. What foreshadowing too-as those who don’t know (or pay attention) to history are doomed to repeat it. How true that has been. It was a treat to find a book written in 1977 that has so much relevance today + such a wonderful read. Look forward to reading more of your work!
    Ralph Hilsman

  5. Bruce Lamm says:

    Born in ’65. Just finished your book. Felt the need to express to you my appreciation for the book and your effort in creating it. Grew up in the shadow of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base where my father was employed in a civilian capacity. A strong military influence exerts itself over this region. Being a kid at the time of the war though, all I really remember are the body count figures as reported on ABC’s Nightly News and, of course, the evacuation upon the fall of Saigon. Thank you for an important document of your experience.

  6. Andrew Grossman says:

    Dear Mr. Caputo,

    I am a professor and I will be teaching a course on counterinsurgency warfare (I am a severe critique…) and using your book among others. I first read “A Rumor” when it was first published and I am re-reading it now in preparation for the seminar. It a fine piece of work and still riveting. I have question: I am using another two books one that reminded me of “A Rumor” when I first read it back in the early 1980′s Kenn Miller’s “Tiger the Lurp Dog” for in its own way, it also captures much of what you captured in “A Rumor of War.” The other book I just completed last night: Bing West’s “The Wrong War” (his “The Village” is also on our reading list and bookends his “The Wrong War”) and this was a most depressing read for nothing seems to change in these so-called “winning of hearts and minds.” Sorry, the question is: have you read these other two books and do you have any thoughts? Thanks so much for your time.

  7. Andrew Grossman says:

    Mr. Caputo,

    Thanks so much for your reply. Do you do visits to college campuses? I would like to invite you to speak at Albion College and my honors seminar in particular. I fully understand if you are too busy. The quote I cannot get out of my mind (of many)from Rumor: [paraphrasing from memory here] I have never seen pigs eat roast humans…(re: the effects of napalm)…I finished the book, again, last night. Along with your other works (I love DelcCorso and Horn of Africa too). Thanks again for your response.

    Andrew Grossman

  8. Warren Carnell says:

    When your book was given to me by a friend, I had no idea what to expect.
    You have put into words, thru your excellent narrative, what it was like for the “boys”, early in the “war”, to be thrown into an untenable and hopeless situation.
    Reading your description of the conditions, poisonous kraits, utter darkness, mud/muck, mind-numbing, stifling heat was, made it feel like I was there with you on “Purple Heart Trail.”
    In fact one of my favorite quotes in book with regard to the heat was “the temperature on the thermometer was no more inductive of the actual conditions than a falling barometer is indictive of a tornado’s destructive path.”

    Thanks for the education, the honesty, the realism, and most of all your support for the men and their mission, while properly placing the blame for failure on the political hacks and armchair generals in DC….

    I plan to read it again in a year or two….
    Out….

  9. william j sullivan says:

    Dear LT.this book gave me what I needed about my dads past.he would only talk after a few too many but he stated to me you! you! were the only Lt. he trusted after harvest moon.My name is william sullivan son of John”jack”sullivan your radio man for the 3rd.Danag
    If you have time I’m tring to find “ski” his best friend in nam. “spook” and “grimy” if you have any info on them i would love it. thank you. william

    • Philip Caputo says:

      Thanks for getting in touch, but I think we have a case of mistaken identity here. I did know a Sgt. Hugh John Sullivan, who was KIA in June, 1965, but no one named Sullivan was my radioman. I had three, named Chriswell, Widener, and Jones.

  10. Christian T says:

    What was your book recieved when it was published in 1977?

    • Philip Caputo says:

      If you mean how was Rumor of War received, the reception was extraordinary, with splendid reviews from critics across the country and a positive response from the book-reading public. A Rumor of War made best-seller lists nationwide, and, nearly 40 years after its publication, it continues to sell around 15,000 copies a year.

  11. don wendling says:

    Mr Caputo you’re books rule I’ll b reading them a lot

  12. Jim Hill says:

    Lt. Caputo, I am a former Captain in the USMC (1970-78). My overseas tour was with BLT 3/8 in 1972 and I did not have to go to Vietnam. Your book was the first I read about the Vietnam War and I have a 1977 first edition copy. It is read every few years and I am now reading it again. It keeps me up at night, just like it did when I first read it. This is a simple “thank you” for the remarkable best book ever to come out of the Vietnam experience. Your words and wisdom have stayed with me for many years. Now, at age 65, I have lost a young friend in Afghanistan, Navy Senior CPO Blake McLendon (September 2010), and wonder why we never seem to learn which battles are worth fighting. You remain an inspiration. Semper Fi.
    Jim Hill

  13. Jim Hill says:

    BTW, I bought and am just finishing your latest book, The Longest Road, another book difficult to put down at night. Clearly, you’re not a one trick pony when it comes to writing :)
    Jim Hill

  14. Jim Hill says:

    Dang it, Lieutenant, The Longest Road was so good I finished it quickly during my night-time reads where my wife and I share some quiet time, now loaning it to my retired Army Major friend. Tonight, just went to Amazon.com and purchased Means of Escape. Sounds like you’ve led a life of adventure and have been able to share it with all of us. Thanks again.

  15. Donna Chase says:

    My brother served as a Marine in Vietnam and has professed many times that your book, “Rumor of War” was the most honest record and true dialogue of his experiences. Thank you for helping me understand what my brother endured (he was wounded on his 21st birthday, believing he was dead…left in the jungle and was “found” 3 days later). By the grace of God, we still have my brother today. A most wonderful man. My hero. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us.

  16. HAL says:

    Back in the late 80′s, I was in high school and just as many other teens, of every place and every time, I used to think of war as the ultimate adventure. It was the days of movies such as Platoon and Born on the 4th of July. Actually, in retrospective, I came to understand that the whole media was cluttered with an exploitation all around Vietnam in those years.

    And I found your book at my parents’. As I read it, my view on the conflict gradually changed. As the juvenile hype on the subject gave pass to the critic understanding, my own points of view shifted. This book, obviously cannot teach anybody about the realities of war. But when you’re a teen you cannot assess such fact all right away.

    Years later, in the early 1990′s, I was drafted to boot camp and then I learned what it takes to earn patches & badges when you hump on boots and helmets. In Mexico, there is a federal act, known as the Estrada Doctrine, that refrains the government from joining international conflicts. OK, just as I underwent Basic Training, for the first time in decades the Mexican President gnawed on the idea of setting aside said Doctrine and join a multinational force, namely the Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East. Didn’t happen, and as years passed by, when I recall on the subject, I usually think ‘geez, a helluva occasion to switch foreign policies, if the Mexican Congress had resolved otherwise, voting in favor of the President’s motion, guess who was in training echelon before receiving orders to the Gulf’. Eventually, I came to understand that if there is a final lesson to learn from experiences like yours, is that oneself shouldn’t be looking for experiences like yours. Just like Bon Jovi’s song says, “and you can go to war, but only if you have to”.

    Partly on the subject, party on the prose, your book became one of my favorites. The only pleasure as big as reading, is re-reading. It’s kind of a surprise to run into your website, to notice that you personally reply to comments, and to finally get in touch (or kind of) with a person who has been on my bookshelf for years.

    BTW, it was me who initially wrote the Wikipedia entry!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Rumor_of_War

    My best regards, Lt. See you around.

  17. Katie Patrick says:

    Hello! I’m in high school and just finished your book A Rumor of War. I was wondering what your opinion of combat in general was?

  18. don wendling says:

    mr caputo, i live in bufalo ny. if u ever get down here, with the missus, coffee is on me. Sir, a point i think needs to be made once. i have been following the iraq and afghanistan wars. Im a space program avid avid fan. The point is this. If you consider the what is the post Apollo program era, roughly 1972, to now, thats 42 years. and , sir in fact , with all respect all respect to the men and women of our armed forces, the lowest, the fewest, the least, the smallest number of our men and women to , actually have died in combat , roughly 7000 in all wars our country has been directly involved in , as compared to the Vietnam era, (58000) korea, (33000)ww1 110000 or ww2, 290000, is in in fact, that 42 year era. what ever thoughts you have , id be very keen on hearing them ty

  19. Scott Hall says:

    Dear Mr. Caputo
    Thank you for a well written and extremely insightful read! You share an honest and clear reflection in a way that had me stop every few pages and simply think. I can only imagine the vulnerability and courage it took to walk those trails, yet believe it took the same to write this memoir. I also liked this book because you share the very real inner conflicts and emotional changes that we often find ourselves experiencing (compassion, morality, trust, anger, perseverance, etc.). I’m writing this at a moment before reading the final pages and just wanted to share my gratitude. Best Regards
    Scott H.

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