The Best and the Brightest
By David Halberstam
Political leaders matter. At least, that’s the argument David Halberstam makes in his first and perhaps best book, “The Best and the Brightest.” Published in 1972, it’s the definitive account of the decision-making process that led to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, written while the war was still being fought. It is impossible to walk away from Halberstam’s narrative without feeling depressed. With equal parts empathy and critique, Halberstam recounts a modern Greek tragedy about a conflict made worse by men of the highest caliber and with the best of intentions. “The Best and the Brightest” is a biography of the individuals who shaped U.S. policy on Vietnam for a generation, and by the end of the book, I came to resent their hubris, their fear and their intransigence, even as I came to like them personally and to understand why they made the decisions they made.
The silver lining of the book produces a similar c
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