Man in the Box

Dunn, Mary Lois. The Man in the Box: a Story From Vietnam. McGraw Hill, 1968.

Reason read: I read somewhere that March 8th is Hug a G.I. Day. I read this in honor of the thousands of men kept in little boxes from every war.

If you read this book with a child’s intent, it is a story about a young boy who knows the worth of a human life and tries with heroic measures to save it. If you read this book with an adult’s cynicism, it is a book that glorifies American soldiers in the Vietnam War and completely misses the point of the Vietnamese culture. My advice is to read it as Mary Lois Dunn intended: as a story for children. Chau Li witnesses the horrible torture of an American soldier kept cramped prisoner in a small cane box. His own father suffered in same-such box but did not survive the brutality. Determined to somehow save the American, Chau Li risks everything to squirrel “Dah Vid” away in a cave until together they can safely rejoin the Green Barets hidden somewhere in the deep Vietnamese jungle. As they hide out from the Viet Cong Chau Li and Dah Vid grow close, form a friendship and make unrealistic promises. Spoiler alert: the end is ambiguous which is surprising for a book meant for children.

Author fact: Mary Lois Dunn was a librarian.

Book trivia: The Man in the Box won the Oklahoma Sequoyah Children’s Book Award in 1968.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Man in the Box “harrowing and sad” and although it is long out of print, it is “definitely worth tracking down” (Book Lust p 115).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction For Kids Of All Ages” (p 115).


Best and the Brightest

Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. New York: Random House, 1972.

Reason read: the United States pulled out of Vietnam in the month of March.

Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest is a deep dive into the origins of the Vietnam War. It is a scrutiny of the policies and procedures crafted during the Kennedy administration that led to the consequences in Vietnam. The meat of the book takes place between the years of 1960 and 1965 but flows back and forth to earlier and later times to give substance to the timeline. What really helps the narrative is that Halberstam was a reporter during this time. He was at the heart of the perfect storm: the fall of China, the rise of McCarthy and the outbreak of the Korean War. This trifecta of events had a profound and lasting effect on the White House and domestic politics of the time.

A single line I really liked, “In government it is always easier to go forward with a program that doesn’t work than to stop it all together and admit failure” (p 212). Isn’t that human nature in a nutshell?

Author fact: I cannot help but wonder what books Halberstam would have written had he not been killed in a car accident at the age of 73.

Book trivia: I always love the photographs Halberstam chooses for his books. The photos in The Best and the Brightest are no different.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Best and the Brightest “hefty, riveting and definitive” (p 238). Agreed, agreed, and agreed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust and More Book Lust. In Book Lust in the chapter called “Vietnam” (p 238) and in More Book Lust in the super obvious chapter called “David Halberstam: Too Good To Miss” (p 112).