- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (Oct. 1 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684813211
- ISBN-13: 978-0684813219
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21.4 cm
- Shipping Weight: 272 g
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #49,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character Paperback – Oct 1 1995
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Shay works from an intriguing premise: that the study of the great Homeric epic of war, The Iliad, can illuminate our understanding of Vietnam, and vice versa. Along the way, he compares the battlefield experiences of men like Agamemnon and Patroclus with those of frontline grunts, analyzes the berserker rage that overcame Achilles and so many American soldiers alike, and considers the ways in which societies ancient and modern have accounted for and dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder---a malady only recently recognized in the medical literature, but well attested in Homer's pages. The novelist Tim O'Brien, who has written so affectingly about his experiences in combat, calls Shay's book "one of the most original and most important scholarly works to have emerged from the Vietnam war." He's right.
Thomas E. Neven Marine Corps Gazette Shay's astute analysis of the human psyche and his inventive linking of his patients' symptoms to the actions of the characters in Homer's classic story make this book well worth reading for anyone who would lead troops in both peace and war.
Jon Spayde The Utne Reader ...eloquent, disturbing, and original...
Herbert Mitgang The New York Times A transcendent literary adventure. His compassionate book deserves a place in the lasting literature of the Vietnam War.
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In fact, I don't know that it would be of much value even to those who had to cope with PTSD.
What it is: a non-soldier's attempt to understand combat, and very interesting on that account. Shay takes the Illiad and compares the emotions of the Greeks (as Homer wrote about them) with those of the Vietnam vets he met in counseling. I was fascinated by the book. It is very much worth reading, but don't buy it as a layman's guide to the Vietnam vet or the Vietnam war.
Realizing that and reading the vast parallels between The Iliad and Vietnam PTSD symptomology, I was able to understand my own emotional scars and through that self-realization, truly begin to heal those scars. I referred my therapist to the book and she told me it offered her more insight into the cause and treatment of PTSD among Vietnam veterans than any of the seminars or textbooks she'd ever encountered. This is a must read for Vietnam vets and those who care about them.
Something like that seems to happen to Combat Veterans when they read this book. Shay is neither the bard telling the story nor the warrior who lived it, but he takes the stories of those who were there and presents them in such a way that, reading them, "the old soldier weeps and weeps again...".
The truth is here. Another reviewer has viewed some of the stories with a measure of skepticism -- and there are some "red flags" in some of the stories -- but that is the nature of "War Stories" and those who know what "the facts on the ground" were can see therough all that to the essential truth that Shay so eloquently presents.
I bought this book because it was recommended to me by readers of my own book, "Aftermath: A Song For Tyrone..." and I am glad I did! I wish I had read it years ago!
If you are a Veteran -- or if there is a veteran who means a lot to you -- or if you just want to understand more about war and what it does to the soldier and to those who love him and to society in general -- buy this book! Buy it -- read it -- give it as a gift!
First, .... Many of my friends went to Vietnam. Of those whose names didn't end up on the wall, many returned but were never the same. This book explained to me what happened to them, and and why. I have always sensed their pain, but the explanation was simply beyond them to express, and beyond me to understand.
Second, as a survivor of traumatic stress in an entirely different environment, this book was spooky in the number of parallels I discovered between Shay's recounting of veterans' experience, and my experiences growing up in a religious cult. Shay's contention is that violation of "what's right" by those in positions of authority makes the effects of taumatic stress much worse, whether it be loss of abilitiy to trust, generalized alienation, "authority issues" resulting in an inability to stay employed, hyperalertness, or many other patterns of behavior. My own experience tends to bear Shay's contention out in some remarkable ways. ...
I also took great courage from the last chapter where Shay discusses prospects for recovery. One is never the same after traumatic stress, so going back is simply not possible; some survivors recover more than others for unknown reasons; and some survivors learn to live lives full of meaning and value to themselves and their associates. This was realistic good news indeed to one who has stared the black hole full in the face.
I found the book to be full of compassion and understanding. Shay has done a great service to all traumatic stress survivors.
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