Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character

Jonathan Shay
In this strikingly original and groundbreaking book, Dr. Shay examines the psychological devastation of war by comparing the soldiers of Homer's Iliad with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Although the Iliad was written twenty-seven centuries ago it has much to teach about combat trauma, as do the more recent, compelling voices and experiences of Vietnam vets.


Reviewed: 2014-04-04

this was a book that took a lot of effort for me to finish. It was a thought-provoking work, and really highlights the ways American soldiers in Vietnam were mistreated and betrayed by their commanders. The earlier chapters with explicit reference to characters and events of The Iliad were most pertinent to my own interests, and have really made me reconsider my understanding not just of the Iliad, but of most other ancient literature. The literature of Ancient Greeks was so much about war and its aftereffects because all the (male, mostly landed) citizens had to participate in war to protect themselves and their city-states. Part of me feels bad that I'm only just now realizing this; but at the same time, there is still a ton of stuff about the ancient world that I'm still learning too, so why not Homer. But I have digressed.

The parts of this book that focused most heavily on the American experience were least interesting to me, although there were still moments that caught my attention, one being the assertion that commanders in Vietnam acted more like managers of a business, looking only at the bottom line, thinking of soldiers only as small cogs in part of the larger machine. Comments like this actually made me wonder if there is (going to be) an updated version of this study for the War on Terror years. (

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