All American experience in the Vietnam War starts and ends with this book by Michael Herr. Which might be an overstatement, but not by much. The ghosts of the '60s, foreign policy division, stalk this set of on-the-ground reports and recollections from in and around the frontlines of that doomed military enterprise as surely as anything you may encounter from Alabama or Dallas or San Francisco or Chicago, and along the way it sets the table for such now familiar landmarks as Apocalypse Now (to which Herr contributed narration), Full Metal Jacket (which Herr co-wrote with Kubrick and Gustav Hasford), and in general the deluge of efforts to come to grips with that war that only began to emerge after this book's publication, as if the country had been holding its collective breath until that moment to make sure it really was over, and safe to start talking about it. Herr gave us one of the most pervasive and enduring mythic images of the war, soldiers crouched in foxholes after dark, taking fire, lobbing grenades at unseen enemies, playing Hendrix to get them through as the tracers and explosions briefly illuminate their painted faces. More or less a new journalist in the classic style, which means that he plunges himself entirely into what he covers and reports it through the filter of his experience, Herr's language is as exalted and hallucinatory and elusive and baffling as the Vietnam War itself: the danger, the jungle, the sweltering heat, the drugs, the ubiquitous choppers, the oppressive nearness of death, the desperation, the futility and absurdity. "Going out at night the medics gave you pills," he starts after a brief overture, "Dexedrine breath like snakes kept too long in a jar. I never saw the need for them myself, a little contact or anything that even sounded like contact would give me more speed than I could bear. Whenever I heard something outside of our clenched little circle I'd practically flip, hoping to God that I wasn't the only one who'd noticed it. A couple of rounds fired off in the dark a kilometer away and the Elephant would be there kneeling on my chest, sending me down into my boots for a breath." That's how it starts—we know, of course, how it ends.