Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (Paperback)

Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character By Jonathan Shay, M.D. Cover Image
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An original and groundbreaking examination of the psychological devastation of war through the lens of Homer’s Iliad in this “compassionate book [that] deserves a place in the lasting literature of the Vietnam War” (The New York Times).

In this moving and dazzlingly creative book, Dr. Jonathan Shay examines the psychological devastation of war by comparing the soldiers of Homer’s Iliad with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. A classic of war literature that has as much relevance as ever in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Achilles in Vietnam is a “transcendent literary adventure” (The New York Times) and “clearly one of the most original and most important scholarly works to have emerged from the Vietnam War” (Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried).

As a Veterans Affairs psychiatrist, Shay encountered devastating stories of unhealed PTSD and uncovered the painful paradox—that fighting for one’s country can render one unfit to be a citizen. With a sensitive and compassionate examination of the battles many Vietnam veterans continue to fight, Shay offers readers a greater understanding of PTSD and how to alleviate the potential suffering of soldiers. Although the Iliad was written twenty-seven centuries ago, Shay shows how it has much to teach about combat trauma, as do the more recent, compelling voices and experiences of Vietnam vets.

A groundbreaking and provocative monograph, Achilles in Vietnam takes readers on a literary journey that demonstrates how we can learn how war damages the mind and spirit, and work to change those things in our culture that so that we don’t continue repeating the same mistakes.

About the Author

Jonathan Shay, MD., PhD., a MacArthur Fellow, is a clinical psychiatrist whose treatment of combat trauma suffered by Vietnam veterans has deepened understanding of the effects of warfare on the individual. He worked as Veterans Affairs psychiatrist at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Boston, Massachusetts for twenty years. His work on moral injury is found in his books, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. In 2018, Volunteers of America established The Shay Moral Injury Center, named in his honor and dedicated to furthering knowledge about moral injury in the many populations who experience it. He lives in the Boston area.

Praise For…

“Clearly one of the most important scholarly works to have emerged from the Vietnam War. Beyond that, it is also an intensely moving work, intensely passionate, reaching back through centuries to touch and heal. —Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried

“A fascinating book that is simultaneously brilliant on Greek classics and the Vietnam War, on modern psychiatry and the archetypes of human struggle. And, on top of that, it says something that is directly meaningful to the way many of us live our lives. Remarkable.” —Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winner author of A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain
“A transcendent literary adventure. His compassionate book deserves a place in the lasting literature of the Vietnam War.” —Herbert Mitgang, The New York Times
“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.” —Thomas E. Neven, Marine Corps Gazette
“Eloquent, disturbing, and original.” —Jon Spayde, The Utne Reader
Product Details
ISBN: 9780684813219
ISBN-10: 0684813211
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: October 1st, 1995
Pages: 272
Language: English