The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried

A Work of Fiction

Book Club Kit - 2009
Average Rating:
Rate this:
This work depicts the heroic young men of Alpha Company as they carry the emotional weight of their lives to war in Vietnam in a patchwork account of a modern journey into the heart of darkness. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have.
Publisher: Boston : Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009
Edition: First Mariner books edition
Copyright Date: ©1990
ISBN: 9780618706419
Characteristics: 10 books + reader's guide in a cloth bag
Call Number: BCE


From Library Staff

1960s, Vietnam War: A nonlinear narrative ties together multiple, seemingly unrelated tales. Readers are drawn into the intensely personal story of men at war, experiencing “the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul.”

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Nov 24, 2017

This book follows the author's personal experience as a grunt in Vietnam. I loved his descriptions and his honesty. I tear up even now recalling his most important battle - whether or not to flee to Canada instead of serving.

JCLMandaW Oct 13, 2017

This book tells us that war is hell. War is friendship. War is pain. War is poetry. But mostly, war is hell.

LPL_PolliK Sep 26, 2017

Born during this "conflict", it has always loomed large in my consciousness. I've watched many films depicting the war in Vietnam, but this was the first novel. The writing is concise and expertly chosen. O'Brien, a veteran of this war is writing fictionalized truths about his experience. His use of stylized repetition of phrases and events makes the stories both immediate and haunting. On the 40th anniversary of the conflict, and in conjunction with the Ken Burn's Vietnam documentary, this would be a great book to read. It will be one of the things that you, too, carry.

Sep 22, 2017

Having been born just at the beginning of the war, my memories of it are shadows of TV news stories, all Black & White, whispers of adults and talk of the Viet Kong. It is only in recent years that I have become aware of balanced viewpoints on the Vietnam conflict and see a widespread effort to understand and dialogue.

This book was fascinating in that in blending fact and fiction, O'Brien show us the true nature of war stories and gives us an inside look at what it was like to be there in 'Nam. It makes me sad to see how that war affected an entire generation. Hopefully books like this and projects like The Big Read that is happening right now will continue to bring healing and closure for those who served our country as well as those who followed their consciences and fled to Canada.

"And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It's about sunlight. It's about the way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do. It's about love and memory. It's about sorrow. It's about sisters who never write back and people who never listen."

Sep 19, 2017

THE THINGS THEY CARRIED is a powerful amalgam of fact and fiction, memoir and fantasy. Author Tim O’Brien’s masterful storytelling immerses the reader in the sights, sounds, feelings, and even tastes of the Vietnam War. By sharing the experiences of those who served on the front lines, as well as the effects the War had on their lives long after it was over, O’Brien has created an unforgettable, sobering, and thought-provoking masterpiece.

Jul 12, 2017

Ha to read this book for a class and it was very interesting. O'Brien really makes the reader think about heavy topics, such as war, government, and life in general. Talks deeply about the 60s and the tragedy of being in the Vietnamese War. I recommend it because it would make people think more than a lot of other books.

Mar 30, 2017

Generally I don’t like war stories but The Things They Carried is going on my Favorites list. But it’s not simply a war story. It’s a tangled enigma. In O’Brien’s own words it’s a love story. But it’s also a memoir. It’s a fiction, and a guide on how to write a story. It’s a contemplation on life, and ways to handle violent death. It’s a rumination on the concepts of memory, and truth, and how those two diverge in the stories we tell. It is regret, and remorse, and a celebration. It’s lyrical in its imagery. And it’s a fierce telling of the brutal experience that was Viet Nam. This book is brilliant and O’Brien’s powerful writing style makes it so. "Right spills over into wrong. Order blends into chaos … you lose your sense of the definite, your sense of truth itself, therefore in a true war story nothing is ever absolutely true.”

Nov 16, 2016

Tim O’Brien is uncanny in his ability to reflect and refract the conflicted memories of Vietnam vets. His writing is so honest it hurts.

What was it like to be there? The narrative captures the day-to-day minutiae of the hump and the horror of helplessly watching platoon members fall.

As the narrator tell us, “To carry something was to hump it, as when Lieutenant Jimmy Cross humped his love for Martha up the hills and through the swamps. In its intransitive form, to hump meant to walk, or to march, but it implied burdens far beyond the intransitive.”

AL_KATI Oct 21, 2016

You will be blown away by this novel and it will challenge you to become a better person and think critically about what a novel can really do.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 03, 2016

Memorable stories. Vivid language. Brilliant structure. I imagine this is one of those war books that people who passionately hate war books can tolerate, if not enjoy.

O'Brien's straddling the line of fiction and non-fiction is done skillfully and makes this book what it is. This is all true, he tells the reader, but it's not. Except that it is. Commentary on "what is truth" aside, I have a feeling many of O'Brien's Vietnam stories are more true than he leads on.

View All Comments


Add a Quote

Sep 19, 2017

“They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.” - p. 14

Sep 19, 2017

“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.” - pp.65-66

Sep 19, 2017

“For the common soldier, at least, war has the feel - the spiritual texture - of a great ghostly fog, thick and permanent. There is no clarity. Everything swirls. The old rules are no longer binding, the old truths no longer true. Right spills over into wrong. Order blends into chaos, love into hate, ugliness into beauty, law into anarchy, civility into savory. The vapors suck you in. You can’t tell where you are, or why you’re there, and the only certainty is overwhelming ambiguity.” - p. 78

Sep 19, 2017

“For Rat Kiley, I think, facts were formed by sensation, not the other way around, and when you listened to one of his stories, you'd find yourself performing rapid calculations in your head, subtracting superlatives, figuring the square root of an absolute and then multiplying by maybe.” - pp.85-86

Sep 19, 2017

"The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness.” - p. 218


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further


Subject Headings


Find it at DCL

To Top