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Odysseus in America

Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming



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About The Book

In this ambitious follow-up to Achilles in Vietnam, Dr. Jonathan Shay uses the Odyssey, the story of a soldier's homecoming, to illuminate the pitfalls that trap many veterans on the road back to civilian life.

Seamlessly combining important psychological work and brilliant literary interpretation with an impassioned plea to renovate American military institutions, Shay deepens our understanding of both the combat veteran's experience and one of the world's greatest classics.

In Achilles in Vietnam, Dr. Jonathan Shay used the story of the Iliad as a prism through which to examine how ancient and modern wars have battered the psychology of the men who fight. Now he turns his attention to the Odyssey, the story of a soldier's homecoming, to illuminate the real problems faced by combat veterans reentering civilian society.

The Odyssey, Shay argues, offers explicit portrayals of behavior common among returning soldiers in our own culture: danger-seeking, womanizing, explosive violence, drug abuse, visitation by the dead, obsession, vagrancy and homelessness. Supporting his reading with examples from his fifteen-year practice treating Vietnam veterans, Shay shows how Odysseus's mistrustfulness, his lies, and his constant need to conceal his thoughts and emotions foreshadow the experiences of many of today's veterans. He also explains how veterans recover and advocates changes to American military practice that will protect future servicemen and servicewomen while increasing their fighting power. Throughout, Homer strengthens our understanding of what a combat veteran must overcome to return to and flourish in civilian life, just as the heartbreaking stories of the veterans Shay treats give us a new understanding of one of the world's greatest classics.

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.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (November 25, 2003)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743211574

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Raves and Reviews

“[A] fresh take on a literary classic.” —Library Journal

“A brilliant successor to Shay's groundbreaking Achilles in Vietnam. —Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Why They Kill and The Making of the Atomic Bomb

“Should be read by anyone interested in the effects of combat on troops, or in the meaning of Homer's works -- and by everyone who wants to better understand today's United States. Buy it, read it, and make your friends read it.” —Thomas E. Ricks, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Making the Corps

“Just as the Iliad and Odyssey complement each other perfectly, so also Odysseus in America is a most worthy companion to Achilles in Vietnam. Dr. Shay has given his readers a true American Odyssey.” —Gregory Nagy, Professor of Classical Greek Literature at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C.

“Provocative thinking and clarity of style on the page are Jonathan Shay's consistent hallmarks. Even those who disagree with his conclusions will find his work of profound value. This is a moral, insightful, stimulating book.” —Ralph Peters, author of Beyond Terror and Fighting for the Future Vibrant

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