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Payback

Five Marines After Vietnam

From the author of Primary Colors, “a remarkably sensitive story of a generation” (The New York Times Book Review): The critically acclaimed true story of five Marines who fought together in a bloody battle during the Vietnam War, barely escaping with their lives, and of what happened when they came home.

In 1981, while the country was celebrating the end of the Iran hostage crisis, an unemployed Vietnam veteran named Gary Cooper went berserk with a gun, angry over the jubilant welcome the hostages received in contrast to his own homecoming from Vietnam, and was killed in a fight with police. In what has been called “the most eloquent work of nonfiction to emerge from Vietnam since Michael Herr’s Dispatches” (The New York Times), Joe Klein tells Cooper’s story, as well as the stories of four of the other vets in Cooper’s platoon.

The story begins with an ambush and a grisly battle in the Que Son Valley in 1967, but Payback is less about remembering the war and more about examining its long-term effects on the grunts who fought it. Klein fills in the next fifteen years of these Marines’ lives after they return home, with “the sort of fine and private detail one ordinarily finds only in fiction” (People). The experiences of these five men capture the struggles of a whole generation of Vietnam veterans and their families. Klein’s “near-hypnotic” account (Daily News, New York) is, to this day, both a remarkable piece of reporting and “some of the most vivid, harrowing, and emotionally honest writing to come out of Vietnam” (The Washington Post Book World).

Photo by Keiko Ikeuchi

Joe Klein is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the #1 bestseller Primary Colors. His weekly Time column, “In the Arena,” covers US politics, elections, and foreign policy and has won two National Headliner Awards for best magazine column.

“Extraordinarily perceptive…a remarkably sensitive story of a generation.”

– Stanley Karnow, The New York Times Book Review

“Klein rescues the grunt from anecdote and restores his dignity….Payback is, simply, one of the best accounts of how men respond to combat written about Vietnam or any other war…Klein’s reporting is remarkable….He brings each man to life, takes us into the battlefields between men and women, lets us see as we so rarely do the agonies and hard-won victories of growing up in working class America….He has overcome the many barriers that divided us, and has healed some of the wounds of the war.”

– Esquire

“The most eloquent work of nonfiction to emerge from Vietnam since Michael Herr’s Dispatches…Mr. Klein has a brisk, instinctive talent for illuminating American lives….we come to know the five Marines as intimately as characters in a novel….Indeed, Payback has that rare quality in a book—the visceral feel of real life, pinned down and clarified through words.”

– Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Some of the most vivid, harrowing, and emotionally honest writing to come out of Vietnam.”

– The Washington Post Book World

“It’s perhaps good to be reminded just how compassionate the most informed journalism can be….Some of Klein’s most interesting reporting concerns the effect on the wives of their husbands’ experiences; he shows how supportive some of them could be….Klein’s book eloquently demonstrates that what brings these men back into the world is their own efforts: their understanding and their care for one another, their interest in something outside themselves, their brave determination.”

– Peter S. Prescott, Newsweek

“It’s a grim picture, painted in compelling strokes. Klein gets it all—their troubles with women, with employers, with the world—and the book must be a sober look in the mirror for the survivors. For the reader, it’s near-hypnotic.”

– New York Daily News

“A rich and important book that explains a great deal about a lot of people….Payback is the story of Joe Klein’s search for the survivors of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, vintage 1967. It is a special book because it focuses in depth on the experience of five men…who were temporarily thrown together in an unpopular war.”

– Chicago Sun-Times

"[Payback] captures the sort of fine and private detail one ordinarily finds only in fiction."

– People

More books from this author: Joe Klein