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Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

Review

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

In 1971, Ellsberg, formerly a Washington insider, leaked a top-secret document to the press. He did this with one goal in mind: To tell the truth, which was important above all else. The document revealed a deep shame that the U.S. government was hiding. It reported facts about the Vietnam War, facts that the public had never before known because it threw the U.S.’s entire involvement in Vietnam into doubt. And then, Daniel Ellsberg became America’s most dangerous man.

I knew very little about the Vietnam War which is why I jumped at the chance to review Steve Sheinkin’s book. Going in, my biggest concern was that MOST DANGEROUS would read much like a history textbook or an encyclopedia article. I was delighted to find out how wrong I was. While technically nonfiction, the book still feels very much like a work of thrilling fiction: it’s fast-paced, suspenseful and keeps you turning the pages.

While technically nonfiction, the book still feels very much like a work of thrilling fiction: it’s fast-paced, suspenseful and keeps you turning the pages.

Though MOST DANGEROUS follows Ellsberg, the narrative is interwoven with snatches of others’ stories and perspective. It jumps back and forth in time, which further helps Sheinkin avoid the history-textbook feel. Instead, it’s like the readers are working out a puzzle as they dive into each chapter. I wasn’t used to learning about history like this. Typically, history had been taught to me on a macro level. Learning about the broad topics of the Cold War and the Vietnam War through the narrow lens of just a few individuals makes these historical events much more real and relatable. While still telling a very specific story, Sheinkin never neglects to inform readers of the wider context of each individual’s decisions.

History buffs will enjoy the fresh perspective Sheinkin brings to a critical era in the U.S.’s past, and they will appreciate his inclusion of documents and photos between the pages. Those who do not generally like learning about history will still love this book’s literary feel and appreciate that it avoids the dryness of academic writing. Sheinkin’s writing style is simple and straightforward, so that all the focus is on the events and characters rather than on the prose. His voice never comes between the reader and the writing, allowing the events to speak for themselves. Sheinkin’s clear-cut language has another advantage: though much literature and film has been produced about Ellsberg, Sheinkin allows readers from all age groups to partake in this story.

I would recommend this novel not only to those interested in history, but also to those who usually aren’t too concerned with it; MOST DANGEROUS will persuade the latter to care about stories of the past, if only a few hundred pages of it.

Reviewed by Sydney Scott on October 16, 2015

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
by Steve Sheinkin

  • Publication Date: September 22, 2015
  • Genres: Children's, History
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
  • ISBN-10: 1596439521
  • ISBN-13: 9781596439528