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Dispatches (book)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
First edition
AuthorMichael Herr
Publication date
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint (Paperback)
Pages272 pp
959.704/38 20
LC ClassDS559.5 .H47 1991

Dispatches is a New Journalism book by Michael Herr that describes the author's experiences in Vietnam as a war correspondent for Esquire magazine. First published in 1977, Dispatches was one of the first pieces of American literature that portrayed the experiences of soldiers in the Vietnam War for American readers.

Dispatches arrived late. Herr served as Esquire’s correspondent from 1967 to 1969, and returned to the United States intending to produce a book about what he’d seen there immediately, but 18 months after his return, he suffered a nervous breakdown due to the events that he witnessed and stopped writing for five years, until it was ultimately published in 1977.

Featured in the book are fellow war correspondents Sean Flynn, Dana Stone, and Dale Dye, and photojournalist Tim Page.

Dispatches was reprinted in 2009, by Everyman's Library as a contemporary classic.


John le Carré called Dispatches "the best book I have ever read on men and war in our time."[1] It was featured in the journalism section of The Guardian's 100 greatest non-fiction book list in 2011.[2]

After publishing Dispatches, Herr disclosed that parts of the book were invented, and that it would be better for it not to be regarded as journalism. In a 1990 interview with Los Angeles Times, he admitted that the characters Day Tripper and Mayhew in the book are "totally fictional characters" and went on to say:

A lot of Dispatches is fictional. I've said this a lot of times. I have told people over the years that there are fictional aspects to Dispatches, and they look betrayed. They look heartbroken, as if it isn't true anymore. I never thought of Dispatches as journalism. In France they published it as a novel.... I always carried a notebook. I had this idea—I remember endlessly writing down dialogues. It was all I was really there to do. Very few lines were literally invented. A lot of lines are put into mouths of composite characters. Sometimes I tell a story as if I was present when I wasn't, (which wasn't difficult)—I was so immersed in that talk, so full of it and so steeped in it. A lot of the journalistic stuff I got wrong.[3]

Similarly, in a separate interview with Eric James Schroeder, he said:

I don't think it's any secret that there is talk in the book that's invented. But it's invented out of that voice that I heard so often and that made such penetration into my head.... I don't really want to go into that no-man's-land about what really happened and what didn't happen and where you draw the line. Everything in Dispatches happened for me, even if it didn't necessarily happen to me.[4]


Dispatches was adapted into a musical with music by Elizabeth Swados.[5]

In screenplays[edit]

Herr worked on the narration for the movie Apocalypse Now and co-wrote the screenplay for the movie Full Metal Jacket. Several scenes and pieces of dialogue used in the book were later also used in those movies.[6]


  1. ^ "Michael Herr, 'Apocalypse Now' and 'Full Metal Jacket screenwriter dies at 76". The Independent. June 25, 2016.
  2. ^ "The 100 greatest non-fiction books". London: www.guardian.co.uk. 14 June 2011.
  3. ^ Ciotti, Paul. "MICHAEL HERR : A Man of Few Words : What Is a Great American Writer Doing Holed Up in London, and Why Has He Been So Quiet All These Years?", Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1990.http://articles.latimes.com/1990-04-15/magazine/tm-2121_1_michael-herr/4. Retrieved on 25 February 2018.
  4. ^ Schroeder, Eric James. Praeger: 1992. Vietnam, we've all been there: interviews with American writers, p. 46.
  5. ^ Grimes, William (2016-01-06). "Elizabeth Swados, Creator of Socially Conscious Musicals, Is Dead at 64". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-09-14.
  6. ^ Kulik, Gary (2009). 'War Stories': False Atrocity Tales, Swift Boaters, and Winter Soldiers – What Really Happened in Vietnam. Potomac Books. p. 27. ISBN 978-1597976374.