Most Dangerous Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
Review by Catherine Baty
Sheinkin, S. (2018). Most dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the secret history of the Vietnam War. [audiobook]
2. PLOT SUMMARY
The reader is guided through the life of Daniel Ellsberg. Cajoled into working on what would become the Vietnam War when he would have rather worked on his own projects, Ellsberg takes a job under John McNaughton. At first Ellsberg supports Cold War politics and the engagement in Vietnam. Early on, he felt it was normal for military efforts to have an amount of secrecy, but as time goes on and Ellsberg learns of the vast amount of information not shared with the citizens of the United States, his opinion begins to change. The war in Vietnam continues, more lives are lost and no progress is made. Ellsberg makes an effort to learn as much about the war as possible. After a long sickness, Ellsberg returns to the United States and is given the opportunity to work on what became “The Pentagon Papers”. After leaving government service, he goes back to working in Southern California where he could be closer to his children. For a short time he is sent back to D.C. as a consultant. During that time a top secret request for more troops comes across his desk. Someone leaks the story to the New York Times and Ellsberg comes to the conclusion that leaking government information can sometimes be good. “The Pentagon Papers” are completed and Ellsberg obtains a copy. After spending the summer reading the 7000 page volume, Ellsberg sees the papers for what they are. Proof of a history of lying about an unwanted and unwarranted war in Vietnam over a period of 23 years. Once he attends an anti-war demonstration, Ellsberg decides that he wants to help to end the war and begins to make copies of the papers. After many false starts with making the documents public through congress, Ellsberg finds a reporter from the New York Times to publish a story about them. The story gets the go-ahead at the New York Times, but soon after they are made to stop publication. Ellsberg goes to the Washington Post to continue with the publication. Then The Boston Globe publishes. Papers all over the country began publishing stories on the papers. Eventually Senator Gravel reads as much of the Pentagon Papers into the official record as he can. A vote makes the rest of the papers available to the public. Angered by this, President Nixon creates a team dubbed “The Plumbers” whose goal is to destroy the reputation of Ellsberg. The main part of the book ends with Ellsberg’s trial and President Nixon’s involvement in the attempts to tear down Ellsberg coming to light and a mistrial is called. Ellsberg is free.
The epilogue asks, “When, if ever, are citizens justified in leaking information the government has deemed secret?” and describes the very similar situation around Edward Snoden and his decision to leak government information.
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
This informational book, part biography part social history takes the reader through the professional life of Daniel Ellsberg. The unabridged audiobook was listened to through the app Libby by Overdrive. Performed by one reader, Ray Porter, the audiobook was of excellent sound quality. Though there were no additional effects, the reader made brilliant use of different speeds and tones of voice to differentiate speakers with consistency throughout the book. The backmatter of the audiobook was helpful in creating a modern sense for the story. Since this audiobook is directed towards a young adult audience, it is vital that young listeners be told why this story is important. The tie in with the Edward Snoden case at the end does that very well. I was engaged throughout the listening experience, thoroughly absorbed in the story. My feelings about audiobooks remain consistent. They are a handy way to supplement reading time, but I feel as though dense materials like social histories and biographies are better absorbed from a combination of audio and visual stimuli. I would not shy away from using an audiobook in the classroom, however I would have the students follow along with the text. Listening to the words will allow the students freedom of mind to fully absorb what is being discussed. They don’t have to concentrate on getting the words right as they read and it can take a lot of pressure away from the situation. I also think that specifically in the case of this book that students would benefit from the use of both versions because the text offers: a cast of characters, photographs, a bibliography, and an index to further assist in the complete understanding of the material. I do think that this book would appeal to young readers in both formats and that audiobooks in general are a wonderful way to encourage reading.
4. REVIEW EXCERPTS
“With the news filled with stories about Edward Snoden and the NSA, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, and privacy rights and government overreach, this brilliant work about an extraordinary whistle-blower taking a stand should be on everyone’s reading list. VERDICT A timely and extraordinary addition to every library.” – Jody Kopple, School Library Journal on September 1, 2015
“Sheinkin has an unparalleled gift for synthesizing story and bringing American history to life; here, he’s outdone even himself. Meticulous scholarship includes a full thirty- six pages of bibliography and source notes; judiciously placed archival photographs add to the sense of time and place.” – Martha V. Parravano, Horn Book Magazine in September/October, 2015
“Sheinkin ably juggles the complex war narrative with Ellsberg’s personal story, pointing out the deceits of presidents and tracing Ellsberg’s rise to action. It’s a challenging read but necessarily so given the scope of the study. As always, Sheinkin knows how to put the “story” in history with lively, detailed prose rooted in a tremendous amount of research, fully documented… Easily the best study of the Vietnam War available for teen readers.” – Contributor, Kirkus Reviews starred on July 15, 2015
Gather with other YA materials about the Vietnam War like,
- Partridge, Elizabeth Boots on the ground : America’s war in Vietnam ISBN 9780670785063
- Santoli, Al Everything we had : an oral history of the Vietnam War by thirty-three American soldiers who fought it ISBN 9780345322791
For more advance readers who show interest in Daniel Ellsberg
- Ellsberg, Daniel Secrets : a memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers ISBN 9781101191316
Of these selections, have students make choices for read aloud and, as a class, discuss the read aloud choices. Hearing what stood out to other students will help to build a deeper connection to the material.