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Vietnam War documentary turns Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried into AbeBooks’ bestselling book of 2017

The PBS documentary offers testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from the war

Ken Burns’ epic 18-hour documentary on the Vietnam War has turned Tim O’Brien’s 1990 collection of short stories, The Things They Carried, into AbeBooks’ bestselling book of 2017.

The series, directed by Burns and Lynn Novick, cost more than $30 million and took over 10 years to produce. The first episode aired in September and it has been widely acclaimed for bringing a new perspective to the conflict, which ended in 1975.

A 1990 first edition of The Things They Carried

The documentary uses numerous interviews with ordinary combatants from both sides. Tim O’Brien, who served in Vietnam in the 23rd Infantry Division, is one of the interviewees. The Things They Carried is a collection of connected short stories about a platoon of American soldiers. Usually classified as fiction, The Things They Carried blurs the lines between fiction and non-fiction. O’Brien includes himself as a protagonist and some of the narrative is semi-autobiographical.

The Things They Carried tackles numerous themes from platoon camaraderie to family ties, religion and death. There are stories describing events before, during and after the war.

According to news reports, the PBS premiere of The Vietnam War attracted an audience of 9.6 million viewers, which made it PBS’ most popular show since the series finale of Downton Abbey in March 2016

Donald Trump’s on-going clashes with Senator John McCain, a former US air force pilot and Vietnam POW, may also have contributed to demand for The Things They Carried. In 2015, Trump said about McCain, “He’s not a war hero, I like people that weren’t captured.” McClain repeatedly opposed Trump initiatives in 2017 and revealed Trump had never apologized for his 2015 remarks. Trump, who visited Vietnam in October, received five deferments, according to the New York Times, from serving in the Vietnam War.

O’Brien also published a memoir in 1973 on his wartime experiences called If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. In 1978, he wrote a Vietnam War-themed novel called Going After Cacciato, which won a National Book Award for Fiction.

The top 20 bestselling books on AbeBooks in 2017 also includes The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, which enjoyed a revival following a TV adaption in 2017, and three more war-themed books in Night, Catch-22, and All Quiet on the Western Front. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, first published in 2013, also saw a revival thanks to PBS, which aired a documentary based on Brown’s rowing book in August.

AbeBooks’ bestselling books in 2017

1 The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

2 The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

3 Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Francesca Cavallo & Elena Favilli

4 1984 by George Orwell

5 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

6 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

7 Night by Elie Wiesel

8 The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

9 East of Eden by John Steinbeck

10 The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

11 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

12 We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

13 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

14 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

15 Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

16 The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

17 A Separate Peace by John Knowles

18 A Game of Thrones (book 1) by George RR Martin

19 Holes by Louis Sachar

20 In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

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