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

Published by Roaring Brook Press 

Summary:  Many strands of U.S. history from the 1960’s and 1970’s are woven together here.  The main focus is Daniel Ellsburg, who started working at the Pentagon the same day as the Gulf of Tonkin incident that escalated the Vietnam War.  The history of Vietnam is detailed, starting from the country’s last days as a French colony, to the division of North Vietnam and South Vietnam and the Cold War struggle over Communism in each part of the country.  As Ellsburg learned more about this history and the lies told to the American people about it by each U.S. President going back to Eisenhower, he became more disillusioned with the United States government.  This culminated in his theft of the Pentagon Papers, a report prepared by former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara documenting the secret history of the Vietnam War.  McNamara was hoping to use this report to help future politicians avoid the mistakes of the past; instead, it was leaked by Ellsburg to the press.  An infuriated Richard Nixon tried to destroy Ellsburg’s credibility by arranging a break-in at his psychiatrist’s office.  The team in charge bungled the job, then tried to make up for it a few weeks later with a covert operation at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.  The book ends with Nixon’s resignation; an epilogue includes Daniel Ellsburg’s positive commentary on a contemporary case: Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA’s domestic spying.  Back matter includes extensive works cited, source notes, and an index.  360 pages; grades 6-9.

Pros: Liberally interspersed with black and white photos, this book lays out an incredibly complex web of events in an understandable and engaging manner. Although I lived through this period of history, I wasn’t aware of many of the events and how they all fit together, connecting the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and Nixon’s resignation.

Cons:  This will not be of interest to every middle school reader.  Get it into the hands of the history buffs.


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