By Robert Timberg

A Touchstone Book (Paperback), Simon & Schuster, 1996, 475 Pages, ISBN 0-684-80301-1

Reviewed for Keeping APAce by Byron D. Varner

It is hard to imagine a more thoroughly researched and annotated book — nor a more engaging one for those who enjoy this type of story — than The Nightingale's Song. It is extremely well written by an author who has “been there” and uses the descriptive language that military readers understand.

No reader worth his salt excludes the prologue, forward, and epilogue, and this book is no exception. If you are wondering about the unusual title that fits like a glove only after it has been explained, see page 16.

In all, I found the story fascinating and generally believable, although I sometimes disagreed with some of the political conclusions. But then, none of us is totally without prejudice — political or otherwise.

The author and his five subjects are all products of the U.S. Naval Academy, four of whom took commissions in the Marine Corps upon graduation. The five include John McCain, Robert McFarland, Oliver North, John Poindexter, and James Webb, whose lives Timberg chronicles in a masterful and powerful story about Vietnam, the Iran-Contra affair, the White House, the Congress, and the American culture. These five public figures affected our history and culture. past, present, and probably future.

This is an insider's account of people, situations, and events experienced first hand by comparatively few other Americans.

It explains war to those who have never braved it; politics to those never a part of it; and, the Iran-Contra affair to those who never understood it or its political ramifications.

It is an inside look at the Naval Academy, its foibles, traditions, plebe year practical application of discipline through humiliation, and its elongated effect on those who were part of it. And of course, the Marine Corps along with it.

It explains much of the anguish and pain of the Vietnam era. It examines its warriors who were treated so badly by an American public brainwashed by a hostile mainstream media solidly against the war, and its abuse of the power of the pen (and sound bites) to become mightier than the sword.

As Mark Shields wrote in his Washington Post review: “If you want to read a terrific book about courage and cowardice, honor and betrayal, suffering and death, and the indomitability of the human spirit, get The Nightingale's Song.”