The Long Gray Line The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966

Rick Atkinson

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

624 Pages


Request Exam Copy Request Desk Copy

A New York Times Bestseller

The Long Gray Line is the twenty-five-year saga of the West Point class of 1966, the first class in history to enter a losing war and endure its aftermath. Rick Atkinson illuminates this story through the lives of three classmates and the women they loved—from the cadet years, to the fires of Vietnam, to the hard peace and internal struggles that followed the war. The class of 1966 straddled a fault line in American history, and Atkinson’s book speaks for a generation of American men and women about innocence, patriotism, and the price we pay for our dreams.

An immediate New York Times bestseller upon its original publication, the twentieth anniversary edition includes a new foreword by the author.


Praise for The Long Gray Line

"Enormously rich in detail and written with a novelist’s brilliance . . . A very moving book."—James Salter, The Washington Post Book World

"A story of epic proportions [and] awesome feat of biographical reconstruction . . . A difficult book to put down."—Cullen Murphy, The Boston Globe

"The Long Gray Line is a profoundly moving saga in which the U.S. Military Academy at West Point stands center stage. In mufti or olive drab, at peace or war, amidst joy or grief, in life or death, the academy shapes all. The author has captured its ethos. If you want to see a slice of the nation’s manhood in a drama of troubled times and find its heart, feel its emotions, sense its dilemmas, then read this book. It is a stunning story."—Colin L. Powell

"More of a biography of a generation than of a class at West Point . . . Stark, shocking, jolting."—John Eisenhower, Chicago Tribune

"Journalism elevated to narrative history, a book like Neil Sheehan's Pulitzer Prize-winning A Bright Shining Lie. But better."—USA Today

"As masterfully executed as it was conceived. The Long Gray Line is a significant contribution both to our national history and to our effort to understand and come to terms with post-Vietnam America. Through Atkinson's meticulous research, we are there during each phase of the cadet's epic journey, there to savor their successes and wince at their failures. We live with them and, in some cases, we die with them."—Nicholas Proffitt, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Remarkable stories, recounted in detail and with feeling."—People

"Told through the emotions and experiences of West Point's class of 1966, The Long Gray Line makes the best book out of Vietnam to date."—David Griffiths, Business Week

"In The Long Gray Line, Atkinson achieves a kind of unabashed power rare in topical nonfiction and takes his place as one of the most important chroniclers of the Vietnam generation."—Richard Currey, New York Newsday

"More than any book I have ever read, The Long Gray Line reveals the true heart and soul of the military."—Bob Woodward

"Impeccable and absorbing . . . Atkinson's book is exquisitely crafted. It reads as smoothly as a novel, involving the reader emotionally as well as intellectually . . . It has all the power and then some of A Bright Shining Lie, and a bushel more style."—Steve Paul, Kansas City Star

"Rick Atkinson . . . brings keen insight to this work . . . Probably the best book about military life since Ward Just's Military Men. Not only is it thoroughly researched, but it is written with a novelist's flair for color, style and often gut-wrenching emotion."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"I don't think any book has penetrated so deeply into the West Point mystique which such a marvelous blend of sympathy and objectivity. It is that rarest of things, good reading and good—important—history. In short, the book is a monumental achievement."—Thomas Fleming, author of The Officers' Wives

"A book of enormous significance and importance. A direct hit!"—Col. David Hackworth, author of About Face

"A tremendously impressive work . . . Masterfully told."—James Fallows, author of More Like Us

"A sensitive, stunningly eloquent book."—Booklist

"A panoramic and affectingly realized account . . . Consistently absorbing."—Kirkus Reviews

"Since its founding by Thomas Jefferson in 1802, the United States Military Academy, 'fortress of virtue, preserve of the nation's values,' has exerted a powerful and lasting influence on its graduates. As revealed in this Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter's eloquent and heartfelt narrative, the class of 1966 was subjected to oral and ethical pressures that were unique, partly because it was 'the first generation of West Pointers to join a losing Army,' and partly because of the radical change in society's attitude toward the military during the latter years of the Vietnam era. Atkinson profiles a handful of representatives of that class, following them from their high-spirited cadet years, through the crucible of Southeast Asia and—of those who survived—into the hard peace that ensued. The book is a poignant, thought-provoking account of the struggles of young men who pledged themselves to 'Honor, Duty, Country,' but found that living up to West Point's iron standards was difficult and in some cases impossible."—Publishers Weekly

"Atkinson joins a host of journalists and military men who have tried to explain the impact of Vietnam on the U.S. Army. His approach is to examine the experiences of the West Point Class of 1966, asking whether or not the traditional West Point dictum of 'Duty, Honor, Country' is still relevant in the post-Vietnam era. Focusing on a half dozen or so cadets, Atkinson shows how their careers epitomized the problems faced by their generation and by members of their profession. During the quarter century after graduation, 30 members of the class died in Vietnam; survivors led competing factions of the movement to build a Vietnam War Memorial, commanded battalions in Grenada, and worked in the scandal-ridden defense industry. Atkinson provides a sophisticated, moving, and exciting journalistic account of the attempts of one West Point class to apply to real life the lessons they learned at the academy."—Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Rick Atkinson is the bestselling author of The Guns at Last Light, An Army at Dawn (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History), The Day Of Battle, In the Company of Soldiers and Crusade. His many other awards include the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism, the George Polk Award, and the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award. A former staff writer and senior editor at The Washington Post, he lives in Washington, D.C.
Read the full excerpt


  • Rick Atkinson

  • Rick Atkinson was a staff writer and senior editor at The Washington Post for more than twenty years. He is the bestselling author of The Day of Battle, An Army at Dawn, In the Company of Soldiers, and Crusade. His many awards include the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing and Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and history. He lives in Washington, D.C.
  • Rick Atkinson Photo © Sigrid Estrada
    Rick Atkinson


    Rick Atkinson

    Macmillan Speakers Bureau

    represents thought-provoking authors and experts. We can find a speaker uniquely positioned for your audience and budget.

    More info