Skip to Main Content

The Things They Carried

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien"Tim O'Brien, "an American author, gained recognition for his books based on the United States involvement in the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1973. O’Brien served in the U.S. Army infantry in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. In his partly autobiographical novels and short stories, O’Brien explores his experiences before, during, and after the war. He portrays incidents from a variety of points of view, mixing fact and fiction.

O’Brien’s best-known novels are Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990). Going After Cacciato resembles a collection of related short stories. Cacciato is an American soldier who tries to walk away from the Vietnam War but is found dead near the border between Vietnam and Laos. The novel is a mixture of realistic accounts of the fighting with dreamlike fantasies flowing through the mind of Paul Berlin. Berlin, an American soldier, is a member of the search party assigned to find Cacciato. The Things They Carried is a memoir that mixes fiction and nonfiction about incidents in the war. A character named Tim O’Brien is the book’s narrator.

O’Brien’s first book was a work of nonfiction, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973). The book is an account of O’Brien’s tour of duty in Vietnam. It became noted for its vivid portrayal of the futility and despair he saw in war. O’Brien’s later novels include Northern Lights (1975), The Nuclear Age (1985), In the Lake of the Woods (1994), Twinkle, Twinkle (a children’s book, 1994), Tomcat in Love (1998), and July, July (2002).

William Timothy O’Brien, Jr., was born on Oct. 1, 1946, in Austin, Minnesota. At the age of 7, he moved with his family to the rural town of Worthington. The small towns of Minnesota form the background for some of his fiction. O’Brien received a B.A. degree in political science from Macalaster College in 1968. After leaving the Army, he attended Harvard University, where he studied government. O’Brien then worked as a national affairs reporter for The Washington Post in 1973 and 1974 before devoting himself to writing full-time. O’Brien has also taught creative writing and written numerous essays."

Marshall, Donald G. "O'Brien, Tim." World Book Advanced, World Book, 2021,