For most of us, our memories of the two gulf wars are represented by little more than smartbomb camera footage. The awesome power that the USA was able to deploy in Iraq was overwhelming - to the defenders, as well as the global audience. There seemed no doubt that military might would win a clear victory. In this frontline account of the armoured column entering Baghdad, the author brings us a much more harrowing tail of personal bravery, fear and loss.
It rapidly becomes clear how far the US war machine was stretched, and how close they came to perhaps encountering their "bridge too far".
And I suspect quite unintentionally, it exposes an unsettling realisation of the degree to which religion - Christianity - plays in the minds of US troops. While no means universal, I was struck by the number of times which religion pops up in this book - or soldiers seeking guidance from Army Chaplains that "what they have to do is allowed by their god", of all the prayers that are offered to save the living or commemorate the dead. The message I took away from this is that the US - like virtually every other country that has ever gone to war - clearly exploited religion both explicitly and implicitly in order to exhort their troops to maximum effect on the battlefield. I do not think this is what the author intended, but the main thought in my head at the end of the book was the surprising similarity this realisation brings to our understanding of the people holding the line on both sides of the war.
On the story itself - yes, I generally got sucked in and will likely try another in the series. Characters are I think better rounded than Honor Harrington, but the plotting not a shade on something like Vatta's War.
As for the audiobook - I almost dropped it as Dina Pearlman's narration was a real grind: No, not everyone needs to sound like a pre-pubescent valley girl; she can't pull off a Scottish accent for chips; and when the text says "she mumbled" then don't ignore the stage direction!
I think the audiobook producer must have been asleep at the wheel. However persistence paid off and by the end of the book I'd pretty much sublimated my narration hangups.
Hmmm. 5 stars for a rollicking thriller, but knocking off 2 because Tempe & Ryan must be getting slow in their old age.
Frustrating to read of the protagonists edging towards obvious insights .. only to steer off on a tangent for another chapter.
Grievous logical oversights can't really be forgiven. Like: when circumstances point to one suspect, and the suspect is subsequently cleared, it does not invalidate the circumstances themselves (which also point to another party, who is in fact the unsub). But no-one seems to twig to this .. alamak!
The story unfolds in parts, with wonderful narration. The use of two (talented) voice actors is perfect for the book.
Part 1 is a cracker of a whodunnit. Gillian Flynn has mastered the art of parallel story-lines, a skill honed in Sharp Objects and wielded here to perfection.
But wait! There's more - a psychological suspense-thriller in the final parts as the protagonists grapple with the consequences. And while Gillian Flynn's second book, Dark Places, fell a bit flat due to improbable coincidences and a largely unsympathetic cast, Gone Girl had me totally sucked in.
I felt so sure this book would be 5 stars and a heart.
That is, until the final climax; the final few pages. WTF? I am underwhelmed and unconvinced.
Perhaps the silver lining is that Gone Girl was almost - but not quite - the ultimate masterpiece in the style that Gillian Flynn has been evolving over three stories to date, so I am left eagerly looking forward to her next. Will that be "The One"?
For the first few chapters I was sold - some fascinating analysis of the forces that shape culture and history.
Unfortunately these were the ones that largely dealt with the past and present. When it came to discussing the future (most of the rest of the book), it totally jumped the shark.
At one point the author writes "this may seem like science fiction". Well, yes, but *bad* science fiction - you know, the kind that is unintentionally steampunk because it doesn't recognise just how many anachronistic assumptions it projects into the future?
It is kind of pointless to delve into a point-by-point rebuttal, as there is no reason why I should be any better than the author at predicting the future. But I can probably summarise my disquiet in a couple of themes:
1. Technology - The author massively underestimates and seems quite blind to the impact of technology, especially computing. The internet only gets a passing reference and is not linked to any major factors in the author's thesis. Worse yet, some of the author's most important points are founded on assumptions that are already being eroded by technology in 2013. Case in point is the surveillance and command-and-control imperatives that the author believes will lead to the US establishing "battlestars" in space, which in turn will lead to "World War III" .. yet we are already seeing advances in terrestrial drones outstrip even what the author believe battlestars will be capable of in another 30 years.
2. Sovereign States - there seems to be an underlying assumption that sovereign states are really the only actors on the stage that will shape how history unfolds. It all feels very 18th century - I'm not even sure this is true now, let alone for the next 100 years. It ignores the fact that people are getting harder to control en-masse thanks to globalisation and communications (who predicted the "Arab Spring"?), and it diminishes the influence of other forces, like corporations, or even nature (climate change or not). I'd believe the author's moon settlements more if he cast them as products of private enterprise - lead by the likes of Elon Musk aka Tony Stark - rather than a phoenix-like re-emergence of massive government space programs.
Rating the book is an unexpected quandary. On the one hand, I was engaged enough to enjoy reading to the end. However it was more with comic relief than any sense that I was exploring what might really happen this century. And for a book that is purportedly to be about the future to leave me totally incredulous is kind of the ultimate sin, hence the 1-star.
So unless you are an academic who needs to research everything, I think time might be better spent re-watching something like "Terminator", or "The Day After Tomorrow" - far more enjoyable, and probably just as likely visions of the future. Or more constructively, read Black Swan, because they too seem to be missing from this story.
Despite a flash of insight in chapter 2 that I spied the killer, I was inexorably drawn along - befuddled and misdirected - towards a bitter-sweet conclusion. Great book; unique point of view; queuing the next from Gillian Flynn as I write..
If you expect books on contemporary US military history to be all gung ho and righteous posturing, this book will be a stunning surprise.
Sean Parnell has achieved in this diary something very rarely experienced in military diaries and histories from any era.
With humble eloquence and intelligent self-reflection, he takes us inside the mind and life of a platoon leader during deployment in one of the most hazardous conflict zones in recent history.
We get the privilege of sharing in what is unspoken at the time: the doubts, the bonds of brotherly love, the daily psychological battle that all front line soldiers must face but few ever speak of.
The book brims with insight that civilians and those off the front line would otherwise find impossible to imagine. In a refreshing turn for the genre, it is illuminating to see so much detailed coverage of the non-combat aspects of the mission.
An early passage tells of a first meeting with a local Afghan leader and we experience the clash of cultures at first hand, and the vast gulf of life experience that leaves Sean feeling way out of his depth despite all the 21st century training and equipment.
One cannot read this book without finding a deep respect for the men of the platoon.
There is humor, adrenaline-filled exhilaration, but also intense despair and sadness.
With grit and loyalty, and the moral courage of their leaders, it is clear they served with honor despite the circumstances into which they were thrown.
For any soldiers reading this book, I imagine it must inspire a desire to live up to such high standards.
For civilians, I challenge you not to be thinking: Is there not more we can do
to make the world a better place, so that in this day and age we no longer need such sacrifice?
Thought-provoking and inspiring vision of a return to humanising business, and looks beyond the trite superficiality of all this social media stuff. "Wall!! What are you good for?"
Highly recommend the audiobook version over print: it is read by Gary V himself. We already know he is a great speaker, but the frequent off-script moments are priceless.
What can I say? .. I hope that every politician or other invested person who finds themselves in the position of deciding whether to commit their fellow citizens to war or not reads this book first.
I salute Sledgehammer for all his sacrifices, and more for his courage and selfless insight in bringing this story to generations who can scarcely imagine what true kill-or-be-killed war entails.
And I note the lack of appeal to a higher power that Sledge exhibits in these pages. For me, it represented a stark contrast to the god-fueled righteousness that permeates so much of more recent war diaries (such as Thunder Run http://www.audible.com/pd?asin=B0068PUFJ2 ). It really makes me worry that the insane religious bigots of all faiths have so much to answer for in the cause of war - and things are getting worse, not better. And that this trend is in such stark contrast to the generally positive evolution of humankind (see The Better Angels of Our Nature - http://www.audible.com/pd?asin=B005PP1ONW )
The scandalous tale of how Harry Markopolos & his team investigated Bernie Madoff's $50b Ponzi scheme for a decade but no-one would listen - until the scheme imploded during the housing crisis. The willful failure of the SEC in particular to hear and act makes your blood boil.
Audible's production of this book is excellent - taking full advantage of the medium by mixing in real statements, interviews and congressional hearings to great effect.
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