Granted complete access to the commanders and troops of the 101st, Atkinson saw their war from the preparations in Kuwait through the occupation of Baghdad. As the war unfolded, he witnessed the division's struggles to overcome a murderous attack by one of its own soldiers, a disastrous Apache helicopter raid, and fierce resistance from guerrilla diehards in Najaf, Karbala, and Hilla.
At the center of Atkinson's drama stands the compelling figure of Major General David H. Petraeus, described by one comrade as "the most competitive man on the planet." Atkinson observes Petraeus as he teaches, goads, and leads his troops and subordinate commanders in several intense battles. All around Petraeus, we watch the men and women of a storied division grapple with the challenges of waging war in an unspeakably harsh environment. But even as the military wins an overwhelming victory, we also see portents of the battles that would haunt the occupation in the long months ahead.
In the Company of Soldiers is a dramatic, utterly fresh view of the modern American soldier in action from the premier military historian of his generation.
©2004 Rick Atkinson; (P)2004 Simon & Schuster Inc. AUDIOWORKS is an imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, Simon & Schuster, Inc.
"The most intimate, vivid and well-informed account yet published of those major combat operations that President Bush declared at an end on May 1." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Excellent reportage..." (Booklist)
"Superb writing and balance make this the account to beat." (Publishers Weekly)
Unlike the multitude of reports heard during the war from embedded journalists, Atkinson's experience as a war historian provides a depth to our troops' experience during the war. While I was initially hoping for a more detailed summary of the war as a whole, as in Atkinson's brilliant Crusade (about the '91 Gulf War), this view from the 101st Airborne's perspective is still captivating. Unfortunately, the abridgement prevents the book from being completely engrossing. Whole chapters are skipped, with a separate narrator providing a summary. The book still flows reasonably well, but it's a pain to have things keep fast-forwarding all the time.
Only a few portions of the book, primarily the last chapter, deal with WMD and other potentially "policital" topics. Here Atkinson occasionally does insert commentary, but it generally feels like that of a historian's analysis. For the most part, it's a review of facts - for example, WMD weren't found and Iraq - Atkinson hardly "sneers" over this.
I wish it weren't abridged, and I hope he writes a Crusade-style book on the full war, but this one is still well worth a listen.
No doubt this Pulitzer Prize winner (An Army at Dawn) knows how to write. He also is a solid narrator. One gets a sense of what it was like to be in boots on the ground, though Atkinson was embedded with military leadership, so it's not the Ernie Pyle account of the dogface. But, it's good writing, good narration, and gives one a perspective of the uncertainties of war and the need for innovative and imaginative leadership at all levels. For someone looking for more extensive discourse on whether we should be in Iraq, find another book, but don't skip this one altogether. It definitely expands one's perspective on the war.
No, once was enough
I served in the Gulf War, and Atkins, an embedded reporter had the perspective of an Army brat, who had made a profession of military history. He was the right guy to be embedded with Gen. Patraeus and write this story about the 101st (Air Mobile) Infantry Division's drive into Iraq. If anyone wants to know what it was actually like, read this book.
This guy brings a wealth of historical analysis to which frames what he is seeing. Most writers do not have that gift to add to the telling of the tale.
My only negative, is that, like most people, he becomes a little too much of a hero worshiper of the Generals he observes. But, that is a normal human reaction when living in close quarters with great men under great stress, and watching them perform.
The book fails on two fronts. First, the author can't resist picking at the Bush administration's policies and reasons for war. Newsflash Rick - people against the war aren't going to read your book. The audience for a book about soldier experiences during the Gulf War are...surprise surprise people who are generally in favor of disposing Saddam and believe the war was about more than finding WMD's.
Second problem, this book isn't even about soldier experiences. If you enjoy hearing about logistics and the commanding officers that logisticize, then you'll love this book. 90% of the time the author is in a CP or a helicopter. There is virtually no ground time with troops.
For a good example of a Gulf War book where the author doesn't let their politics ruin the story, check out 'Naked in Baghdad'.
While the author did a fine job of documenting the professionalism and endurance of the command soldiers of the 101st, he cheapened the work by grinding his anti-Iraq war axe. All the usual leftist dumps on Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are paraded out, along with the sneering "well, were are the weapons of mass destruction, huh???" Regardless of whether Saddam possessed as much *capability* as we thought he did, he possessed all the intent necessary to rely on him to mount threats in the future. Also, he had an abundant track record of supporting terror. It's impossible to see what future would have resulted had we continued to place our faith in the UN (which was already under leftist pressure to end sanctions entirely) and let Saddam stay in place.
The war on terror is nothing less than the battle of Western Civilization against the anarchic brutality of militant Islam and those who seek to use it as a weapon for their own secular purposes (not anymore, Saddam). Those who imagine that it is a police action ("Get Osama") best left to the UN place our nation's security in inept, perhaps even entirely hostile, hands.
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