National Book Critics Circle, Nonfiction, 2009
From the front lines of the battle against Islamic radicalism, a searing, unforgettable audiobook that captures the human essence of the greatest conflict of our time. Through the eyes of Dexter Filkins, the prize-winning New York Times correspondent, we witness the remarkable chain of events that began with the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, continued with the attacks of 9/11, and moved on to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Filkins' narrative moves across a vast and various landscape of amazing characters and astonishing scenes: a public amputation performed by the Taliban, children frolicking in minefields, skies streaked white by the contrails of B-52s, a night's sleep in the rubble of Ground Zero.
We venture into a torture chamber run by Saddam Hussein. We go into the homes of suicide bombers, meet Iraqi insurgents, and an American captain who loses a quarter of his men in eight days.
The Forever War allows us a visceral understanding of today's battlefields and of the experiences of the people on the ground, warriors and innocents alike. It is a brilliant, fearless work, not just about America's wars after 9/11, but ultimately about the nature of war itself.
©2008 Dexter Filkins; (P)2008 Books on Tape
This book transports you to places in Afghanistan and Iraq before and after the wars began, fraught with danger, intrigue and surprises. Filkens writes not with just a reporter's eye but with that of a keen observer of people and events. You can all but smell the air of cafes, homes and the battlefields of the streets.
I was impressed by the brutal honesty of Filkens, which is not always flattering to him. One story in particular -- which I won't give away -- is haunting, not only for the listener, but for Filkens. But for all that happened, this man is certainly no coward. He's more of a daredevil. What kind of person goes jogging in Iraq OUTSIDE of the Green Zone? Filkens certainly tempts fate throughout the book.
This is one of those books that sticks with you after you've finished. While it's expensive at a hefty two credits, it's worth every one.
At times the subject matter is extremely grim, but you can't put this down. You feel like you're there.
This is exceptionally well written and the narrator does an excellent job.
My respect and admiration for journalists, though usually high, has been notched up even higher.
This books is more of a best of of Filkins' reporting on the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts then a coherent narrative. Filkins shares his extensive experience on the front lines of the "Forever War" and gives some idea of what it is like to live and work in that environment. Most of all he shares his incredible writing ability. Filkin's description of the Marine assault on Fallujah with the contrast of the Mosques issuing a call for Jihad with the Marine's blasting "Highway to Hell" is one of the most memorable pieces of journalism I have ever read.
If this book was priced at one credit it would be an easy five stars. At two credits still a four.
I've read and listened to several books covering someone's (mostly soldiers) experiences in Iraq etc. This one is among the better ones. It does jump around a bit, the narrative lacks an overall structure, but for me that probably mirrors Iraq in general and it worked for me. Rather than fret about how cohesive it was, I just took in the stories/experiences and felt in the end I received a realistic sketch of a country beset by the chaos of war and violence. He is clearly a good reporter, and tells his stories in a manner that I would expect from a reporter...matter of fact but with a heart (though a somewhat jaded one over time). He leaves out the politics and for the most part policy and instead focuses a lot on the his visions of the human toll. From his encounters (4+ years worth), you get perspectives from soldiers, Iraqis. politicians. regular Joe's, and family victims, so I felt it was balanced. What I'll probably recall most is his characterization of what could best be described as pure insanity,
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
From the opening chapter, which features a nightmarish, almost cinematic scene of combat between US Marines and Iraqi insurgents, Filkins grabs the reader on a hook and doesn't let go. Aside from being an incredibly ballsy reporter who put his own life at risk to embed with soldiers on patrol, travel on his own through dangerous parts of Baghdad, and interview insurgents, Filkins is skillful at turning his experiences into gripping, personal narratives. He refrains from much editorializing, conveying the confusion, absurdity, pain, and stranger-than-fiction realities of life in a war zone in direct, unadorned language. Frankly, his observations themselves are so astonishing and telling, that any commentary would be redundant.
The book is written as a series of vignettes, each offering its own perspective into the dark maze of contradictions, mistakes, cultural misunderstandings, and clashing ideologies that is the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. This narrative-centered format keeps the book at the street level and does a lot to illuminate the individual humanity that's been all but lost on CNN and Fox News. Among many difficult-to-forget moments are a scene where a 19 year old soldier talks of his dreams back home and is killed minutes later by a sniper's bullet; another where a US colonel expresses confidence in a newly created "highway patrol", whose members the author later finds lurking under a bridge in their US-issued uniforms, waiting for "Americans to kill"; and another where Muslim fanatics take a break from building bombs to try to hook up the porn channel. Filkins lets these astounding moments speak for themselves, reminding us that in war, what goes on officially, what goes on in the streets, and what goes in people's minds are rarely in alignment.
Filkins doesn't arrive at any solutions or offer much comfort, but I think this work will stand for many years as a fascinating, poignant, and immediate testament to how human beings really are in war
I often buy "smart" books and get halfway through them, and then buy chiclit and love it. But this book had me captivated from the first minute and even more amazingly, kept my attention until the last minute. I just want to go back and listen to it again. I didn't want it to end. It is well worth the two credits.
While I'm enjoying the book immensely, I find it jumps around in time and location, which makes it difficult to follow - especially since I listen while commuting and can be easily distracted. I think it would have been better as a "read" than a listen. A cheat sheet with a calendar of events and a map of the area would be helpful (but admittedly not a great idea when one is driving!).
This book is full of interesting first-hand accounts and anecdotes from the war zone. It offers an outstanding picture of how our wars impact the average civilian as well as what motivates many of our enemies.
Such insights are squandered by not being placed into any semblance of structure. I can only listen to so many paragraphs starting with “one time…” – No date line, no context. This is how my five-year-old starts a story.
The biggest disappoint is that these poignant tales fall far short of their full potential in the absence of any larger historic, strategic, or political context. A literary device – perhaps, but ineffective and a shame for a work that could have been much more. Not a one credit book, let alone two. Wait for a sale or peruse some chapters after checking it out of the library.
The characters and catastrophes, often one-in-the-same, that populate this book are compelling. If it is possible, Filkins' accounts of Afghanistan and Iraq are simultaneously hopeless and hopeful. Disjointed, haunting and enigmatic, the book mimics the conflicts Filkins was covering. It's not a book you understand intellectually as much as feel in your bones.
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