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The Good Soldiers | [David Finkel]

The Good Soldiers

It was the last-chance moment of the war. In January 2007, President George W. Bush announced a new strategy for Iraq. He called it "the surge". "Many listening tonight will ask why this effort will succeed when previous operations to secure Baghdad did not. Well, here are the differences," he told a skeptical nation. Among those listening were the young, optimistic Army infantry soldiers of the 2-16, the battalion nicknamed the Rangers.
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Audible Editor Reviews

During the troop surge in Iraq in 2007, Washington Post journalist David Finkel was embedded for eight months with Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich - a determined, optimistic, inspired leader - and his unit: the 2-16 Second Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment from Fort Riley, Kansas.

The 2-16 were deployed at the time in an area of intense insurgent activity in eastern Baghdad. Finkel writes, “From the beginning I explained to [the soldiers] that my intent was to document their corner of the war, without agenda. This book, then, is that corner, unshaded.” In fact, much of the book’s success stems from the open access granted to Finkel and the soldiers’ willingness to share their stories.

Finkel casts light on virtually all aspects of the 2-16’s “corner of the war”, including unflinching descriptions of deaths, and the profoundly destructive injuries inflicted by improvised explosive devices. Finkel’s descriptions are deeply moving and in many cases profoundly disturbing. But this is war, this is what the soldiers experienced, and Finkel aims to document the sacrifices these soldiers made that enabled the surge to succeed.

The Good Soldiers, besides being a valuable and unforgettable document, honors the men of the 2-16 Second Battalion. Written as a nonfiction novel, its prose style is simple and brilliantly effective.

Relatively new to audiobook narration, actor Mark Boyett has a strong, young voice whose articulation, pace, and clarity will resonate inside a car, a hall, or your head. He easily and naturally shifts his voice from the narrator’s point of view to the words of the many people chronicled in this book. A great range of emotions is expressed in The Good Soldiers, and Boyett adeptly inhabits these characters as he gives voice to the words they express. –David Chasey

Publisher's Summary

It was the last-chance moment of the war. In January 2007, President George W. Bush announced a new strategy for Iraq. He called it "the surge". "Many listening tonight will ask why this effort will succeed when previous operations to secure Baghdad did not. Well, here are the differences," he told a skeptical nation.

Among those listening were the young, optimistic Army infantry soldiers of the 2-16, the battalion nicknamed the Rangers. About to head to a vicious area of Baghdad, they decided the difference would be them. Fifteen months later, the soldiers returned home forever changed.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter David Finkel was with them in Bagdad almost every grueling step of the way. What was the true story of the surge? Was it really a success? Those are the questions he grapples with in his remarkable report from the front lines.

Combining the action of Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down with the literary brio of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, The Good Soldiers is an unforgettable work of reportage. And in telling the story of these good soldiers, the heroes and the ruined, David Finkel has also produced an eternal tale - not just of the Iraq War, but of all wars, for all time.

©2009 Dave Finkel; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

  • 100 Notable Books of 2009 (The New York Times)
  • Best Books of 2009 (Publishers Weekly)
  • Best Nonfiction of 2009 (The Boston Globe)
  • Best Reads of 2009 (Slate.com)
  • Best Books of 2009: Nonfiction (Christian Science Monitor)
  • "Finkel's keen firsthand reportage, its grit and impact only heightened by the literary polish of his prose, gives us one of the best accounts yet of the American experience in Iraq." (Publishers Weekly)

    "A superb account of the burdens soldiers bear." (Kirkus Reviews)

    What Members Say

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    •  
      Candy Atoka, TN, USA 03-01-10
      Candy Atoka, TN, USA 03-01-10
      HELPFUL VOTES
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      "This book is amazing, but brutal"

      The journalist writing this book is awesome at putting this story together. A lot of the reviews talk about the repetiveness, but that was an effect the author was using to drive home particular points. I loved it and thought it was well used and totally appropriate. The narrator for this book was perfect as well. I've had good audiobooks with terrible narrators that made the listen unbearable. Not so with this book.

      The subject matter is hard to digest at times. The author spares nothing and the stories he tells of the American soldiers and the Iraqi civilians caught in the crossfire is heartbreaking. The people and places are real. You can google the KIA and read their tributes in the Washington Post. It makes the war very real. We all should be paying attention whats going on in the Middle East and supporting our troops no matter how we feel about the war. This book brings that home.

      14 of 14 people found this review helpful
    •  
      Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 06-23-12
      Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 06-23-12 Member Since 2005

      Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

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      Story
      "The Things They Still Carry"

      When it comes to war, America's self-image is that we're always winners. And that we're never monsters. And that each death will be justified by the achievement of some greater end goal. Such are the ideals that carry the confident men of the Ranger 2-16 Battalion, part of the 2007 troop surge, into Rustamiyah, Iraq, a violent, difficult-to-comprehend hellhole of a place that quickly begins to undercut simple truths.

      To me, so much about the official decision-making behind Iraq is captured by a memory towards the end of the book. A Liberian soldier (visiting an army school in the US) expresses faith in the protective power of a sacred talisman that has carried him through many battles, then swings a knife at his own arm to prove it. The knife cuts through skin and flesh, and the man's eyes fill with astonished panic at the sight of reality's imposition on belief.

      Perhaps this is war's first casualty. If so, The Good Soldiers brings that truth to readers at a visceral level, putting us in the boots of soldiers sent to make up for official misjudgment and getting us to experience things as they do. The story centers around the battalion’s leader, the ever gung-ho Lieutenant Colonel Kauzlarich, but includes about a dozen of his men in its focus. We hear the initial earnest belief of young officers that their strength and generosity will carry the day, destroying a vicious enemy and winning over the rest of the population of Iraq. We experience the shock and horror of IED attacks, the weird out-of-body unreality of watching friends and enemies die in firefights. The way those moments refuse to stop ricocheting through memory. The frustration and anger of dealing with a population that seems indifferent to America's helping hand -- and the vast disconnect between Iraqis' personal concerns and US policy assumptions. There's staring out the window and wondering if you'll have any warning of the one that kills you -- and what your last thoughts before that moment will be. The fatigue, disillusionment, resignation, burnout, and despair that come with reliving that moment over and over, with few visible signs of improvement. The alienating, dreary normalcy of returning to the States after the intensity of war (little about that experience seems to have changed since Hemingway's short story about a returned WW1 vet). The fearful, lonely life of Iraqi contractors, distrusted by American soldiers and in constant danger from their own people.

      Finkel's writing is very good and gives the book more impact than most in the category. Though embedded as a journalist with the 2-16, he leaves himself entirely out of the text, and builds a narrative from interview snippets, reports, lists of details, and moments that carry layered emotions. At its best, the writing takes on a simple stream-of-consciousness feel not unlike Tim O'Brien's famous The Things They Carried. Officially apolitical, he offers no big-picture analysis, but juxtaposes different moments, images, and words in a way that challenge easy idealism. An optimistic platitude from President George W. Bush is followed with the image of an infantryman killing a dog lapping up a pool of human blood. Colonel Kauzlarich's avuncular sentiments while bestowing a medal on a dismembered 19 year old lying in a hospital bed ring hollow next to the young man's blank stare, and the obvious fact he will never again live anything approaching a normal life. There is the visual of a soldier's charred remains being removed from a bomb-wrecked Humvee, where he may or may not have died before the flames engulfed him. There's a tortured human corpse haunting the sewage tank of a building chosen as an operations base like a plot element from the novel Catch-22, because no one wants to be the one to remove it.

      These are gut-wrenching images that hurt and anger to think about, and there are others like them. It's all the stuff implicit in countless Reuters articles about IEDs and counterinsurgency operations. All the stuff that Americans, for or against the occupation of Iraq, have formed various abstract opinions about, but are seldom made to contemplate in terms of their horrific costs to real human beings, who can't be blamed for signing up to be what all countries expect from their soldiers. For this reason, I consider The Good Soldiers and other books like it necessary reading for all Americans, regardless of your politics.

      For me, the takeaway lesson came in the last chapter, as waves of insurgents swarm out of Sadr City, attacking government sites and threatening the 2-16. To Colonel Kauzlarich, it's validation, proof that the insurgency is growing desperate. To some of his men, it's one more demonstration of the irredeemable f-ed-up-ness of Iraq. But no one really knows. The battle, like the book, ends without obvious conclusion, the 2-16 shipped home again, and no one seems any better tuned-in to what's going on in the minds of Iraqis or why. And therein lies the tragedy of goodness alone: it's not understanding. Was the war worth it? We simply don’t know, and it’s out of our hands now. Meanwhile, our own crumbling democracy awaits our salvation.

      6 of 6 people found this review helpful
    •  
      Thomas Lipinski 11-08-10 Member Since 2006
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      "Splash of cold water"

      A tight novel telling from a soldiers perspective the situation in Iraq 2007/2008. It does not try to make a point..it just overviews what happened during their deployment. This book helps you draw your own conclusions without a liberal or conservative megaphone held to your head.

      4 of 4 people found this review helpful
    •  
      Kristopher Calgary, AB, Canada 01-05-10
      Kristopher Calgary, AB, Canada 01-05-10 Member Since 2005
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      "Heart Breaking"

      Very well written by a journalist embedded with a battalion of US soldiers participating in the Surge in Iraq.
      There is very little analysis in the book - it is primarily a third-person perspective of what the soldiers went through during their tour.
      The effects of the war on the soldiers is heart-breakingly difficult to listen to at times. It's a wonder how anyone could go through these experiences without long-term mental stress.
      A solid book for those both in favour of and against the war in Iraq.

      8 of 9 people found this review helpful
    •  
      Alexander culpeper, VA, United States 08-04-10
      Alexander culpeper, VA, United States 08-04-10 Member Since 2010
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      "Best book on the war ive heard so far."

      I am a war book junkie and have read many books on the iraq war but this one takes the prize. The authors conveiance of events and description of character is superb. I felt closer to the soldier and civilian while listening to this book than any other I have read or listened to..

      3 of 3 people found this review helpful
    •  
      Wayne IRvine, CA, United States 01-16-11
      Wayne IRvine, CA, United States 01-16-11 Member Since 2009
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      "Embedded beneath perspective"

      What a horrendous loss of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by so many American men and women following the political and military incursion into Iraq. And, as Finkle often pointed out, was it worth the cost? We are led to experience the the war from Finkle's embeded perspective of the 216th Batallion headed by Lt. Col Ralph Kauzlarich. This is his strength and weakness: being "embedded," and in only one corner of the war.

      His ability to convey the "Pucker" factor of war, and the unique pucker factor of the Iraq war regarding IEDs and EFPs is one of his greatest contributions. The related revelation from this book is how IEDs and EFPs just come out of nowhere, uncontrolled, leaving limited ability to plan or strategize in order to avoid the violence. Previous wars pitted intelligence and strategy against enemy violence and gave the impression of being able to minimize violence. That feeling of control appears to be completely translated into sheer dread and fear while riding around in humvee's and having no control of when death from IED violence may strike. It even appears that this phenomenon affects the political as well as military levels of uncertainty of how to measure the value of the war itself.

      The limits of this embedded reporter Finkle is reflected in his ingratiating portrayal of the unit's leader, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich as well as his use of George W. Bush quotes. The character of Lt. Kauzlarich is seriously called into question in that he said (see ESPN) that the family of Pat Tillman was not at peace with his death because they are atheists who believe their son is now, in Kauzlarich's words, "worm dirt."

      I think that the "Good Soldiers" as represented by Finkle certainly applies to the men on the front lines, but seems to apply less and less as one goes up the ranks.

      5 of 6 people found this review helpful
    •  
      Anthony WA 03-30-10
      Anthony WA 03-30-10 Member Since 2007

      Audible has opened up a whole new world of reading that I could not make work in the traditional page turning world. I am on a mission to listen to a wide variety of adventures, mysteries, thrillers, classics, etc. Thank you Audible!

      HELPFUL VOTES
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      "Eye opening"

      With so much negativity and political issues regarding what should have been done or should not have been done in this war much of the sacrifices and suffering our soldiers endured is often lost. This book shares many amazing events that these true heroes lived and died through.

      I thought that the author and narrator provided an eye opening view into the monotonous and corroding dangers the soldiers faced each day. The emotional, mental and physical toll that the soldiers were exposed to were presented in a way that gave a small glance into not only how it change the soldier’s but also their loved one’s lives. This is one of those books that will stay with me forever and I highly recommend it unless you are faint of heart. Thank you to the soldiers and their families who give so much and often their lives to improve the world we live in.

      5 of 6 people found this review helpful
    •  
      Pamela Dale Foster Sykesville, MD 12-11-13
      Pamela Dale Foster Sykesville, MD 12-11-13 Member Since 2010

      I listen to and have recently started to write reviews. I've found the reviews have helped me to select books.

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      "The Truth Has Been Seen"

      David Finkel, a reporter and the author of this book, went to war to see the truth and write about "the Surge." This battle was fought in an attempt to secure Baghdad. The Army infantry soldiers who fought were forever changed. David Finkel tells the listener just how horrific war is. This book is filled with true words from the soldiers themselves and what David Finkel witnessed.

      The book is brutally honest. Should there be a man or woman who does not know how wars are fought, The Good Soldiers, tells it all. The reader will come away from this book with the understanding and proof that the US infantry fight with courage, honor and love of country. These men are heroes of the highest order.

      The book should be listened to by everyone and know just why and how our warriors face death each and every day that they are fighting in Iraq and other countries. Counterterrorism is a different type of war than ever has been fought before. American soldier's do not want to kill the men, women and children who live in Iraq. They want to offer them help in teaching them how to have a government whereby they can live free, without fear of retribution from the Taliban or other forces who control them. However, these men and women have lived as they do now for centuries. They know no other kind of life. The American's who try to help are seen as their enemy. When an American is seen by the populace of Iraq, they look with hate at them and want to kill them.

      Listen to The Good Soldiers and you will understand how the hate for American's is executed by the viciousness of the terrorism of how they fight against us. You will come away from listening to this book a changed person.

      1 of 1 people found this review helpful
    •  
      Flavius Morro Bay, CA, United States 03-03-13
      Flavius Morro Bay, CA, United States 03-03-13 Member Since 2009
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      "Riveting, Sobering, Important"

      At times this book was tough to listen to, but it was never uninteresting. Written by a journalist who spent a year with an army unit based in some of Baghdad's toughest neighborhoods, this is a mostly first-hand account of the US "Surge" in the Iraq War. Because it is so personal, what we see of the Surge is not the "big picture" we're so used to seeing, but rather, we see the storm from its eye. It is a sobering view.

      Boyett's narration is great. Finkel is a very gifted writer, but he sometimes can't resist a clever turn of phrase or overly poetic language (not by any means poorly done, but somehow distracting here) which can occasionally be a disservice to his book.

      Of course, there is no book or work of art that can fully convey the horror and heroism of armed conflict, but "The Good Soldiers" does an excellent job. Finkel is unsentimental and unflinching, but still manages to convey a bit of his own humanity.

      1 of 1 people found this review helpful
    •  
      james Torrance, CA, United States 11-06-11
      james Torrance, CA, United States 11-06-11
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      "Honest opinion folks"

      The author wrote the story from the perspective of an anti-war correspondent as opposed to the perspective of the men of the unit he claims the book is about. The book isn't about the men in that unit, it's about the horrors of war that met the men in that unit, through the eyes, mind, and words of an anti-war correspondent.

      This book honors anti-war activism, not the Americans he walked amongst. His Nobel Prize did the same.

      My son did 6 years Air Force and was deployed overseas to various locations. My daughter did 6 years Army and was deployed to Baghdad just after the surge. My daughter's husband is U.S. Army and has been deployed to Iraq (during the surge) and Afghanistan, where he was wounded by an enemy mortar round and is home healing awaiting the birth of his son. I have no military experience. My dad was Navy in WWII. A high percentage of my high school students have gone to various branches of the military.

      War is absolutely brutal and the worst thing that our young men and women will ever have to experience. I am absolute anti-war.

      I lived during Vietnam and saw what journalism did to the men and women who served and how they swayed public opinion not only against the war and American government but also against those who served. It was a national disgrace. Some of those soldiers were my friends.

      Ask an American soldier who has been to Iraq or Afghanistan what they think of the American media they watched on TV's while in those countries. It was and still is demoralizing with zero interest in those who served and sacrificed. They use those men and women as pawns in their quest for furthering their own agendas.

      Not all correspondents and reporters are the same, but this author sure as heck continued on in the tradition of going to war with soldiers so he could justify the book he'd already written in his mind.

      Personally, I think Congress and the White house needs to be relocated to the middle of Arlington National Cemetery so everyone of those politicians has to walk by all those headstones everyday and see them everytime they look out a window. And go find the ones whose families they are now representing and learn what the man buried there did in his life. That honors him and his family.

      You want to write a story, pick one of those headstones and write the history of the man that lies beneath it instead of how horribly he was killed during a war. War is what war is, telling the horror of war doesn't honor those who survived or died. Nor will that horror story stop the next war or it's horrors.

      I downloaded this book based on the descriptions. I'd like to see the descriptions corrected to reflect what the book is really about. I would have ignored it as just another journalist working his own personal agenda.

      5 of 7 people found this review helpful
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