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Editorial 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.

Critic Reviews

  • 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

    Average Customer Ratings

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    • Overall
      5 out of 5 stars

    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.

    63 of 65 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
      4 out of 5 stars

    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.

    41 of 42 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
      5 out of 5 stars
    • Performance
      5 out of 5 stars
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      5 out of 5 stars

    Compelling, moving, disturbing

    I listened to this book right after " Duty" by Robert Gates ( the latter which, without hesitation, I also recommend). Althought there have been books books and news articles and tv shows and documentaries on the two wars, Gates ( from high above) and Finkel ( down with the troops) give the listener the perspective of the danger, resolution and disillusionment of the men ( as much as any of us safe at home can begin to understand). I found the narrator excellent and fit exactly the sentiment of the book

    Excellent excellent book. I recommend

    13 of 13 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
      4 out of 5 stars

    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.

    25 of 26 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
      3 out of 5 stars
    • Performance
      4 out of 5 stars
    • Story
      3 out of 5 stars

    The best book on this subject, still not great

    This is one of those books that has far too many 5 and 1 star reviews when the correct number is 3.

    I feel like too many people, including the author of the book, but also all these professional reviewers (slate non-fiction book of the year...), are viewing the decision of whether or not to read this book, and then whether or not to praise it, as somehow taking a great moral stand in support of the troops. Reality check: it's not. I /support/ the troops, in the sense that I don't really do anything for them, except vote for people who vote to fully fund the veterans administration, etc. Spending your time listening to a discussion of how they clean their uniforms after they get body parts blown into them doesn't really make you any better of a person than not doing so. The writer keeps trying to impart weight to his prose, and frankly it gets really tedious and irritating.

    The question should be is this book interesting to listen to. And there I have to say the answer is somewhat. If for some reason you're really interested in the experience of US troops during the counterinsurgency years of the Iraq war, perhaps because you know someone who was there, I don't know of a book that tells this story better. But if you're just looking for something interesting, perhaps something about war, I don't really recommend this. Maybe Imperial Life in the Emerald City or Generation Kill, both of which are about Iraq, but neither about this particular topic.

    22 of 23 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
      4 out of 5 stars
    • Performance
      4 out of 5 stars
    • Story
      4 out of 5 stars
    • Ryan
    • Somerville, MA, United States
    • 06-23-12

    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.

    40 of 46 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
      5 out of 5 stars

    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..

    10 of 11 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
      5 out of 5 stars

    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.

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
      5 out of 5 stars
    • Performance
      5 out of 5 stars
    • Story
      5 out of 5 stars

    Worth it

    This is one damn good book. I was the spouse of one the 2-16 soldiers during the Surge and I have heard and seen a lot but I never saw it quite like the book depicts it. Thank you David Finkel for putting the truth out there.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
      5 out of 5 stars
    • Mike
    • Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    • 02-07-10

    Great Account of "Boots on the Ground"

    If you want an accurate picture of what the troops are facing day in and day out in Iraq, this is the book for you. The narration is good, the tempo, apart from the last few chapters, is quick, and the prose is fluid and crisp. This gives you a gritty no-nonsense look at the "real" war, from the perspective of a battalion commander and his troops. Not for the faint of heart.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful