four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
44-Jan-Feb-2010
By: 
David Finkel
user_rating: 
0

A-The Good SoldiersIn The Good Soldiers, Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporter David Finkel describes the war in Iraq in jarring--and all-too-real--detail.

The Topic: By most U.S. accounts, the January 2007 surge in Iraq was a success. An integral part of that effort was the 2-16 battalion, a group of 800 soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas, led by the enigmatic yet affable Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich. Determined to make a difference, the soldiers post a sign on the wall of the battalion's headquarters that reads: "Mission: to create a balanced, secure and self-sufficient environment for the Iraqi people." Journalist David Finkel, who spent eight months with the battalion in Rustamiya, on Baghdad's eastern edge, and witnessed some of the most intense fighting to come out of the surge, reports with grim dispassion the toll taken on the men--the 14 dead and the many who survive--as they fight to complete that mission.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 287 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780374165734

Kansas City Star 4.5 of 5 Stars
"I have read hundreds of books about war and almost two dozen books about the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. ... None has affected me as deeply as The Good Soldiers." Steve Weinberg

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Finkel has made art out of a defining moment in history. You will be able to take this book down from the shelf years from now and say: This is what happened. This is what it felt like." Doug Stanton

St. Petersburg Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[One] of the finest pieces of nonfiction writing I've read in a long time. ... Whether you support the war in Iraq, oppose it or don't care anymore, The Good Soldiers will show you something you need to know." Colette Bancroft

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"In his powerful account of one Army battalion's struggle to stanch the violence roiling several neighborhoods in Baghdad, David Finkel ... offers a grunt-level narrative of the blood, guts, heroism, and tortured logic that sustained the escalation of troops known as ‘the surge' between 2007 and 2008. ... What really distinguishes The Good Soldiers from other accounts of the war in Iraq is how Finkel compares the rhetoric with the realities of the conflict, showing us with gritty detail rather than opining from some ideological perch." David Abel

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"In The Good Soldiers Finkel doesn't editorialize or inject himself into the action. He simply reports." David Holahan

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It is Mr. Finkel's accomplishment in this harrowing book that he not only depicts what the Iraq war is like for the soldiers of the 2-16--14 of whom die--but also the incalculable ways in which the war bends (or in some cases warps) the remaining arc of their lives. He captures ... the difficulty many of the soldiers feel in trying to adapt to ordinary life back home in the States, and the larger disconnect they continue to feel between the war that politicians and generals discussed and the war that they knew firsthand." Michiko Kakutani

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Finkel's skills at taking us inside is ... one of the problems with The Good Soldiers. ... Finkel's lens has the dispassion of the journalist but the focus of someone who has been allowed to be intimate with the rawest of emotions in the rawest of times." Mark Brunswick

Critical Summary

Although the writing on the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan has been solid--Doug Stanton's recent Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan (2009), Thomas Ricks's Fiasco ( 4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2006), and Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection Jan/Feb 2007) come to mind--David Finkel's unflinching reporting brings an immediacy to the war experience that critics welcomed as necessary (despite more than a few uncomfortable scenes of battle and its aftermath). The Good Soldiers could become to the post-9/11 generation what Phil Caputo's A Rumor of War, Michael Herr's Dispatches, or Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried were to the Vietnam generation, or Ernie Pyle's correspondence was to "the great generation" of World War II. On first joining them, Finkel told the soldiers of the 2-16 that his mission was "to document [the soldiers'] corner of the war, without agenda." He has succeeded spectacularly.