three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-War.epsSebastian Junger, author of the best-selling The Perfect Storm (1997) and a correspondent for Vanity Fair, made five trips to an isolated American outpost in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008 to shadow the men of Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne. The e-book version of War will include photos and video clips of his trips, many of which were incorporated into his prize-winning documentary, Restrepo. Also Reviewed A Death in Belmont ( 3 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2006)

The Topic: American soldiers on the front line don't lose sleep over politics, historical precedents, or the moral imperatives of war, argues Junger. They "worry about those things as much as farmhands worry about the global economy." Instead, they follow orders, they risk their lives for their comrades, and they welcome the extreme thrill of combat after long hours of boredom between skirmishes. In Junger's eyewitness account of a single platoon's 15-month deployment in Afghanistan's remote Korengal Valley, he relates what life is like for these men--living in cramped quarters overrun with fleas and tarantulas, knowing that a sniper's bullet or a roadside bomb might make any moment their last--as they struggle to fulfill their mission in hostile enemy territory.
Twelve. 304 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 9780446556248

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"His descriptions of firefights are bloody and thrilling, but the most valuable aspect of his book is his thoughtful examination of what it means to be a fighter--the individual and collective psychology of combat. ... With his War, Junger strips combat of its Hollywood-style glory and instructs us in its harsh realities." Philip Seib

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"At its best, War vividly documents the individual costs, which, he argues, need to be acknowledged: ‘Soldiers themselves are reluctant to evaluate the costs of war (for some reason, the closer you are to combat the less inclined you are to question it), but someone must.'" Bob Minzesheimer

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"With his narrative gifts and vivid prose--as free, thank God, of literary posturing as it is of war-correspondent chest-thumping--Junger masterfully chronicles the platoon's 15-month tour of duty. But what elevates War out of its particular time and place are the author's meditations on the minds and emotions of the soldiers with whom he has shared hardships, dangers and spells of boredom so intense that everyone sits around wishing to hell something would happen (and wishes to God it was over when, inevitably, it does)." Philip Caputo

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In seeing war as the men do, we miss everything they miss. And that's a lot. ... It is a flawed, troubling, terrific work, so good that one wishes it were perfect." Kathryn Schulz

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The premise of Junger's effort is to convey to us what soldiers experience and what war actually feels like. In many respects, he has accomplished that. But give me another book, David Finkel's The Good Soldiers, for a seminal portrayal of the effects of war on soldiers." Mark Brunswick

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"War lacks the emotional power it might have had if its characters had been described in more depth. Junger risked his life to be with the men of Battle Company's Second Platoon, but I would have liked to have heard a little more from them and a little less from Junger himself." Dexter Filkins

Critical Summary

In his harrowing portrait of U.S. soldiers abroad, Junger doesn't discuss the theoretical nature of war or analyze current congressional policies. Instead, Junger's goal is to get at war's gory, brutal essence as experienced by "grunts" and to examine the nature of courage. He describes the grunts' diversions and deprivations so convincingly that readers become immersed in their world, and his searing exploration of the soldiers' thoughts and emotions elevates War above the genre. Critics praised Junger's remarkable reporting and vivid prose, though the New York Times Book Review expressed frustration that there was "too much telling, not enough showing," and the Minneapolis Star Tribune agreed that the author should have used more ink on the men of Battle Company and less on himself. However, most reviewers agreed that War makes for fascinating reading.

Cited by the Critics

A-The Warriors.epsThe Warriors Reflections on Men in Battle | J. Glenn Gray (1959): Using his own journals and letters as a resource, Gray strives to find meaning in his military service during World War II by ruminating on the nature of war and its long-term effects on the men who fight.