LitPicks Book Reviews—March 2014

Theme—War Lines: At the front and Behind
Extraordinary books continue to be written about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
, and despite lack of war coverage in the media—or maybe because of it—we believe these books are important. They cover those on the front lines and those behind the lines (who plan war).
 

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Thank You for Your Service
David Finkel, 2013
272 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
March, 2014
About a third of the way into this book, we're taken into a Pentagon conference room where sit generals, a colonel or two, and Peter Chiraelli, the Army's Vice Chief of Staff. They're tying to get a handle on the high rate of military suicide, and so they talk about numbers, review cases and try, always, to arrive at a "lesson learned"—what have we learned from this one death that could help prevent others?

But it's the real lives beneath the statistics—men who return from two Mideast wars and find themselves unable to get on with their lives—that make up the heart of David Finkel's book. They're the men we follow throughout—and whom we come to care about, deeply.

 

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Redeployment (Stories)
Phil Klay, 2014
400 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
March 2014

The twelve stories in this remarkable collection—about soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan—vary in length, but the one thing they have in common are characters struggling to cope with their wounds—wounds that, for the most part, are psychic.

The stories explore the bonds of comradeship, the difficulty of religious faith in war, the unsettling linkage between sex and violence, and the ever presence in war of fear and anger. In one story, the men chant "kill, kill, kill," taking a perverse pride in their company's kill rate. When a fresh recruit makes his first combat hit, they celebrate his loss of "virginity."

 

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Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War
Robert M. Gates, 2013
640 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
March, 2014

"One damn thing after another" is the way Robert M. Gates described a typical day at the helm of Defense. Being secretary was a job he didn't want and one he didn't like once he got there, but his love for the soldiers, and sense of commitment to them, trumped any personal desire.

That love, at times personal and nearly obsessive, served as the overarching theme of Gates's tenure at Defense and also of his memoir. In reading his 640-page blow-by-blow "report," we can only be grateful that someone—and, in this case that someone was at the very top—paid such close attention to the needs of the "kids" on the front lines.

 

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