I was on vacation last week and I took along a copy of "War" by Sebastian Junger. "War" is the book that is the (sort of) companion to the documentary "Restrepo" by Junger and Tim Hetherington.
As far as war books are concerned, I tend to not read them on vacation. Also, as far as war books are concerned, I tend to find the ones written by embeds and journalists a bit wanting (a few exceptions, of course).
But, this was a book about paratroopers from 2nd Platoon, Battle Company, 2nd/503rd, 173rd AIRBORNE in the fight in the most dangerous place on this planet (20% of all combat in 2007-2008 occurred there). And, Junger is a world class writer and had received accolades for one of his most famous efforts, "The Perfect Storm". He embedded with 2nd Platoon - a unit well known for it's extreme combat effectiveness in war and *cough* in garrison - over their 15 month deployment, traveling in and out of Afghanistan five times.
A lot of the literary critics have called "War" breathlessly "exciting!" and "harrowing!". It is that, I imagine, as Junger's descriptions of combat would hardly be called mundane except by combat vets. And to some of us who have read the battle descriptions, mourned the Fallen, and knew the outcomes of the 2nd Platoon, "War" is a very valuable look into that tribe.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of "War" is Junger's description of what combat is like, how the men cope with it in various ways (which may shock readers with more delicate sensibilities), what keeps the unit functioning in the most harshest combat environment in the world and why paratroopers actually enjoy it. And many of you will understand Junger's analysis of why, when you are home safe and sound, walking around campus or at a company meeting, that you dearly miss that hellish mess that you were in...where every task you did mattered and that you could count on the man next to you.
The book touches upon PTSD and other affects of serving long term in highly stressful situations, but does so with a look that is different and much less jaded than other journalists. A lot of research and personal experience plays into the analysis.
I'm not a literary critic - I'm usually a fan so take my criticism with a grain of salt, but "War" jumps around in time a bit and that may confuse some readers. Also, I would have liked to know more about the platoon after their return to Vicenza, Italy.
Last, some of the "combat humor" had me laughing so hard I had to put the book down after reading one paratrooper's quip about his comrade's problem with stuttering. My wonderful wife was concerned as she thought I was having a difficult time with the book but it was quite the opposite effect.
I highly recommend "War". Buy it today. It goes on the shelf next to "One Bullet Away" and "House to House" with other the books that my son will some day read when he's old enough. For me, that's the highest praise possible that I can give...