MY NUCLEAR FAMILY by Christopher Brownfield
Kirkus Star


A Coming-of-Age in America’s Twenty-first Century Military
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A former Naval officer examines his time as a member of an energy task force in Baghdad.

Brownfield, a U.S. Naval Academy grad, began his service as a submarine officer. Highly idealistic, he resisted the compromises most new officers made—specifically, cheating on the exams required to certify his competence to run a nuclear reactor. Watching his captain run the sub aground, he learned to distrust the default assumption that maintaining authority is more important than being right. He was ready to leave the Navy for grad school at Yale when, in the aftermath of 9/11, he signed up for service in Iraq. His mission was to help coordinate military and civilian responses to the country’s energy shortages. He quickly found that most of his superiors were merely marking time, doing their best not to shake up the status quo. Brownfield’s major assignment was reading the text of PowerPoint presentations to commanding Gen. George Casey. None of his immediate team showed the least interest in doing anything to improve the ability of average Iraqis to get electricity. Their major contact in the local government received constant death threats, and the author’s superior, a fellow submariner, made empty promises but did nothing practical to help the man. Others were openly cynical in their reasons for being there or just collecting the higher pay for serving in a combat zone. Brownfield, still idealistic, tried to find ways to make a difference. He developed a method to transport heavy diesel engines to their intended destination, only to be blocked by a local official who saw no political advantage in letting them through. A plan to issue millions of compact fluorescent bulbs to Iraqis to save on energy costs was stalled until Gen. David Petraeus came on board—but even with his approval, it remains incomplete. Brownfield left Iraq convinced that energy independence, the professed goal, was in fact a false ideal; instead, he sees “sustainable interdependence” as the only mature approach to solving the world’s energy problems.

Witty, insightful, scathing, appalling and inspiring—a must-read book on the Iraq war.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-27169-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2010


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