Useful overview of a bloody, confusing war, emphasizing the sophistication of the specialized units.



Brawny subtitle aside, BBC Newsnight diplomatic and defense editor Urban (Fusiliers: The Saga of a British Redcoat Regiment in the American Revolution, 2007, etc.) takes a cerebral approach to establishing the unique challenges faced by both British SAS and American Special Forces (SF) as the Iraq occupation developed, unraveled and was ultimately stabilized by the “surge.”

The prickly relationship between the two countries helps the author focus his narrative on the British forces—he explains that they had to grapple with the controversial strategies of American Joint Special Operations Command head General Stanley McChrystal, a “soldier-monk” who favored “industrial counter-terrorism,” a constant cycle of missions to counter the evolving threat. Although the British contingent was small, they “managed to play a key role in the battle for Baghdad and the suppression of al-Qaeda in Iraq.” Yet this positive assessment is possible only in retrospect. Much of the narrative suggests that the British played a costly game of catch-up, as their initially cautious rules of engagement provided the initiative to both the evolving insurgency and their aggressive American SF counterparts. Urban documents several missions in which British units lost soldiers due to their plans becoming overwhelmed in the heat of battle. As chaos expanded in 2004 and ’05, the specialized units increased their reliance on the new surveillance capabilities of the NSA and other agencies to make up for a lack of intelligence through normal military channels: “The SAS summarised their operational process during the early days in Baghdad as find-fix-finish.” However, keeping their American counterparts at a distance and suffering significant losses, the SAS ultimately engaged “McChrystal’s central idea—that the insurgency could only be overwhelmed by a relentless tempo of operations.” Urban thus suggests that the units of both nations both prefaced and benefited from the much-debated “surge” of troops in Iraq. The author’s approach is painstaking and sometimes dry, capturing the complicated brutalities of the insurgency and the difficulties troops encountered in responding to it.

Useful overview of a bloody, confusing war, emphasizing the sophistication of the specialized units.

Pub Date: June 7, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-54127-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet