A valuable insider’s look at the many-layered ramifications of the American-Iraqi tragedy of errors.



A battalion commander who challenged army leadership and was punished for it scathingly indicts America’s miscalculations in Iraq.

West Point graduate and career soldier Sassaman was deployed in 2003 as battalion commander of the Fourth Infantry Division’s 1-8 Infantry in Iraq. From day one, he ran afoul of his superior officer, Colonel Fred Rudesheim, whose “filtered, innocuous, and risk-averse orders,” the author believed, contributed to the preventable killing of his men. Although a stickler for order, Sassaman calls himself a type-A personality who encouraged in his command the judicious “crossing of boundaries” in cases of life and death. Boastful of the success demonstrated by his battalion, he admits he had become “something of a warrior king in Iraq,” paving the way to career suicide by continually challenging the orders of his superior. Then, on the night of January 3, 2004, two of his men detained two Iraqi males in northern Samarra shortly after curfew and forced them to jump in the Tigris River. “A high school prank,” declares the author, who was in command but not present at the time; he repeats the soldiers’ assurances that they saw both men walking away from the river and points out that no body was found. Nonetheless, an investigation was conducted and Sassaman held accountable for the alleged drowning of one of the Iraqis. He got a “letter of reprimand under Article 15 proceeding,” which meant that he could be promoted to colonel but no higher. He might have been able to live with that, but an April 5 article in the Washington Post, with extensive quotes from Rudesheim, brought the incident to public attention, and Sassaman retired the following summer. “I thought we could win the war,” he writes. “But there is no war right now. It’s law enforcement, and we’re losing ten, fifteen soldiers a week to law enforcement.”

A valuable insider’s look at the many-layered ramifications of the American-Iraqi tragedy of errors.

Pub Date: May 27, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-37712-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2008

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An admirable, warts-and-all history of a milestone in environmental preservation.



The story of a national park might seem a niche subject, but OnEarth magazine editor Black (Casting a Spell: The Bamboo Fly Rod and the American Pursuit of Perfection, 2006, etc.) surrounds it with a colorful, stormy, often-distressing history of our northern mountain states.

The author begins with Lewis and Clark, whose 1804–06 expedition passed nearby but brought back only rumors of odd geological events. The northern Rockies remained a backwater for another half-century. Almost no one but fur traders took an interest for the first 30 years; wagon trains pouring west after 1840 passed well to the south. By the 1850s gold mining and ranching produced settlers, quickly followed by the Army, both anxious to eliminate the Indians. Black provides painful details of 20 years of conflict that accomplished this goal. Lacking gold or good grazing, the Yellowstone area attracted few settlers, but visitors brought back tales of wondrous geysers, boiling springs and breathtaking scenery. In 1869 the small, privately funded Cook-Folsom-Peterson Expedition produced such a tantalizing report that Montana residents organized a large expedition. That expedition spent a month exploring, resulting in a torrent of publicity that led to the federally funded Hayden Geological Survey of 1871. Its enthusiastic report included historical photographs by William Henry Jackson and paintings by Thomas Moran, and the resulting publicity persuaded Congress to create the world’s first national park in 1872. Congress did not, however, provide money, so vandalism, poaching and commercial exploitation flourished until 1886 when the Army moved in. It did not leave until the new National Park Service took over in 1918.

An admirable, warts-and-all history of a milestone in environmental preservation.

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-38319-0

Page Count: 576

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

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A complicated, ambitious travel adventure through modern Inner Asia, tracing the 1906–08 trek by a Russian spy commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II.

The account of the secretive two-year journey undertaken by Baron Gustaf Mannerheim was not published until 1940, when it was highly admired by Hitler. Journalist Tamm (Beyond the Outer Shores: The Untold Odyssey of Ed Ricketts, the Pioneering Ecologist Who Inspired John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell, 2004, etc.) only discovered Mannerheim’s Across Asia from West to East recently, and embarked on his trip in 2006 to retrace the baron’s arduous ethnographic journey through the last years of the Qing Dynasty, when modern currents were eradicating the old order—not unlike the cataclysmic changes shaking China to this day. In 1906, Russia was reeling from its humiliating defeat by Japan in the Russo-Japanese War, and enlisted Mannerheim, an officer in the Imperial Army, to undertake the mission through the Asian provinces to gather information on all aspects of Chinese reforms, defensive preparations, politics, colonization and the role of the Dalai Lama (whom Mannerheim got to meet), all in preparation for a possible Russian military incursion. Like Mannerheim, Tamm is intensely curious about the role of China on the world stage, and pursues similar questions about what kind of China will emerge from these wrenching attempts at modernization. Tramping from St. Petersburg to Peking proved a mind-boggling trajectory, penetrating myriad ethnic pockets, Mannerheim by caravan, Tamm by airplane, train, bus and car. Each man encountered all manner of suspicious or friendly people, mishaps and illness. Along the way, Tamm read Mannerheim’s diary—“aloof, impersonal and even churlish at times”—to gain a deeper understanding of this singular character. A well-edited work chronicling a truly inspired journey, leaving readers hopeful about Chinese progress as well as full of questions.


Pub Date: May 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-58243-734-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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