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OUTLAW PLATOON

HEROES, RENEGADES, INFIDELS, AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

Well-told combat narrative that raises disturbing questions about America’s professionalized military and the post-9/11...

Grim, gritty account of infantry combat on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, from a youthful lieutenant determined to act nobly amid violence and chaos.

In 2006, Parnell was a neophyte Army Airborne Ranger with the storied 10th Mountain Division, assigned as a new platoon leader in Afghanistan, desperate to prove himself: “In combat, men measure up. Or fail. There are no second chances.” This honesty about emotional and sensory aspects of combat drives this narrative more than overt commentary on the Afghanistan mission. As it happened, Parnell received many opportunities to prove himself in battle. The narrative develops around several grueling set pieces, in which Parnell’s platoon was ambushed by an insurgent faction that unexpectedly turned out to be a skilled, disciplined and cold-blooded fighting force, determined to win a propaganda victory by brutalizing an American platoon. These raw, controlled scenes of battle seemingly benefit from the authorial collaboration: Besides being a prolific author of military histories, Bruning (Chasing Shadows: A Special Agent's Lifelong Hunt to Bring a Cold War Assassin to Justice, 2011, etc.) embedded himself with a combat unit in Afghanistan in 2010. The result is a carefully rendered account of Parnell’s tour, with verisimilitude provided by extensive specific details illustrating the sheer complexity of modern combat, as well as the frustrating officer politics on remote bases. Parnell focuses on the experiences of several platoon members, and he writes that it is brotherly love that bonds soldiers in combat, ensuring their survival. He also observes his comrades’ deep ambivalence toward their Pakistani allies and the Afghani people's willingness to reform and defend their society. The book’s main flaw is a repetitiveness that becomes mawkish: Points about the soldiers’ personal burdens and the bond of brotherhood in combat are made so often that they become less rather than more effective. This flaw, however, may not bother the book’s intended audience.

Well-told combat narrative that raises disturbing questions about America’s professionalized military and the post-9/11 objectives with which they’ve been tasked.

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-206639-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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