In the coming weeks we’ll be reviewing the new book Damn Few, written by former U.S. Navy SEAL Rorke Denver. A thinking warrior who talks more about books than weapons, Denver tackled his first book with energy. You’ll also notice that Rorke co-starred in the recent action film, Act of Valor. Here is the book trailer for Damn Few. Please stay tuned to Boston Book Bums for our thoughts on Damn Few.
With today’s release of Zero Dark Thirty, the fictional portrayal of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. and last year’s launch of a first hand account of the raid that got the wanted terrorist, No Easy Day, the shadowy manhunt and assault has been thrust into the spotlight. The book’s release was not without controversy in a charged political environment, as well as cries of betrayal of secrecy from the community which former U.S. Navy SEAL Mark Owen served in.
However, strip away the noise, the haranguing and political posturing, what about the book itself? Having read dozens of contemporary military biographies and histories we cannot think of a single instance where information revealed wasn’t well known by scholars on the subject or easily accessible through magazines or industry journals. And No Easy Day falls squarely in that no great secret revealed class. What it does do is provide a clear, first-person account of the most momentous American history event of this century thus far. Co-written with journalist Kevin Maurer, No Easy Day follows not only Owen’s mission to find Bin Laden, but also his journey from novice SEAL to experienced member of the Navy’s most elite counter-terrorist team, DEVGRU or SEAL Team Six.
Owen and Maurer guide the reader through the nuts and bolts of selection to DEVGRU, the men that inhabit the legendary special operations team and the missions that drove the Alaskan-born SEAL from Virginia to every violent far-flung corner of the world. Owen gives the reader brief glimpses into the staggering operational tempo he and fellow Tier One operators have endured since 9/11. We fly from Iraq to Afghanistan, fight and withdraw, train for days, weary and worn, to then turn back around and ramp up for the next mission.
No Easy Day is also a work-man like look at the tip of the special operations spear here in the United States. It portrays the men of DEVGRU not as super human beings, glamorized by the familiarity lacking mainstream media or romanticized by the fans of both genders, but as blue collar soldiers. Men who have lockers filled with the most high-tech, yet deadly,and expensive tools fielded today. They love Taco Bell and obsess over the finest brewed coffee. They are the best soldiers we have and they normally inhabit the shadows. Yet when the burden of history, like that of the Bin Laden raid, weighs down it may be time to partially pull back the curtain for a view into their world.
So, you are curious about the Bin Laden raid itself and how much is revealed in the book? Well, it clears up some details and provides a methodical account, taking you through the days before to the thunderous accolades after. But it’s the intense lead up, the heavy training, the clear all obstacles efforts undertaken to ensure this operation would take place. The training, the dozens of walk through, the what ifs gamed out to the end, all provide the most insight into the historical event that would follow. And its in the hours before lifting off in the special operations Black Hawks do we see the gravity of the mission and how it effects not only Owen, but his fellow SEALs.
Overall, No Easy Day is a good first look at Bin Laden’s demise. And perhaps in the coming years equally as informed works on the operation will emerge and not be weighed down with political posturing and angry rhetoric. We have been given a rare opportunity to hear about this special moment in history and to get it from the point of view of one who was there. Think of historical events in the past 100 years that have become almost mythic, dogged by conspiracy and wild counter claims. No Easy Day provides the first data point for the history of the coming generations.
No Easy Day by Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer was purchased for review by the Boston Book Bums.
When it comes to elite military forces today, Royal Marines Commando are in the top tier. Not special operations, say like the Special Air Service or Special Forces, the Commandos are a select shipborne light infantry unit.
Closer to the United States Army Rangers in use and capabilities, the British commando is a tough fighting force normally filled with physically able young men. That is why the premise of the non-fiction work, Commando, piqued our interest. Author Chris Terrill was a journalist who decided he wanted to try to pass the grueling and dangerous eight-month Royal Marines Commando selection process, at the age of 55.
Most candidates in their late teens fail of Commando selection. And those that make it through to earn their green “lid” are some of the best soldiers any country has to offer.
Terrill’s ability to live, train and eventually deploy to Afghanistan alongside fighting Royal Marines was a rare and unique opportunity. It would be like a reporter running through SEALS Basic Underwater Demolition School (their selection/book camp) and writing a warts and all piece.
It would never happen. But we are lucky that Terrill was given the chance and the book pays off brilliantly.
The 50 + year-old Terrill suffers all the foot splitting blisters, back bending aches and deep pains of fatigue with the other would-be commandos. We cannot stress enough the unyielding physical and mental demands put on commando candidates. Terrill’s time with a troop of soldiers leaves you exhausted and thankful that such tough and focused men emerge from the crucible.
Another fulfilling component to Terrill’s Commando are the profiles and relationships he develops with the commando selectees. We see them build each other up, we see them struggle falter and fail. This is a hard life, that of a Commando, but you don’t get there by having someone hold your hand and tuck you into bed at night.
You read such distinct personalities that enter, wash-out or emerge successful from Commando selection. They are young and immature, or worldly and focused, all so very different, yet united with the desire to become a Commando. The camaraderie and sense of belonging is reinforced by Terrill’s own experiences through selection.
Commando is a book that gives hope that, even as you get older, there is a trick or two mentally and a strain or two physically that can be brought to bear to prove one’s worth.
Commando by Chris Terrill was purchased for review by the Boston Book Bums
- Reflexive Fire author Jack Murphy and Brandon Webb, co-author of The 21st Century Sniper, offer signed editions (via Kit Up!)
- Author gets behind the gun to prepare novel (via Youtube)
- Review of Pearl Harbor Christmas (via Cleveland.com)
- An illustrated look at OBL take-down (via GQ)
- Combat Paper Project aims to heal through arts (via Daily Illini)
- US Army signals officer pens her first novel (via KDHNews)
- Review of Pacific Crucible (via Journal Star)
- Used books from PA library end up in Afghanistan (via Times Leader)
- Review of Praetorian (via Garstang Courier)
- What military themed library books are popular with kids (via School Library Journal)
- Army behavioral specialist writes science-fiction novel while deployed to Iraq (Loudon Times)
- Book lauded as non-ficiton about Osama Bin Laden raid being vigorously lambasted (via AP)
- The warpath between Albany and Montreal explored in interesting new book (via Foreign Policy)
- Books for our brothers and sisters in Canada honoring their war dead and sacrifices (via The Record)
- Author of War Horse helps celebrate new sculpture at Ground Zero to commemorate efforts of US Army 5th SFG and “Night Stalkers” (via Clarkesville Online)
- New book chronicles Gallipoli Samurai (via Armidale Express)
- Learning in Afghanistan under the roof of a new school dedicated to Massachusetts soldier (via Herald News)
- GI Joe artist a particular hit with soldiers (via Delmarva Now)
- Harvard professor new book on Indian leader attempts to align with Axis (via DNA)
- New bio of General Omar Bradley (via Poughkeepsie Journal)
- New Jack Reacher tale focuses on character’s MP past (via My San Antonio)
- Issues with Bibles in battle (via Atlantic)
- Andy McNab continues to prove a popular author, post SAS career (via Spenborough Guardian)
- Ian Fleming loved his commando past (via Guardian)
- Final days of US Grant (via CS Monitor)
With this new we’re going to find book themed news stories, blog posts, products or opinion pieces that have connection to the military, domestic and foreign. History books are a big favorite of the B3 team, and a chunk of them are military non-fiction titles. So we figure provide some news on what is happening in the world of books and soldiering.
Pass the word!
- Moneyball and the military (via National Review)
- Military history not just for men (via Guardian)
- Book drive for military kids (via Jacksonville.com)
- New book chronicles Lockheed Martin plant (via Cherokee Tribune)
- The perils of IEDs and those who disable them in Bomb Hunters (via Telegraph)
- Book details steps of success for USMC first female African American pilot (via Washington Post)
- Getting into action against zombies in print from a military perspective (via Military.com)
- Review of book about Australian tunnel fighters in the Vietnam War (via Sydney Morning Herald)
- Tampa area residents collecting books for troops (via New Tampa Patch)
- Review of new book about Opium Wars (via Independent)
- Hero military working dogs get their own books (via Dogster)
- Operation Record a Story kicks off with list of ships and posts where military parents can read a book to their kids, virtually (via Sacramento Bee)
- New book chronicles repatriation of fallen Canadian soldiers (via Trentonian)
- Gay soldier’s experiences in Iraq in new book (via Army Times)
- Review of Soldiers by Richard Holmes (via Guardian)
Military historians have centuries of men and women to follow, recount and examine as pivotal or under-appreciated contributors to the story of mankind. History is replete with martial characters, from antiquity to the 21st century. And Americans, it’s said, aren’t particularly interested in their history, military or social. That point can be argued, but not for the lack of uninteresting domestic characters.
One American example of military character was Major Robert Rogers, a pre-Revolutionary War soldier who defined unconventional. Rogers is the subject of John Ross’ War on the Run: The Epic Story of Robert Rogers and the Conquest of America’s First Frontier.
Ross is meticulous through the book, exploring the rise of Rogers from New Hampshire farmer to the greatest unconventional warriors of the French and Indian War; and of all time. Rogers in War on the Run deserves the accolades heaped upon him as one of the longest lasting and most influential forces on military tactics and doctrine.
The strongest and engaging elements of War on the Run are Ross’ command of fleshing out, exploring and making viscerally real the battles which Rogers led from Lake George into southern Canada. In War on the Run Ross puts you on foot, on the line, you smell the acrid black powder, feel the stinging pain and brace for one brutal assault after another. Ross reminds you that it wasn’t just the French and their Native American allies that conspired against Rogers and the forces of Britain, but also the cruel weather and remorseless terrain of North America that decided many engagements.
Ross plots out each campaign, each raid or assault in perfect detail. He details the Battle of the Snowshoes, the devastating ambushes and massacres, as well as Rogers near death flight from pursuing forces leading to the renaming of a geographic feature now known as Rogers Slide. Also, Ross’ addition of Rogers Rules of Ranging, the first codified unconventional warfare manual for America, shows the genius of the officer and how many of his ‘rules’ for rangers can be applied to small unit warfare today.
If War on the Run has lackings, they lay in coverage of Rogers Revolutionary War life- from French and Indian War hero, to accused spy and debt ridden disgraced loyalist. Also, warfare of the period was defined, in part, by the constraints of weapons and equipment, which we would have liked more detail from Ross.
If you are regular reader of military history, this work will be a quick but well crafted read, with Ross’ battlefield tactical descriptions proving superb. And if you are military history novice, War on the Run has good detail where it counts to inform you about warfare of the age without leaving you in the nomenclature or jargon vacuum.
War on the Run expertly captures Rogers audacity, bravery, brutality and merciless determination in the quest to defeat the French in America.
John Ross’ War on the Run is a thrilling work of non-fiction that makes you appreciate the rise and fall, within one generation, of America’s first greatest unconventional warrior.
War on the Run by John F. Ross was received for free for review by Boston Book Bums
When World War II ended, combatants returned to their barracks and weapons were packed back into armories. Yet as the fog of war cleared from the battlefields of Europe, engineers, politicians and warriors in the Soviet Union were already planning for the next war. And the next generation of warrior would need a new weapon and they would turn to a former tank sergeant to design the ubiquitous small arm of the 20th century, the AK-47.
C.J. Chivers, magazine and newspaper journalist and former Marine, ambitiously grapples the development not only of Mikhail Kalashnikov’s rifle but the creation of automatic weapons and their effect on the course of history. Kalishnikov, still alive and revered in Russia as a hero, could only get to the point of designing the rifle that would become the AK-47 after generations of weapons designs and wars that would reshape small arms future.
Chivers expertly retraces the history of Dr. Richard Gatling, father to the hand-cranked mutli-barreled gun, and Hiram Maxim, Mainer and creator of history’s first effective sustained fire machine gun. These two character portraits, especially riveting that of the sarcastic, rough and ruthless Maxim, lead to the closing days of World War II and the birth of the AK-47.
From the slaughters of British colonial wars to the killing grounds of the Somme, Chivers finds pivotal moments in warfare directly reshaped by a fusillade of fire. Chivers shows the AK-47 as a mechanism of change, in the hands of soldiers, guerrillas and freedom fighters alike.
Shrouded in secrecy and with most information heavily doctored by wistful recollection or calculated misdirection, Chivers manages to smartly render in words the design and refinement of the AK-47. It’s loose fit, simplicity of construction and resulting reductions in accuracy were the antithesis of the ‘rifelman’ culture of Western armies. But, when a weapon could double the ammunition and killing ability of one man, its few shortcomings were rendered moot on the battlefield.
Chivers demonstrates the meticulous changes in Kalishnikov’s design, borrowed from other designers, his own ideas and previous weapons, show levels of refinement that eventually create the roughest, most reliable weapon fielded in battle.
Importantly, Chivers does not treat the reader as a complete novice when it comes to the mechanical or tactical aspects of small arms in The Gun. Now for those unfamiliar with firearms and their methods of operation. The Gun is clear enough to inform, but not so simplistic that those familiar with the subject will be bored to tears.
Throughout The Gun, Chivers hops back and forth between war and the weapon being wielded. He also devotes considerable time detailing the comical and tragic history of America’s entry into late 20th century small-arms development in the M-16. His description of the M-16, unreliable at its creation and forced into service by politics, counter balances the rough and singular minded simplicity of the AK-47 entry to the battlefield.
Smartly, Chivers does not delve into the at times puerile debate gun enthusiasts engage in. No foot-stomping arguments for or against calibers, methods of operation or even aesthetic. Nor does he make The Gun an indictment nor endorsement of gun rights domestically. The Gun is clear, it is a book about a man and his creation and its dizzying variants, effects and impacts on everything from war planning to nation states and even yes, vodka.
As others have written books about cod, salt and cotton, Chivers has crafted the singular general history of modern man’s most plentiful and efficient killing machine.
The Gun by C.J. Chivers was received for free as a review copy by Boston Book Bums