by Junger, Sebastian

Offers an on-the-ground account of a single platoon during its fifteen-month tour of duty in the most dangerous outpost in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley.

Sebastian Junger is the New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Storm and A Death in Belmont. He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism. He lives in New York City.

Over the course of a year, Junger (The Perfect Storm, 1997) embedded himself with Second Platoon, Battle Company, operating out of the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan, an inhospitable terrain inhabited by people inhospitable to American forces, where some of the heaviest combat has been fought. Junger took five trips to the valley in 2007 and 2008 to follow Second Platoon through much of their 15-month deployment. He experiences combat firsthand; witnesses firefights, ambushes, and casualties; and survives an IED that blew up the Humvee he was riding in. Second Platoon, considered "the best-trained and . . . worst-disciplined," is known for their brawling as much as for their bravery. Junger examines the mind-set of the soldiers who exist on "the tip of the spear," the nearly superhuman traits they embody, the challenges they face when they engage with the enemy and interact with locals, the boredom between battles, and the difficulties they have when they return to civilian life. For these young men, war, although costly, is an opportunity to truly live life to its fullest (and carry and fire weapons); the thrill of war by far trumps fear and sorrow and the drudgeries of civilian life. "As a soldier, the thing you were most scared of was failing your brothers"; in combat, "everything is important and nothing is taken for granted," where "men don't feel the most alive . . . but the most utilized." While with Second Platoon, Junger, along with photojournalist Tim Hetherington, took hours of videotape, some of which became part of a feature-length documentary called Restrepo, which won the Grand Jury Prize this year at Sundance.

The latest flexing of journalistic muscle from Vanity Fair contributor Junger (A Death in Belmont, 2006, etc.).The author dives into the most perilous form of immersion journalism, attempting to create an unflinching account of frontline combat. The prototype of this approach is Michael Herr's peerless Dispatches (1977), a thoroughly unsentimental, grunt-level view of the Vietnam War's bloodiest years. Yet if Junger's dispatches from the fighting in Afghanistan solidify anything, it's that war American-style hasn't evolved much in the decades since Herr's book. It seems that neither advanced tactics nor postmillennial weapons technology have negated the all-too-human imperfections of face-to-face ground combat. From June 2007 to June 2008, Junger was embedded-"entirely dependent on the U.S. military for food, shelter, security, and transportation"-with the 173rd Airborne, a seasoned outfit assigned to secure the notoriously untamable Korengal Valley in Afghanistan-murderous terrain that the Soviets had found impassable 30 years before. The author singled out Sgt. Brendan O'Byrne as his primary focal point for the book. O'Byrne's no-nonsense attitude and bleak upbringing-he was shot by his own father in civilian life-seemed most representative of the squad as a whole. As in The Perfect Storm (1997), Junger blends popular science, psychology and history with a breathlessly paced narrative. What's absent here is not only a significant political angle but also any big-picture questioning of what exactly these soldiers are fighting and dying for. Junger portrays the infantryman's life as one dominated solely by the most primitive group loyalty. It's this love for one's brothers-in-arms, the author concludes, that allows the soldiers to stir up the courage and selflessness necessary to function at optimum levels under fire.An often harrowing, though mostly conventional, account of the physical and psychological toll of modern warfare on the average soldier. Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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