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A Soldier's Duty: A Novel Paperback – June 11, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this brisk and assured fiction debut, set in a near-future Washington, D.C., Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Ricks (author of Making the Corps, an account of boot-camp training) crafts a taut, stimulating tale of contemporary military dilemmas, public and personal. The central issue is the military's role in a democracy: given an unpopular commander-in-chief and an even more unpopular commitment of U.S. troops as peacekeepers in Afghanistan, what is a self-respecting general to do? Ignore his military sense and say yes to a bad political decision, like stolid, hard-drinking army chief-of-staff John Shillingsworth? Or defy orders and attack the position of the civilian government, like flashy, Custeresque B.Z. Ames, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? As the two debate the issues with their romantically involved aides, Majors Cindy Sherman and Buddy Lewis, U.S. troops get bogged down in Afghanistan, lives are lost, officers are court-martialed and a shadowy group of officers called the Sons of Liberty slowly moves from e-mail dissent to outright treason. Ricks uses a crisp, reportorial style to get into the heads of all his characters, and by making them passionate about their positions, he succeeds in creating a genuine debate in which both sides make good sense. Only when the actions of the Ames side become murderous does the book flirt with predictability, but it never goes too far, thanks to Ricks's control of the narrative. This engrossing read will satisfy those who want ideas as well as action it's an unusually thoughtful military thriller. (May 22)Forecast: The intrigue here is mostly D.C-based and often intellectual, and may not appeal to readers of mainstream thrillers. But those who appreciate a more challenging perspective will be in their element. A five-city author tour and national advertising are scheduled.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

This first novel by Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post journalist, is an intriguing, thoughtful, and exciting tale of today's U.S. military. When a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan goes tragically wrong, officers led by Gen. B.Z. Ames form a treasonous group called the "Sons of Liberty" to unravel American foreign policy and further General Ames's position. Army majors Cindy Sherman and Bud Lewis are newly assigned to the Pentagon, where they become involved in both sides of the developing problem. Although it does share themes with Fletcher Knebel's classic Seven Days in May, this work is unique in its take on a military that is sworn to uphold the Constitution but must deal with a White House that has little regard for life. Though occasionally preachy, Ricks's debut is an interesting and fast-paced commentary on the complex problems confronting the military and the civilian government. For all general collections.
- Robert Conroy, Warren, MI
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (June 11, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375760202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375760204
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This is one of the best books about the military I have ever read.
Eric J. Benefield
And as he does in his journalistic writing, he presents all sides of the issue in an even, dispassionate manner.
Jeffry L. Huber
The story and characters are well developed and the writing style is straightforward and appealing.
brazos49

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Richard Henricks on May 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
It's a page-turner, especially for military types that give a heck about this man's Army.
I suppose there should be a law on the books somewhere that requires authors who write about the U.S. military to have either been in the U.S. military -- or to be journalists who deploy into war zones more often than the average Joe deploys in a career.
This is a good book. He got the language right by being the first civilian in history to master acronymic milspeak (plus accurate expletive usage). He arrived at the correct assumptions with gender issues (or he talked to a lot of female soldiers that have put up with the rather ubiquitous sexual-harassment drivel that exists in today's military). He even got the right take on the "no psychos allowed" syndrome in the military that goes like this: Seek mental-health assistance and you can say "Bye" to your military career.
And he made it sound as though he may have actually attended one of those dismounted patrols that should have never happened (as in, yep, there are a few patrols -- training, combat, whatever -- that make absolutely no sense).
Although it was hard to get used to at first, some of the best reading would be the total-insubordination events, one of which I would have given at least one body part to have observed (to have observed actually happening with a past, real-world president). Or, maybe it did happen and nobody told me ... big sigh. The exceptional thing he captured while "reporting" on the U.S. military with this novel -- with the keen Somalia-through-Kosovo analogies -- is that some of the unruliness has probably actually occurred (although I would like to think that, in reality, a good sergeant major would lock a few heels, officer or otherwise).
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Tom Ricks, who just might be the nation's finest military journalist, has written a remarkably-good first novel. Based upon the tensions within today's military and the very real challenges posed by a changing world, Ricks takes lead characters who have just the right feel as examples of today's Army officers and puts them through a kick-butt, hold-on-tight story that takes the reader from commando raids and foreign firefights to the even more vicious combat inside the Pentagon and the government. From oblivious politicians to conniving generals, Ricks gets the Washington scene dead-on, while his details-perfect view of the military, in the field or in office suites, is one of the best I've ever encountered (as a recently-retired officer, I know that world pretty well). So, high praise to Ricks for a tightly-written, faster-than-a-speeding-bullet and very convincing thriller. Highly-recommended for soldiers and civilians. And, by the way, this novel would make a great movie.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jeffry L. Huber on May 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Let me add to the praise already lavished on Thomas E. Ricks' A Soldier's Duty. In many ways, it is the quintessential moral tale of the post-Soviet, post-modern age.

Mr. Ricks accomplishes a number of extraordinary things with this book. He summarizes a universe of complex contemporary issues in a volume that can be read in a single rainy day. He establishes dramatic tension from the start and maintains it throughout the piece. He creates complex, three dimensional characters with the brushstrokes of a minimalist. And as he does in his journalistic writing, he presents all sides of the issue in an even, dispassionate manner.

With A Soldier's Duty, Mr. Ricks has revived a genre that was teetering on the brink of destructive self-imitation. If you read one military related novel this year, A Soldier's Duty is the one to read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. Benefield on June 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best books about the military I have ever read. Once you start reading, you will not want to stop. Even though I did not like all the stereotypes in the book, based on my ten years in the military, I have to admit that the author very accurately portrays the military, its members, and their attitudes. The book, set in 2004, tells the story of how several military members deal with controversial policies and missions dictated to them by the White House. As you read the book, the characters' ethical conflicts of duty versus loyalty, duty versus honesty, and duty versus honor raise the stakes to the point of life and death. Life and death for the characters as well as life and death of good order and discipline of the armed forces. There is nothing in this book that is unbelievable. To the contrary, many of the conflicts and debates contained within this book have already taken place. That fact makes the conflicts in the book that have not taken place yet, all the more believable. This is a must read for members of the military!
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Format: Paperback
A very interesting book for anyone who has spent time in the military or followed US involvement in warfare,ever since the end of WWII. When a country is at war, there is always a sizeable number who disagree with the reasons for being at war and the actions taken. There are those who will always find a reason to oppose any war,those who have a sincere personal reason,those who are truly concentious objectors,those for whom any excuse will do to avoid serving their country,those with divided loyalties,etc.

Be that as it may, all these ideas must be put aside in a country that is a Democracy,where the people making policy have been elected by the majority of its citizens; and most particularly by those in uniform.

The concept of what the military must live by is aptly summed up by Major General Pershing to First Lieutenant Patton in 1916.

"You must remember that when we enter the army we do so with the full knowledge that our first duty is toward the government,entirely regardless of our own views under any given circumstances. We are at liberty to express our personal views only when called upon to do so or else confidentially to our friends,but always confidentially and with the complete understanding that they are in no sense to govern our actions."

The author weaves a good story about military officers who allow their personal views to overide their the duty to their country and those elected to govern it.

We see individuals move from dissent to sedition. A military is only as good as its service to the nation. "When an order is given,it is our duty to figure out the best way to accomplish that mission,whether we like it or not-whether it is good for us or not.
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