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Babylon by Bus: Or true story of two friends who gave up valuable franchise selling T-shirts to find meaning & adventure in Iraq where they became employed by the Occupation... Hardcover – August 3, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Printing edition (August 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200912
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200915
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,260,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What do you get when you mix a couple of booze-guzzling, Valium-addled, 20-something slackers from urban America with centuries-old sectarian hatred and a dubious war? Well, you get this alternately lame, alternately compelling tale from the first year after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. At loose ends, T-shirt merchants (selling "Yankees suck" at Fenway) Lemoine and Neumann decide to head out to Iraq by way of Israel. Having passed on an opportunity to go to Baghdad earlier in the war—"During Iraq's looting, the thought of loading up a stolen Lamborghini with Persian rugs and Baathist booty had crossed our minds. Stupid, I know"—these scalawags quickly find themselves in the middle of the Green Zone in Baghdad, scamming their way into jobs managing an NGO, dodging angry mobs in Sadr City and partying with just about everybody in town. Along with the boozing ("Jeff and I awoke at the NPR house with searing hangovers from a night of booze and pills"), there's a lot of name-dropping (among many others, Jon Lee Anderson of the New Yorker). Not entirely without merit, the book does capture a sense of the madness of postwar Iraq. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

LeMoine and Jeff Neuman had it easy; instead of finishing college, they spent the summer months selling "Yankees Suck" -T-shirts outside Fenway Park and spent the rest of the year traveling the world. But when their beloved Red Sox lost the 2003 American League Championship to the Yankees in a do-or-die game-seven matchup, they decided not to go back to Boston and instead made the unlikely choice of traveling to Israel and then right into Baghdad, ground zero of the Iraq War. Going to Iraq with the intention of providing humanitarian aid in a war they did not support, they ended up working as volunteers for Paul Beemer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the agency that was supposed to provide interim command and support prior to establishing the new Iraqi government. The boys' position of being both outsiders and insiders provides a unique perspective on the war that is miles away from anything found through the "normal" news channels. It is a complex, harrowing, frustrating, and heartbreaking account of the American occupation in Iraq. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

I love the approach.
This book is fast paced and easy to read.
M. Nolan
311 pages and I never got the point.
Hugh Jass

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Richard A. Jenkins on November 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I can't remember how this book was brought to my attention, but I am glad that it was. I took a break from "Cobra II", "Fiasco", and other "big books" about the war to get these guys' "off the beaten path" perspective. I'm a longtime independent traveler and, although Baghdad is not on my list of current destinations, I can readily understand how and why these guys blundered into Baghdad. The book is great fun because of the "slacker" attitude and the perspective that's outside the usual journalistic channels. My guess is that "the guys" had a lot of help writing this. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a little embellishing, but I'd also guess that some of the wildest stories are the most credible.

Essentially, two professional screw-ups decided that their love of dangerous destinations warranted a trip to Baghdad. Despite the security measures in place there, the guys made it across the border and took up residence, initially outside the Green Zone. The book is full of soldiers of fortune, NGO workers, courageous Iraqis, and the mix of US military personnel, embassy types, military contractors, and journalists. The guys eventually wind up running a small aid operation as part of the effort to set up a viable NGO infrastructure in the country.

The book's strengths include its first hand descriptions of the Green Zone and non-Green Zone Baghdad, the guys' interactions with ordinary Iraqis and their perspectives on some of the "innovations" in Iraq (e.g., reliance on contractors, national guard, and Hertiage Foundations-connected interns). They also mention the little discussed problems of drug use among the military (and just about everyone else), particularly steroids, stimulants, and benzodiazepines.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Gibbous Maan on February 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book reminded me of P.J. O'Rourke's classic 1980s Rolling Stone articles. The authors provide an interesting outsiders' description of Baghdad circa 2004. While they worked and lived (most of the time) within the Green Zone, they were no strangers to the surrounding areas. Their descriptions of the restaurants, bars, hotels, pharmacies and housing in the surrounding Red Zone were a highlight, as were their descriptions of the military personnel (generally favorable), security contractors (not so favorable), and assorted reporters and social workers. After reading of the authors' trips to the suburban slums to pass out clothing, Sadr City will no longer be just a location I hear mentioned on the nightly news. The authors left Baghdad just as things were starting to really deteriorate, and many of the places they frequented outside the Green Zone are no longer safe for Americans. (Not that they were all that safe even then. An example is the evening the authors were near a massive hotel bombing.)

The map at the front of the book was extremely useful for following the authors' Baghdad adventures. All in all, a fast-paced, enjoyable way to learn about the post-invasion Iraq you don't hear about on the cable news networks.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Julie on November 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
There's plenty of literature out there on the Iraq war, most of it written by journalists, pundits, and government or military employees. Here we have a book by two young men who came to Iraq as backpackers with nothing better to do. Rarely sober and sometimes not very sensitive to the culture they're visiting, Ray and Jeff are not always likeable people. They did manage to make a positive difference in Iraq through their humanitarian volunteer work in Baghdad, which took them to areas few American civilians would have the guts to explore. This book tells the story of their work and the people they meet- soldiers, profiteers, mercenaries, journalists, and drifters alike. It makes for an interestinig anecdote on how the collapse of a tenuous, temporary peace in Iraq looked to two foreign laymen watching from the inside. If you're looking for a story of the war as told by military tactical experts or experienced political and cultural analysts, look elsewhere.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By M. Nolan on September 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Seems like some of the other reviewers are reviewing the authors' appearances on C-Span and at various Q+A's. Being someone who's never met these guys (although I must admit I come from a similar background and through degrees of seperation may even know people they hung out with in decades past) I feel I can comment on the book itself, not on the writers or any appearances they may have made.

This book has a very easy, narrative style. It was a quick read, and on one level it is a simple adventure story about two globe trotting slacker types who decided to head to post-invasion/pre-civil war Iraq to see if they could insinuate themselves into the nation building efforts of the US military. Their motivation seemed to be that they had never been to Iraq, and that they had crossed a lot of the other typical third world destinations off of their list. That they ended up in the position they did, and accomplished what they appear to have accomplished, is amazing. Seems like on one level these guys succeeded in spite of themselves.

With that as the premise the book itself plays out along two central themes.

First there's the personal story of two easy going, booze and drug loving Red Sox fans and the adventures they have. This part of the book will appeal to those who like to read travel diaries and stories of personal revelation set against a back drop of drugs, booze and good old American apathy.

Secondly, in addition to the recounting of the story of these two guys, there is what I felt was a very fair and candid assessment of the way things are going in Iraq. These guys weren't peace activists, and going into this they did not appear to have an agenda.
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