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Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death Hardcover – February 9, 2010

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From Booklist

This painstaking and balanced book studies the experience of one airborne platoon in Iraq’s deadly “Black Triangle,” where U.S. forces have racked up a larger number of casualties than in any other area of the country. The stress of combat on the platoon eventually led to what can be described only as a war crime, in which rape and murder overtook an entire Iraqi family. Frederick’s thorough research makes this a dense book, one not for the novice in studying the Iraq War or any other, but his compassion for all parties involved has enabled him to get an amount of cooperation from all of them that makes the book an exceptionally rich and valuable document of an aspect of the war the coverage of which is not always free from political bias or just plain sloppiness. Although not for the beginner, this is a valuable addition to any serious study of this war. --Roland Green


'Riveting. . . A narrative that combines elements of 'In Cold Blood' and 'Black Hawk Down' with a touch of 'Apocalypse Now' as it builds toward its terrible climax....Frederick's extraordinary book is a testament to a misconceived war, and to the ease with which ordinary men, under certain conditions, can transform into monsters. . . . Extraordinary.' —New York Times Book Review

“Meticulous. . . . Demands to be read.” —Washington Post 'Frederick, taking the story through to the surprising effect of the beheadings, the conclusion of the war crime trials and the impact that they had on the Iraqi relatives of the slain and the members of Bravo Company, tells the complex story in raw, compassionate and exact detail. Black Hearts should be taught at West Point, Annapolis, and wherever else the styles and consequences of combat leadership are studied.' —

“Gripping. . . . A model of extended reportage on a multifaceted subject.” —Chicago Sun-Times

'Panoramic. . . . Gritty.' —Chicago Tribune

“Black Hearts shows how a broken system broke its men. . . . Engrossing and enraging, a chronology of combat and crime reported with compassion.' —Army Times

“Every military leader should read Black Hearts. With empathy and clear-eyed understanding, Frederick reveals why some men fail in battle, and how others struggle to redeem themselves. An absorbing, honest and instructive investigation into the nature of leadership under stress.” —Bing West, author of The Village and The Strongest Tribe

'Intense. . . . Fast-paced and highly detailed, this volume is difficult to put down. ' —Publishers Weekly, starred review, 'Pick of the Week'

'Frederick’s...compassion for all parties involved has enabled him to get an amount of cooperation from all of them that makes the book an exceptionally rich and valuable document of an aspect of the war the coverage of which is not always free from political bias or just plain sloppiness.'

'Harrowing account of the atmospherics, commission and aftermath of a war crime. In March 2006, deployed in the south of Baghdad, the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division faced a countryside in uproar. Arguably the most dangerous spot in an extremely dangerous country, the Triangle of Death featured IEDs that made every Humvee ride “an exercise in terror” and a civilian population indistinguishable from the death-dealing armed militias. With too few men to mount proper patrols and suicide car bombings and videotaped beheadings circulating to instill an extra bit of horror, every soldier had to endure constant stress and resist hating the very people they were charged with protecting. Relying on scores of interviews with soldiers and Iraqis, journals, letters, classified reports and investigations, Frederick carefully reconstructs the events that led to the breakdown of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, when four soldiers raped and killed an Iraqi girl and murdered her family. War atrocities, of course, are as old as Achilles’ rage, and why particular soldiers succumb to madness and surrender their honor, while others who have undergone the same hardships don’t, remains a mystery. Still, the author answers the questions he can, plumbing 1st Platoon’s psychological isolation, a consequence of having three of their leaders killed in a two-week period, the resulting disarray compounded by a leadership vacuum and by constant, invidious comparisons by senior officers with Bravo’s other platoons. Their heightened sense of self-pity, the belief that they faced unevenly distributed risks and the perceived disrespect or indifference of high command—all these factors created the conditions that led to an unspeakable crime. While never absolving the four perpetrators of their individual responsibility, Frederick makes clear that the atrocity had identifiable antecedents and spreads blame much wider than four out-of-control GIs. A riveting picture of life outside the wire in Iraq, where '[y]ou tell a guy to go across a bridge, and within five minutes he’s dead.''
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

1st Platoon, Bravo Company
Read the prelude to Black Hearts and an essay by the author, Jim Frederick [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307450759
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307450753
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (161 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #155,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Jim Frederick is Managing Editor of and an Executive Editor at TIME Magazine. From 2006 to 2008, he was a Senior Editor in TIME's London office and, before that, TIME's Tokyo Bureau Chief. He is co-author, with former US Army Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins, of "The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea," (University of California Press, 2008). He graduated with a BA in English Literature from Columbia University and has an MBA from New York University's Stern School of Business. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

121 of 123 people found the following review helpful By just another PTSD statistic on February 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I started to read this book I wasn't sure if I would like what i was about to read. But being in bravo during this deployment i had to know what really happened and most importantly, how it happened. I wondered if my memories of the deployment would differ from what was in the book. i was so relieved to see the truth, however horrible it was. i literally couldn't put it down. I think this book will help people to understand what everyone in battalion had to endure throughout the deployment, especially Bco.

To extend the conversation of comments:

Todd J. Harmon says:
so you agree with the facts of the book?

Yes, completely. It's funny when I was reading the book, I could have sworn that the guy who wrote this had to have been there with us, because it was the only way he could have been so dead on with everything. It is really a testament to how well he did his research. I haven't heard anything negative about the book from anyone who has read it and was actually there. I've read several books on Iraq and none go as far into the dynamics of the unit as much as this book does.

To explain one part of my initial review that said "But being in bravo during this deployment I had to know what really happened and most importantly, how it happened." I wanted to give some context. I was in Bravo company the entire deployment and in June of 2006 was moved to first platoon, two weeks before the attack on the Alamo and before the information about the crimes that were committed came out. We had such a high tempo in our company for meeting battalion's demands that the platoons rarely spoke to each other more than when we would pass guard at the TCP's and at the JSB.
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77 of 80 people found the following review helpful By RMC on April 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was assigned to MiTT Team 4 (2nd BCT, 101st ABN) and lived/worked/fought with all the men in this book from 2005-2006; I knew them well enough to know they wouldn't pull any punches and Jim Frederick did a great job of capturing the madness of the 2005-2006 deployment. What matters to me more than anything is that the fight that those guys fought was recorded for posterity while it was still fresh; their sacrifices and their risks and their love for each other were overshadowed by the awful events of a few, and all of their hard work was overshadowed by what followed. We hear Fallujah and Tal Afar talked about as household names but no one knows about Rusdi Mullah, the JSB and Route Sportster-- no one who wasn't there and suffered through it...except those who read this book.

Well written, and no pulled punches. Everyone takes their lumps equally-- Ebel, Kunk, Goodwin, Norton, Fenalson-- all of them are part of this and no one gets off scot free. Even so, no one is painted as the only bad leader or the only good apple in the bunch. He captures the aspects of all of them-- Kunk's personality, Captain Goodwin sleeping in his plaid flannel pajama pants in his folding chair in the TOC, Fenalson's demeanor, the frustration of the platoon sergeants, the anger of the men, the sense of is as real as it gets. I could almost hear the crackle of the radios, hear Sergeant Loper on the mic in the TOC or SFC Laskoski telling someone they were stupid or hear Biggers laugh as someone was caught doing something stupid on the J-Lens.

The criminals who raped and killed are portrayed accurately, too-- shown for all that they were and were not and the leadership decisions that were made or failed to be made that directly led to the events of February 2006.
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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Kirk L. on February 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jim Frederick's "Black Hearts" chronicles two headline-grabbing, extremely negative events from the Iraq War in 2006: the ambush and murder of three 101st Screaming Eagles soldiers near Yusufiyah and then the news of a horrific murder-rape of a teenage Iraqi girl, who was murdered along with her parents and five-year-old sister by four troops from the same unit.

I had just returned from a combat tour in Iraq in late 2005, and was therefore intrigued by the backstory of the two events not so evident in the immediate news accounts and coverage of the soldiers' violent deaths and those of the Iraqi civilians. I hoped this book would put that unit's challenges and struggles in context. It does just that and more, telling an important story in what I feel is a balanced, even-handed manner.

Frederick interviewed just about everyone involved from the platoon level all the way up through brigade and while the actions of the leaders and individuals is often damning, one can never truly comprehend the kind of stress these men were under.

Frederick's book lays out the facts and details surrounding the platoon of Army soldiers involved, and how failures of leadership at nearly every level, exacerbated by a herculean and often undefined mission in one of the most dangerous places in Iraq at the time, came together to form an imperfect storm out of which one unit of about 30 troops found themselves at the center of a disastrous deployment, and one that had a negative strategic impact on U.S. efforts there at a time when the Iraq War was spiraling out of control.

The book is powerful because it deftly tells the story of an infantry platoon that seemed set up for failure from the get-go.
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