The advent of embedded reporters in the opening days of the 2003 US war on Iraq meant a more direct and personal point of view than battlefield coverage has historically offered. Rick Atkinson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for An Army at Dawn
, an account of combat in North Africa during World War II, traveled with the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army from its deployment out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky through its entry into Baghdad. The result, In the Company of Soldiers
, is a thoroughly engrossing look at the strategies, personalities, and struggles of waging modern warfare. Much of Atkinson's focus falls on the division's leader, the hugely competitive and charismatic Major General David Petraeus, who seems to guide his troops through Iraq by sheer force of will. Atkinson devotes most of his time to the senior commanders, but the loss of the G.I. perspective, while disappointing, is outweighed by Atkinson's access to the minds of the brass who must navigate an Iraq whose citizens were not nearly as happy as military planners had hoped and who offered resistance in ways other than what the Americans had prepared for. While plenty has been written about the American military effort in Iraq, Atkinson's perspective, combined with a direct, economical writing style, allows him to present sides to the war not often seen or considered: long periods of waiting punctuated with mad scrambles to apply gas masks, fretting over how to pack all necessary supplies into tiny kits, dealing with dust storms that can ground state of the art attack helicopters, and reading the irreverent yet shrewdly observant graffiti left by American soldiers. In the Company of Soldiers
lionizes the American military officers but it neither condemns nor offers unqualified praise to the US effort in Iraq. Indeed, the disturbing omens of chaos hinted at soon after the invasion began in the spring of 2003 would come into sharper relief when the book was published a year later. --John Moe
From Publishers Weekly
A Pulitzer-winning Washington Post correspondent and military historian gives the best account yet to come out of the Iraq War, chronicling the unit in which the author was embedded, the 101st Airborne, or Screaming Eagles, and particularly its headquarters. This inevitably puts much emphasis on the division commander, the intense, competitive and thoroughly professional Maj. Gen. David Petraeus. But no one is left out, from General Wallace, the gifted corps commander, to a Muslim convert and the victims of his ghastly but little publicized fragging incident at the opening of the war. The narrative covers this large cast from the division's being called up for the war at Fort Campbell, Ky., through to the author's departure from the unit after the fall of Baghdad. Through the eyes of the men he associated with, we see excess loads of personal gear being lugged into Iraq and insufficient supplies of essentials like ammunition and water (the reason for the infamous "pause"). We see sandstorms and the limitations of the Apache attack helicopter, and understand the legal framework for avoiding civilian casualties and "collateral damage," and much else that went right or wrongin a manner that is antitriumphalist, but not antimilitary. The son of an army officer and thoroughly up to date on the modern American army, the author pays an eloquent and incisive tribute to how the men and women of the 101st won their part of the war in Iraq, in a manner that bears comparison to his Pulitzer-winning WWII volume, An Army at Dawn. Superb writing and balance make this the account to beat.
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