I knew Mike Hastings and considered him a friend, but I'm not giving this five stars out of a nepotistic star bumping scheme for my late friend.
I finally read this book after avoiding it and many other Iraq memoirs for the better part of the last decade. I served in Iraq in 2004-5 and then in 2006-7. When not there, I worked on Iraq policy in the Pentagon or State Department. For personal reasons I haven't had much of a desire to read about our great tragedy in Iraq, but last month I picked Mike's book up off of my shelf and began it.
First, Mike's details are spot on. His first initial experiences entering a Baghdad at war, his acclimatization to "normality" at war, and then his struggle with the dissonance between life in America and life at war are not just exacting and illustrative, but touching and sincere. To be short, his reporting of both the war and life at home during war, or America in exception to war, is excellent.
But, on top of outstanding war reporting, and what is lost, I believe, in so much of our discussion and understanding of war, is the personal story. War is above all else a human experience. The larger, macro examination and discussion of Iraq in its common form as geo-political, DC Beltway pundit banter is meaningless when compared with the millions upon millions of individual stories of men, women and children, most of them tales of suffering and grief, too many of them snuffed out and no longer continuing.
Mike's story is intimate, genuine, heartbreaking, and, as great writing does, transcends the immediate environment of the story to be understood as a universal truism that others can share in. While Mike's war reporting will explain and describe the events of that war to allow someone inexperienced with its madness, his personal story, of his love and relationship, will be readily identifiable by any of us who have loved and lost.