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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolution of Special Operations Warfare
As I surveyed the reviews for Mark Bowden's "The Finish," I was surprised to see a relatively low overall score driven by some very negative reviews. Some of these reviews criticize the writing style of this book, and other dislike its pace. But by far, the majority of the negative reviews criticize Bowden for not focusing enough on the actual raid that killed Bin...
Published 15 months ago by Caleb A. Keller

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131 of 151 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Weakest Bowden work by far - what happened?
There are several things wrong with this book, and they get worse as you approach the later chapters. I would have given up earlier, I only finished it so that I can write a qualified review.

First of all the writing style is nothing like other Bowden work. I don't know whether there was a bunch of rushed ghostwriters at work here or what happened, but the...
Published on November 7, 2012 by Martin C.


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131 of 151 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Weakest Bowden work by far - what happened?, November 7, 2012
By 
Martin C. (Boston, MA, USA) - See all my reviews
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There are several things wrong with this book, and they get worse as you approach the later chapters. I would have given up earlier, I only finished it so that I can write a qualified review.

First of all the writing style is nothing like other Bowden work. I don't know whether there was a bunch of rushed ghostwriters at work here or what happened, but the writing style is nothing like Bowden's other works, flat and repetitive. Editing also lacks, with some sentences making no sense, referring to the wrong person, missing quotation marks etc.

Speaking of repetitive, the whole book is based on very little actual information, it is just spread out in a wordy manner, and as I said the editors didn't shy away from becoming outright repetitive.

Then there is the issue of what original information there is. Apart from one interview with Obama which is mentioned in several places (but not a very revealing one either) much of the information seems to come from political staffers. That is kind of OK when we are talking about CIA personnel, but much of this book is white house staff work and description of conference rooms. Sorry I don't like it. And I did like other books that had a lot of administrative detail in them, so it's not just the topic. But it mixes not well with the repetitiveness.

The description of the actual raid is a huge letdown, too, since Bowden did decide to publish before he had access to anybody who was there. So in the end you learned a lot about political staffers' decision-making (such as speech preparation which is a central topic), people you never heard about before.

Amazon doesn't like reviewers to compare directly to specific other titles. Let me just say that this is the least liked of the books that I read on the Bin Laden raid (I think I covered them all).

If you want a great Mark Bowden read then get his "Guests of the Ayatollah". It is Mark Bowden at his finest, writing, sources, everything.

So in a word - what happened?

I hope you find this review useful. Not trying to be nasty to one of my favorite authors. Decisions about rushing this book have been made and his other work is much more recommendable in my opinion.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, December 4, 2012
By 
Jordan M. Poss (South Carolina, United States) - See all my reviews
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When I found out that Mark Bowden, author of one of my favorite nonfiction books, Black Hawk Down, was writing a book on the killing of Osama Bin Laden, I immediately preordered it and read it as soon as it arrived. Bowden is a strong writer and dedicated researcher with a talent for styling nonfiction reporting in a gripping fictional style, doing for Mogadishu what Truman Capote did for crime reporting in In Cold Blood and Tom Wolfe did for the Gemini astronauts in The Right Stuff. Unfortunately, little of that talent is one display in The Finish.

Bowden attempts, at the beginning of each chapter of The Finish, to introduce a fiction-like moment involving the main players in his story. A chapter will begin with someone in a vividly described moment--Obama on the morning of 9/11, Bin Laden in hiding--and almost immediately launch into flashback. Bowden often used this technique in Black Hawk Down, beginning with someone in action (Sgt. Eversman lifting off in a Black Hawk opens the book) but skipping back in time to fill in the background of the bloody raid in Mogadishu, but the flashbacks in The Finish never lead back to anything. The narrative loops backward, exposition happens, and then the next chapter begins and the process repeats. Beyond descriptions of 9/11 and the raid on Abbottabad itself, there is little concrete action for Bowden to exploit, as he has done so well in other books, and so the majority of the book feels like background, exposition, detail we'll need for later.

I'd blame it on source material and a rushed timeline. The research for The Finish appears to have been primarily interviews with major political figures. President Obama's reminiscences, for instance, take up a lot of the book, and the sections dealing with him have the feel of a politician--any politician--in full PR mode. And while Bowden had obvious access to Obama and many other high-level figures involved in these events, he apparently did not get an interview with former President Bush (consulting instead his memoir for a handful of quotations), which is odd considering that the bulk of the book's background occurred during his administration, and Bush himself is discussed and/or critiqued several times. The section on the raid and killing itself is based on reports after the fact, and is therefore long on setup and very, very short on details.

The book also sends mixed signals about the whole affair. I had no idea what Bowden's politics are, and I still can't tell you. A lot of people have taken issue with his treatment of Obama's involvement in the raid, and at first they seem to be onto something--Bowden describes Obama as having refocused the energies of the military and intelligence agencies to finding Bin Laden after the Bush administration lost interest in the pursuit. But later he describes Bush as having asked, every day, what progress had been made in the hunt for Bin Laden. Likewise, Bowden describes a CIA and military that had virtually ceased to look for Bin Laden during the Bush administration, but later describes the hunt has having continued unabated, with Bush's daily questioning goading them on. The general gist for much of the book seems to be that Obama's top-down management of the hunt for Bin Laden was what finally ensured success, but Bowden undercuts even this at the end of his book by writing "that finiding Bin Laden was a triumph of bureaucratic intelligence gather and analysis, an effort that began under President Clinton and improved markedly after 9/11 under President Bush. The effort was going to continue for as long as it took. It took just under ten years" (248).

As for the titular killing of Osama Bin Laden itself, my copy of The Finish included a note inserted on a card stating that future editions "will have a slightly expanded version" of the raid included, having been reworked in light of SEAL Mark Owen's book No Easy Day, a book I have read and highly recommend. And given some of what I have read elsewhere about the timing of Owen's publication, I have to give credit to Bowden for his graciousness in handling the situation.

The end result is a book that is largely a superficial retelling of events surrounding 9/11, the 2008 election, and the raid itself, with a lot of Washington-level politicking and policy discussion. The only thing really worthwhile in The Finish is the "big picture" view of the hunt for Bin Laden, especially the intelligence gathered from detainees at Guantanamo Bay. But even this, from what I understand, has been done better elsewhere. I have not read Peter Bergen's Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden, so I can't say that it's better or worse than Bowden's book, but as often as I've seen it recommended over The Finish, I'm going to read it soon.

Not recommended.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mark Bowden what happened!?, February 15, 2013
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In the past I've read several of your works thus when I saw you had written on the subject of the killing of Bin Laden I got excited. Sadly as I clawed my way through each page I found myself wondering why was I re-reading the same data over again. Other reviews point out that you giving president Obama too much glory but I don't agree. I do think our president made this mission a priority and for that he enjoys honor. But once is enough to harp on this right?

Seriously Mr. Bowden, what happened?
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41 of 53 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sadly not the author's best work, November 5, 2012
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I have read most of Mark Bowden's books and found them well researched and written. Unfortunately, while the research may have been up to his standards, the book didn't provide many new facts nor were they presented in an interesting way. I was more annoyed with the author's comments that represented his opinion and seemed to be politically oriented. I expect non-fiction books to provide unbiased statements of facts (unless overtly stated on the book's cover).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not used to this from Bowden, January 2, 2013
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"Killing Pablo" and "Blackhawk Down" were two of the best SpecOps books that I have ever read, but this one seems like Bowden had someone yanking out the heart of his material. He does give some interesting background, but it just doesn't have the punch and pacing we have come love in Bowden's other books. A similar book, but much more readable (with the long background building up the raid) is Chuck Pferrar's "Seal Target Geronimo" , "No Easy Day" is a good read, but should be treated as fiction.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars SIGNIFICANTLY UNINFORMATIVE, July 15, 2013
Let's face it. Many of us who watched "Zero Dark 30" were left with an intellectual curiosity and hunger on this fascinating subject. Unfortunately you will find almost nothing of anything that even remotely resembles a collection of factual knowledge on this subject while reading this book.
First off a decent chunk of this book (over 1/3 of the page count) is exclusively devoted to Obama and not Osama. We learn about how the president felt 'emotionally" about the 911 attacks. Where he was when they occurred. Endless trivial details about his presidential campaign. What he wore during the raid on Abbottabad. What I really want to know is what ST6 wore on the raid. I could care less about Obama's tennis shirt.
Bowden doesn't seem to really have any direct knowledge of how we actually found the target. Basically the scenario the book provides is that we had this really big computer into which we put in a huge amount of intelligence and combined that with the determined will of a president named Barak; and then Abbottabad just fell into our laps. The CIA agent featured in ZD30 is identified as "John" and that's all we learn about that operative. We really don't get any sense of the national effort and determination of the American people to bag this piece of scum despite the best efforts of a bungling President Bush who dropped the ball and side tracked this nation for years into a foreign war that had nothing to do with 911.
Instead of calling this book "The Finish", Bowden would have done better by giving it the title " How Obama became president and accidently and at great personal risk to himself killed Osama all by himself with just a little bit of help from his speech writer".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Better Title for the Book: "The White House's Role in Killing Bin Laden - As Told by White House Staff", November 20, 2014
By 
Gary Smith (Cornelius, NC USA) - See all my reviews
Skip this book unless you would have read it if the title had been "The White House's Role in Killing Bin Laden - As Told by White House Staff".

If you scan the table of contents, you will see this is not really about how the Bin Laden was found or the mission to kill him. More than 60% the book is the run-up and the preparation for the raid as witnesses and lived by Obama and his staff. The book extensively quotes Obama and his people and this was his main source for original material in the book. The remaining parts of the book are how Bin Laden became the leader of his terrorist group, including quotes from several of his letters (which I found the best part of the book). Also, there are some details about the early CIA team that hunted Bin Laden and finally a short chapter about the mission itself. The author, Mark Bowden, openly admits his limited access to key figures and explains that the bulk of his information and sources, other than his White House contacts, were taken from reading the other few books published on this topic. Reading this book, you get the sense that after about a two week period when he has access to White House staff, he spends another week reading the other Bin Laden books and then knocks out this book over a long weekend.

Another significant problem with this book is how it comes across as a political commentary rather than a fact based story. Obama deserves credit for being the Commander and Chief who over saw the final stage of the hunt for Bin Laden. Also he made a courageous decision to approve the mission to go after him Bin laden. Unfortunately this book goes far past giving the White House credit. Bowden comes across as White House sycophant who traded access to Obama a "fanboy" tale about do no wrong White House. His constant praise for everything Obama and needless and almost uniform criticism of his predecessor needlessly makes overtly political. Regardless of your political persuasion, I have no idea why he felt it was important to litter the book with his own politics. Bowden goes so far as making the ridiculous assertion that had Mitt Romney been president he probably would have not approved this raid (a needless hypothetical statement that added zero value to the story, other than a further display of Bowden's political bias). This book reads as if the White House had final editing rights, however (and ironically) I doubt this is true since had Obama's PR staff had this editorial access they would convinced Bowden to tone down his overt hero worship just to make a more believable (and a more positive reflection on the White House).

Strangely, in the final Chapter of the book, Bowden starts to add some balance, with a quote from a CIA Bin Laden hunter who claimed Obama's extra focus on the hunt for Bin Laden made no practical difference on finding him. Bowden draws attention to how in Obama's public White House speech, on the night of the raid, there was a lot of "I this and I that". Also, Bowden states that in the end Joe Biden was the only key figure against the raid. However, holding these comments to the final chapter seems bizarre. It was as if Bowden did a final read of the book and realized he needed to add balance, but instead of changing what was already written he just tagged a final chapter on the book so he could say to his "did you read the final chapter?".

This book is not being sold as a political commentary or a White House account of the Bin Laden search and kill mission, thus I can only imagine that many other buyers of this book, like me, will feel duped.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Love Song To Obama, October 27, 2013
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As many reviewers here have mentioned, I was impressed with Mr. Bowden and looked forward to his taking on the Neptune Spear raid. I needn't've bothered.

As "Kyle Chester" notes here, many who've reviewed this book (negatively, I presume he means) are tangled up in their own opinions of Mr. Obama, and I'm afraid that this (along with what I take to be a criticism of Mr. Bush, of organized religion, and the conduct of the Afganistan and Iraq campaigns) colored my opinions, as well.

I wouldn't've been surprised to find Mr. Bowden asserting that Mr. Obama was with the DEVGRU boys in J'Bad, and that he personally loaded their magazines, dialed in their radios, pinned their lunch money to their web gear, and had barbecue and beer waiting for them when they returned. I actually found myself thinking that the author believed that, had Mr. Obama not taken matters in hand, OBL would never have been hit. This is a slap in the face to those analysts, operatives, operators and other professionals who, prior to and well after 9/11 and up to OBL being forceably checked out of the net, never too THEIR eyes off the ball.

This book is nothing short of a love song to Mr. Obama. Credit where it is due, but leave us not exaggerate the man's importance...in this or any other instance.

The prose was sort of chatty to the point of "cartooniness", as if the author didn't want to inform so much as convince us. It was a hard book to finish. As other reviewers have already stated, there are better books out there on special operations, special operators, and this specific operation. Knowing what I know now, I'll read reviews more carefully in future before buying.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Just not very good I expected better, April 12, 2013
This is by far the weakest book Mark Bowden has written to date. It has all the trappings of a quick paste job. The source materials seem to be second hand and it's clear not much new investigation was done. There is no real new information shared or provided. All-in-all this is a pretty weak book and a disappointment especially from Mr. Bowden's earlier works.

I would suggest you spend your money elsewhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Did Not Learn Much More Than I Already Knew, January 18, 2014
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Mark Bowden is a skilful writer and very thorough researcher. It is well-written but there was not a lot in it that I did not already know. And some of the things that I would have liked to know are either state secrets or will never be known - unless one of Bin Laden's wives writes a book.
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