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The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars Hardcover – June 25, 2009

18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While no doubt the bravado with which Hennessy frames his account of daily life in a war zone reveals the crucial but often overlooked heart and mind of a soldier, the unsettling results confirm the vapid promises of war: that in battle, there is no context, no history, but only boredom, adrenaline, or grief. "Fun," "thrill," and "excitement" drive Hennessy, and apparently his comrades as well, even after a lot of blood and death; that this fact endures becomes more horrifying than the wars enveloping them. Hennessy's story jumps from daily life at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, to drills in the British countryside, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the sum of these parts never quite adds up to a cohesive tale, though sections share a hurried disjointedness that occasionally comes off as narrative momentum. The jargon and relentless use of acronyms certainly captures military speech but obscures the basic development of many scenes. Though a glossary of terms is included, flipping for every DTDF, OPTAG NCO, and GPMG would make for more back-and-forth than any attention span would permit.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Oxford graduate Hennessey decided he wanted to do something exciting, so he went to Sandhurst, England’s Royal Military Academy, and then to Bosnia, Iraq, and, ultimately, Afghanistan as a lieutenant and platoon leader in the Grenadier Guards. There he found what he was looking for, and this voluble, kinetic, and often funny book recounts his experiences. He’s cheeky about Sandhurst, describing it as “Hogwarts with guns” and asserting that military knowledge and leadership were taught primarily through “MARCHING, IRONING, and SHOUTING,” but he also acknowledges the program’s effectiveness. (He became the Royal Army’s youngest captain.) His time in Iraq melded boredom and frustration because he and his fellow guards realized they “weren’t going to have a fight” in Baghdad; with time on their hands, Hennessey and his fellow junior guards formed the titular reading club. Reassigned to Afghanistan, however, he found his fights, which rivaled Korea and even WWII in intensity. The book’s pace, never leisurely, accelerates in Afghanistan, as Hennessey vividly describes near-constant battle with Taliban fighters and confronts his reactions: exhaustion, fear, grief, fellowship, confusion, and what he calls the “rapture” of war. All wars generate fine books. This may be one of the best to come out of the war in Afghanistan. --Thomas Gaughan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (June 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846141869
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846141867
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.3 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,145,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on January 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In the past several years I have read dozens of military memoirs from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but all have been from an American standpoint. Hennessey's is the first I've read by a British army officer. The writing, not surprisingly, is excellent. Hennessey's reasons for entering the army after what appears to have been a very privilged life and university are somewhat vague, although it seems fairly certain that he mostly wanted to test himself in ways that only the military life and the crucible of combat could provide. He got what he bargained for and perhaps even more. His attitude throughout the book remains a kind of brash, cocksure arrogance that reflects a determination not to break down under the multiple stresses of war and command. He sees fellow officers, friends and men under his command crippled, mutilated and killed, and he also is very much aware of the insulated indifference of the civilian populace that makes no sacrifices on "the home front." At these times his attitude widens to include anger and a certain amount of confusion and wondering how he will ever be able to readjust to a civilian role. There is a kind of hard-earned youthful wisdom expressed in his attempts to articulate the idea that what is happening to him on these foreign battlefields will probably be the defining experience of his life -

"I suddenly know that I hate this and love it at the same time because I can already feel both how glad I will be when it is over and how much I will miss it. How difficult to convey to anyone that matters something which they will never understand, and how little anything else will ever matter."

Hennessey's narrative is also filled with cultural references of his time - films, music, television.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Nick Brett VINE VOICE on December 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Despite the rather off title, this is a first hand account of a young officer going through Sandhurst and onto the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is told in an almost breathless style with the occasional insert from an e-mail home and it does take a little getting used to. This is a generation that are trained to fight and it is not surprising that they are keen to get in and do the business. Some have complained that this is shallow or unprofessional, but the reality is that these guys are trained to do something and of course they will want to test their skills against a real enemy.

Patrick Hennessey manages to convey a number of things, the boredom, the intensity of action, the pain of loss, the comradeship and the professionalism of the fighting end of the British Army. It is a very honest work and quite hard to put down. It certainly gets over how relentless the fighting is in Afghanistan and how flawed some of the tactics and military assumptions are.

A very important picture of a young officer's lot, and a war that is going on right now.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John on January 5, 2013
Format: Paperback
A "good read", but due to many wild inaccuracies and his constant self-promotion I often doubted if the author had been in the Army at all. Far from being "the youngest Captain in the Army" as he claims, for example, and "commended for his gallantry", he was not promoted early as often happens at 23 or 24 but was promoted at 25 when his promotion was routinely due, and rather tediously he spends five pages complaining about not being given a medal for gallantry.

The book is well written, as would be expected from someone who read English at Balliol and who was top in his year in academic studies at RMA Sandhurst, but his ability as a soldier and a leader is highly questionable, at best.

His book is far more of an insight into why the British Army's mentor programme in Afghanistan has been a failure than it is into the failings of the Afghan National Army (ANA) he was supposed to be "mentoring". While the British Army's training teams (BMATTs) and Loan Service personnel have been highly successful elsewhere abroad, the mentoring of the ANA has not and the author is part of the reason for its failure. BMATTs and Loan Service personnel (who are integrated totally into a foreign army, usually for two years, wearing their uniform, commanding their troops and being commanded by them, training and advising from the inside) are selected volunteers chosen for their ability and experience, while the mentor programme is attempting to do the same job with anyone serving in an infantry regiment, good, bad and indifferent, regardless of ability and experience.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Frederick Bott on January 28, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very bright young university graduate, Patrick Hennessey, has given us a very readable, entertaining and insightful account of his decision to opt for Sandhurst after graduation from university, followed by tours of duty which eventually bring him to Iraq and then Afghanistan. He writes extremelly well, often with humor. In Afghanistan his unit was paired with an
Afghan battalion whose commander's high motivation Hennessey clearly understood and respected, and Hennessey's accounts of strategies, tactics and combat are thought provoking.
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