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The Snake Eaters: An Unlikely Band of Brothers and the Battle for the Soul of Iraq Hardcover – May 1, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Every deploying adviser, and every American interested in how we are fighting our wars, should read Owen West's gripping and important book." —Max Boot, Wall Street Journal

“A momentous page-turner about an unlikely group of Army reservists, Iraqi soldiers, and Marines who faced down a reign of terror in an Iraqi city. It will make you swell with pride at plain old American ingenuity and courage. Read it! You will never again hear the words ‘handing it over to the Iraqis’ in the same way.” —Karl Marlantes, bestselling author of Matterhorn

“The single most important book to come out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. West captures the courage and competence, the brilliance and bumbling, the hopes and horrors, of a generation of warriors: combat advisors. They are our Lawrence of Arabia, our unsung heroes who turned the tide in Iraq and show us the way to success and survival in the generations to come. This should be required reading, inspiring and informing our military, our politicians, and the citizens of our nation as we face the challenges of the 21st Century.” —Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of On Killing and On Combat

“Stunning in its portrayal, this highly personal book conveys a tremendous sense of time and place, set in a wickedly complex war zone that our young men faced in a foreign land, coaching a foreign force, in a type of combat foreign to those who have forgotten that war is ultimately a human endeavor. Vivid and honest, it holds true the real lessons of counter-insurgent war and is essential reading for those who seek to understand what we demand from those we send to fight for us.” —Four-star General James Mattis, Commander of the U.S. Central Command

“Of all the Iraq books, this stands alone. It’s an action-packed narrative that should be read by everyone, whether it’s military advisors, the generals or politicians who send them to faraway lands and anyone interested in military stories. As a fellow advisor, I stand alongside West and the rest of our tribe and shout that advising is fighting, first and foremost, not training. His account will be timeless.”—Dakota Meyer, former Marine advisor and 2011 Medal of Honor recipient.

"Owen West has written a brilliant and insightful account of battle in Iraq. The unique and complex experiences he witnessed are recounted in an exciting and moving style that makes The Snake Eaters an exceptional read. This book is chock full of superb lessons learned that make it required reading for all those who truly want to understand the complicated nature of today's conflicts."—General Anthony C. Zinni USMC (Retired)

“Owen West’s The Snake Eaters is a searing combat tale from the darkest days of the Iraq War, but it’s also much more. Combat advisors training indigenous security forces to fight their own wars must have a key role in American defense policy in the 21st century. This book shows how it’s done.” —Nathaniel Fick, author of One Bullet Away and CEO of the Center for a New American Security

“Gripping, disturbing . . . an unholy combination of Black Hawk Down and Catch-22. . . One of the better reflections on the war in Iraq, with enough sense of on-the-ground combat reality to hold disturbing portents for future ‘small wars.’” —Kirkus

"West makes a convincing case for the importance of military advisers who train indigenous security forces to fight insurgencies." —Publishers Weekly

"Outstanding study of the advisers’ role in Iraq." —Booklist

"An eminently useful and readable account of an advisory team in Iraq that should make\ us question the conventional wisdom about counterinsurgency, advising, and what works and what does not." (Marine Corps Gazette)

"West smoothly carries readers into Khalidiya, placing us into the streets, schools, and homes of supporting civilians the 12 were trying to protect." (Leatherneck Magazine)

About the Author

Owen West is a former Marine major who served two combat tours in Iraq. He is the author of two novels, including Sharkman Six, which won the Boyd literary award for best military novel, and his work has appeared in Men’s Journal, Playboy, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and numerous other publications.

The author is donating his proceeds from this book to The Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation and to the families of fallen Iraqi soldiers known as the “Snake Eaters.”

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1St Edition edition (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451655932
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451655933
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,190,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Simon & Schuster Author Owen West attended Harvard University on an ROTC scholarship and rowed for the nationally ranked varsity heavyweight crew team. He served for six years in the Marine Corps and led an infantry platoon, an infantry company, and a reconnaissance platoon before departing as a captain to attend Stanford Business School. Upon graduation, he joined Goldman, Sachs as an energy trader, and is presently a Managing Director and co-head of the firm's veterans' network.

Owen has taken three leaves-of-absence in his 14 years with Goldman. In 2001, he attempted the North Face of Mount Everest, turning back above 28,000 feet. In 2003, he took a leave of absence and joined 1st Force Reconnaissance Company as fires officer for Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2004, he embedded with Marines outside Fallujah as a reporter. In 2006-2007, he led a small U.S. advisor team to an Iraqi infantry company on an outpost in Anbar Province.

Owen is an endurance athlete who has completed Ironman Triathlons, week-long adventure races, and 100-mile ultra-marathons. He has represented the United States six times in the Eco Challenge, a 350-mile expedition labeled "the world's toughest race," and has finished as high as 2nd, most recently navigating three Playboy Playmates to the finish line in Borneo.

His writings have appeared in The New York Times, Playboy, The Marine Corps Gazette, Proceedings, Slate, the Wall Street Journal, Men's Journal, Popular Mechanics, and Topic. His first novel, SHARKMAN SIX, won the Boyd literary award for best military novel of 2001. His second novel, FOUR DAYS TO VERACRUZ, was published in 2003. In 2005, he won the Marine Corps Leadership Essay contest.

Owen is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He serves as a director of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I served as the Team Leader for Team Outcast from August 2005 to July 2006. The team, comprised of reservists, was made up of a plumber, a postal clerk, a rock guitarist / air conditioning repairman, a cop, a mechanic, a flooring salesman, a clerk at Lowes and a contractor; on paper Outcast should not have been successful. Owens book, "The Snake Eaters," does a masterful job exploring/explaining how Outcast achieved remarkable successes.

Owen explains how, in pre-mobilization training, Outcast received almost no training of value; the team members joked that it was 2 weeks of training crammed into 90 days. "The Snake Eaters" emphasizes the role of the combat advisor in counter insurgency warfare. Advisors serve multiple roles. They are their units link to the most powerful military in the world, confidants, buffers, actors, amateur psychologists and diplomats. Above all else they are warriors. They prove their mettle in combat and earn the privilege to advise. "The Snake Eaters" shows that warriors, not supplicants, succeed as advisors, and that these warriors can come from unlikely sources.

Owen shows that advisor teams and their units are a jigsaw puzzle of combat power. Each member of the team and key leaders in the advised unit are the key pieces to that puzzle. Success hinges on the ability of the advisor to reshape his piece of the puzzle, to turn negatives into positives, and push toward success. "Snake Eaters" makes it clear that rigidly applying doctrine, without regard to the reality on the ground, can be detrimental to the advisor's mission.

I'd love to say that Outcast cracked the code to the advisory quandary, but there are no pat answers. Each advisory team faces a complex array of issues.
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Format: Hardcover
Originally published at the Small Wars Journal: Judging the book, "The Snake Eaters" (Free Press, May 1, 2012) by Owen West by its cover, I would never have picked it up. That would have been a mistake. I would have assumed that this was another first-person "there I was" tale from Iraq. After hearing far too many contractors and retirees try to slyly slur that they "have a bit of a SOF background" in a conspiratorially lowered voice, I would have assumed that the title referred to another attempt to anoint some unit or experience as "special." I would have been wrong. Owen West has written an eminently useful and readable account of an advisory team in Iraq that, without being pedantic, should make us question the conventional wisdom about counterinsurgency, advising, and what works and does not. It should also add to our anger about opportunities squandered, troops left twisting in the wind without the proper training and support, and a conceptually ill-disciplined force wandering every which way, rather than fighting a consistent and unified battle.

"The Snake Eaters" is not about Owen West, nor the Special Forces. It centers on his predecessor advisors (Team Outcast) partnered with the Iraqi Battalion 3/3-1 ("the Snake Eaters" after their unit insignia) in Habbaniyah, Iraq. West does not show up until the last 50 pages of this 300-page tome. The story is about how a collection of under-trained, under-equipped, and often forgotten advisors learned how to advise and combat an Iraqi insurgency on Iraqi terms. For West, this story is of great importance because, in "these murky twenty-first-century wars, all roads out lead through the combat advisor.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was an Outcast Advisor from 2005-2006 and am honored to say I worked with the Snake Eaters. Owen West's book "The Snake Eaters," remembers accurate details of our experiences and struggles and shows the personal growth between advisors and the Snake Eaters molding a country, an army, and two extremely different cultures. It made me feel extremely proud and honored to see how Owen West honored each Snake Eater and Advisor and showed their selfless service, duty to country, honor, integrity, and inner strength to bring the fight each day multiple times a day. Even when the fight seemed overwhelming and support from other units nonexistent, West was able to show the drive each advisor and Snake Eater had to adapt, overcome and beat the insurgency. As an advisor remembering these events again it sends goose bumps up my arms. It is a honor knowing I was a part of 3/3/1 Snake Eaters!
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Format: Kindle Edition
Owen West -- himself a Marine infantry officer with two combat tours in Iraq -- has written a great book about the struggles of a combat adviser team in Anbar, Iraq, during the tough times of 2006-07. The book gives a no-nonsense, brutally honest view of this difficult mission, and in doing so, offers many lessons and insights as we contemplate an adviser-centric strategy in Afghanistan. A great addition to the pantheon of books about our current wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.
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Format: Hardcover
If you want a window into the real conditions endured by our forces in Iraq, this is it. The Snake Eaters conveys as well as any book available the circumstances in the battle zone for modern counter insurgency and nation building missions. While it should be required reading for policy makers and strategists considering active intervention abroad by the US or any multinational agency, but it is not an academic book. Owen's writing style is eminently readable and the reader will laugh aloud at both some of the situations described and the turns of phrase employed. At the same time you will feel the amazing tempo and intensity that the American and Iraqi warriors endured every day. A highly recommended book.
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