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The Tender Soldier: A True Story of War and Sacrifice Hardcover – August 13, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Doug Stanton on The Tender Soldier By Vanessa M. Gezari

Doug Stanton

Doug Stanton is a teacher, lecturer, and author of the New York Times bestsellers In Harm’s Way and Horse Soldiers. His writing has appeared in Esquire, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, TIME, the Washington Post, Men’s Journal, Outside, The Daily Beast/Newsweek. Stanton has appeared multiple times on the Today Show, CNN, Imus In The Morning, Discovery, A&E, Fox News, NPR, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and NBC Nightly News. Horse Soldiers is in development as a movie by Jerry Bruckheimer Films. Stanton reads and lectures nationally to business, civic groups, libraries, writing & book clubs, and universities, including the United States Air Force Academy, University of Michigan, and The Union League Club. Stanton attended Interlochen Arts Academy, Hampshire College, and received an MFA from the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he graduated with coursework in both fiction and poetry workshops. He founded the National Writers Series, a book festival; and the Front Street Writers Studio, a free writing workshop for public high school students.

Anyone wishing to understand more deeply, and with more complexity, the U.S.’s relationship to Afghanistan will find in The Tender Soldier more than they could have imagined, and certainly more than they have learned from any number of news reports, books, pundits, and the like. Part history, part war story, part critique, Gezari writes with a stone-cutter’s brilliance, snapping into focus a part of the world, and a chapter in American history, that we don’t fully comprehend. This is to say that she has written an entirely thrilling and engrossing book. Citizens on the daily commute, social workers, diplomats, students, and, well, anyone really interested in what it feels like to have been that neighbor down the street who deployed, and what it feels like to have been the Afghan citizen onto whose block your neighbor deployed, will read The Tender Soldier in a few nights and come away feeling smarter and enriched.

In many ways, Gezari’s book raises the very essential question, ‘How is knowledge powerful? To what uses should—and can—it be put? Can knowledge be weaponized?’ Anyone who has read David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla will read The Tender Soldier with the same sense of anticipation—that here are vexing, yet fascinating, questions: ‘How do you resolve conflict?’ In many ways, Gezari’s book is a work of anthropology itself: she enters into the world of Human Terrain Systems and draws to vivid and rich life the people who have practiced their craft in this world; and at the same time Gezari manages to be critical, empathic, and conclusive. The final sentence of the eighth chapter—‘What we wanted was to understand ourselves’—deeply sums up the hall of mirrors that can be the world of ‘rapport building,’ the hall of mirrors in which we meet ourselves—and in anthropological terms, the Other, and in military terms, the enemy or ally.

This is brilliant reading for anyone who wants to understand our past decade and more, and it can be read as a kind of road map by which to understand other wars, and other news reports breaking daily around us.

Review

“As Neil Sheehan’s Bright Shining Lie did with Vietnam, Ms. Gezari’s deft if less sweeping narrative dissects the hopes, hubris and shortcomings of America’s efforts to nation-build in Afghanistan while fighting a war there…. It is a testament to the book’s strengths that it left me wanting more…. Ms. Gezari’s book powerfully humanizes the ways the counterinsurgency effort played out in Afghanistan.” (The New York Times)

“With a journalist’s discerning eye for nuance, Gezari brings readers into [a] controversial gray area, framed within the larger, just as murky, context that has come to define the distant wars in Iraq and Afghanistan….Gezari’s writing stands apart from other depictions of our post-9/11 wars….Her book exemplifies the persistence of a war-wise reporter who filed from frontline locations, seeking out sources in sketchy areas, often unescorted by U.S. military personnel….The book’s main subject and its author both devoted themselves—like real anthropologists—to listening, recording, and understanding the stories of the ‘other.’ Iraqis and Afghans have more in common with us than we might think.” (The Daily Beast)

“A sharp-eyed look at the complexities of war.” (Parade)

“Engrossing and important…. a gripping tale that exposes the strange mix of idealism and political calculation that can drive U.S. policy in other countries. Gezari writes crisply and with a clear sense of purpose while maintaining a journalist’s objectivity about her subject… .An important piece in the growing canon of historical works about the war in Afghanistan. [The Tender Soldier] should be considered essential reading to anyone interested in understanding the war and its effect on the people who had to fight it.” (Toledo Blade)

“A fine and fearless journalist, Ms. Gezari unmoors fiction from fact in The Tender Soldier, a cutting, empathetic exploration of cultures clashing in a war that may never end.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

“Blending strong in-depth reporting with a narrative writing that lets readers experience life in the war-torn nation, Gezari has written a military thriller, but also much more, as she tells the social scientists’ story.” (Charlotte Observer)

"Bravely reported and beautifully told, The Tender Soldier is a crushing story of good intentions and war. Vanessa Gezari is an unflinching journalist, and she has written a great, angering, and heartbreaking book that in its many layers is as damning as it is honorable." (David Finkel, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the New York Times bestseller The Good Soldiers)

“Part history, part war story, part critique, Gezari writes with a stonecutter’s brilliance, snapping into focus a part of the world, and a chapter in American history, that we don’t fully comprehend. Citizens will read The Tender Soldier in a few nights and come away feeling smarter and enriched. This is brilliant reading and is a kind of road map by which to understand other wars, and other news reports breaking daily around us.” (Doug Stanton, author of the New York Times bestseller Horse Soldiers)

“The story running through the heart of The Tender Soldier is a searing reminder that wars may be waged with good intentions, but they are built upon tragedy. Vanessa Gezari explores this grim paradox with an admirable lucidity and a sharp eye for the kind of telling detail that make her account of the U.S. war in Afghanistan a moving, unforgettable read.” (Jon Lee Anderson, New Yorker staff writer and author of the national bestseller The Fall of Baghdad)

"The Tender Soldier takes readers on an eloquent journey back through one tragic American death in Afghanistan. But its larger point is a hard-fisted critique of the U.S. military's chronic inability to understand the larger world in which it operates. It is a book worth memorizing, and repeating to U.S. decision-makers, when the next Iraq or Afghanistan presents itself—as it surely will." (Dana Priest, Pulitzer Prize-winning coauthor of Top Secret America)

"Gezari's gripping tale of American idealism gone wrong is vital reading for anyone interested in America's decade of war in Afghanistan. Beautifully told, the book illuminates one of the most interesting and little known programs in recent U.S. military history." (Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR international correspondent)

"Readers get a sobering feel for the difficult task of waging a war on foreign soil, as well as the travails of hardworking and often brilliant individuals struggling to change enormous political and social systems for the better. Nuanced, readable, and utterly engrossing, Gezari’s exposé is a revelatory and unique look at the war in Afghanistan." (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Insightful….Gezari delivers a gripping report on another of America’s painful, surprisingly difficult efforts to win hearts and minds.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (August 13, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439177392
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439177396
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #963,189 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Callie Glorioso-Mays on August 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
When Simon & Schuster offered me a copy of The Tender Solider: A True Story of War and Sacrifice to review, I thought the book sounded intriguing, but I had two concerns. First, I was afraid that perhaps it would end up being dull. Secondly, I was concerned that it would be abstruse military and combat information. I chose to review it any ways and quickly realized that I was completely wrong on both counts. It turned out to be both captivating and educational.

The Tender Solider tells the story of the Human Terrain System, a social science experiment to bridge the gap between American troops and the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. Small teams of trained individuals would work alongside the US Army to help interpret the local culture and collect relevant information. While many people worked on this program with noble intentions, it didn't stay that way for long. Because the program grew too quickly to make proper evaluations and adjustments, many problems emerged. For instance, the teams were not receiving sufficient training before being sent into a combat zone. But a major ethical complication arose: the anthropologists were helping the Army better understand the Afghanis, but that turned out to be a double edged sword because "'good anthropology' might lead to 'better killing'"(p. 115) Many social scientists were concerned about the direction the program was heading.

The Human Terrain System is made personal in the story of Paula Loyd and Don Ayala. Loyd was a Wellesley grad who was working as the social scientist on a Human Terrain Team in Afghanistan. Ayala, one of her teammates, was a former Army Ranger. As they were collecting information one day, a horrific tragedy occurred that changed their lives forever.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By jennifer clark on January 8, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I was a social scientist, deployed with HTS and then became one of the directors within the program after I returned to CONUS. I interviewed with Ms. Gezari on a few occasions regarding this book and was worried that she would take it on a route so often taken by the media, reporters, and politicians hell bent on making a quick name for themselves. Prior to Ms. Gezari's writing, there were several reports on HTS but each one, no matter how much information we gave the authors or investigators ever got the story right. They always focused on the few bad instances of failure, the screamings of the contractors who had left the program because they lost their pumped up earnings when the government shift occurred, and the ramblings of some of our craziest employees. The hard workers, the team members who earned awards, who did very well down range and earned the respect of the military while also not breaking any ethical boundaries were not often heard in these reports and discounted at best as anomalies when in fact- the opposite was true. So, I was leery when Ms. Gezari approached to say the least but I gave her my time and interviewed with her and gave her as much access as I could.

I began reading with apprehension as she told her story about the events that unfolded around the AF4 team. I went through training with them and had known Mr. Ayala before he deployed. I was nervous about how their tragedy would be portrayed. Thankfully, I can say that IMO, Ms. Gezari was gracious and as honest in her account as she could be. She was delicate and forthcoming, tender in her writing, even if at times she took on too much flair. I appreciated what she had to say and thought the book was well done to an extent.
It IS a book about that one instance though, and should remain that.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jacob Kipp on October 29, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For those of us involved in the crisis created by insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, this book provides an important statement about the complexity of the problem and the means adapted to deal with its challenges. The story of the Human Terrain Team in Maiwand, Afgfhanistan, and the tragic death of Paula Loyd in November 2008 speaks to one part of that story. Paula Loyd, the tender soldier of the title, was no stranger to Afghanistan. She was drawn to the mission by her desire to help, not to win a war in the classic sense but to build a peace, to find some way to end the violence that seems part of the DNA of Afghanistan. The Human Terrain Team of which shewas part had emerged out of the challenge of IEDs first faced in Iraq and then Afghanistan and the inability of classic small unit tactics to meet that threat. Unable to find the persons who made the IEDs or to prevent their implacement, the Army had turned human terrain in order to avoid slipping into the self-defeating posture that all of the indigenous population were the enemy. Maiwand, the sight of an Afghan victory over the Brtiish in July 1880 was by 2008 a highly contested area with a robust Taliban presence. The author, Vanessa Gerazi, carries her story forward by describing the situation on the ground, the principle figures involved and the struggle to integrate this Human Terrain Team into the brigade's mission in Maiwand. She is at her bes tin describing the village culture of Afghanistan, its oral tradition, and the role of family and clan in village live. Paula Loyd's death, one of thousands of American soldiers who have died there, provides a focus for the tangle of fears and hopes that put American troops there. Afghan wars are protracted things. Those who come there to fight must know that they will be transformed in the process. Paula Loyd was a different sort fo soldier, one made for making peace, but in land where peace seems a distant dream.
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