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War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq Hardcover – June 3, 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Anyone who has followed television coverage of the Iraq War knows NBC’s Engel. As chronicled in his first book, A Fist in the Hornet’s Nest (2004), he snuck into Baghdad as a freelance journalist to report on “shock and awe.” This is what he’s seen in the five years since, and while some readers will want to turn away from the horror and brutality, Engel bears witness to what has been done to the people of Iraq and what they are doing to each other. Reported in an almost herky-jerky manner, as befitting a journalist who hears gunfire as a lullaby, this memoir offers stunning testimony of man’s inhumanity to man and, perhaps even more forcefully, of the havoc that our most firmly held ideals, whether about democracy or religion, can wreak on human lives. Underlying the mayhem is Engel’s contention, amply proven throughout, that Iraq is the embodiment of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Encouraging democracy in a country that is 60 percent Shiite, the U.S gave Iran everything it wanted, by way of the clerics who, all along, have had their own plan for Iraq. A fascinating chapter chronicles Engel’s meeting with a well-informed George Bush, who is comfortable saying we will need troops in Iraq for 40 years Whether describing IED attacks, kidnappings, or soldiers’ hardships—or pondering how to hold onto one’s humanity in hell—Engel writes with heartbreaking weariness. This is required reading for anyone who wants to know what’s really going on “over there.” --Ilene Cooper

About the Author

Richard Engel is the award winning Chief-Foreign Correspondent for NBC and has been in the Middle East war zone for over twenty years. He is the author of And Then All Hell Broke Loose, War Journal, and A Fist in the Hornet’s Nest. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (June 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416563040
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416563044
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Richard Engel came to the Mid-East about 12 years ago without a job, little money ($2,000), and no knowledge of Arabic. Now he is head of the MSNBC Bureau in Iraq, fluent in Arabic, and backed by NBC. That, in itself, is an incredible story.

"War Journal," however, spends little time on Engel himself. It begins with telling how it felt to descend into Saddam's spider-hole, and goes on to observe that the rising power of Shiites in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon is the most significant shift in the region in decades. (Turns out Iran had a strong hand in selecting the Shiite candidates in our greatly heralded first Iraqi elections.)

"War Journal" tells the real story from Iraq's front lines, not the official blather dispensed from the "Green Zone." Engel wastes no time telling readers that many Iraqi army officers felt betrayed by Bremer's telling them to "get lost" after giving them token payments and their having obeyed American instructions to not fight. As for Al-Qaeda in Iraq - Engel states that Saddam allowed a few of their jidhadists in when the U.S. invasion seemed inevitable, but undoubtedly would have run them back out if the U.S. had not invaded. We also learn that Bin Laden planned to suck the U.S. into a war of attrition in Afghanistan post 9/11, but did not forsee locals turning on Al Qaeda.

"Support Our Troops" became a bad joke when contrasted with the poor or non-existent equipment American troops had in Iraq. Hussein's tyranny became replaced by constant kidnappings and midnight murders of sectarian enemies. Engel also tells the heart-breaking story of a grocer's young daughter kidnapped for ransom - when the father learns she has been raped, he tells the kidnappers he doesn't want her back, and she is killed.
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Format: Hardcover
I must say that books on the war is not usually the kind of book that I read, however I picked this up because I've seen Richard reporting from Iraq and other nearby places on a regular basis on the Today show.
As a reporter on the frontlines, there is little he hasn't seen. He's had close calls, dodged bullets many times, escaped kidnapping attempts and has seen too many dead bodies to count. He is passionate about the region and wouldn't live anywhere else.
He starts the book on the day where he was taken to the spot where Saddam was captured. He writes about everything thereafter in great detail. He also lets you know his position on the war - rather than trying to remain neutral like journalists should, but he wanted to tell it like it is for him. He ends the book by saying that the world has moved on and people don't want to hear about Iraq anymore and how he finds that frustrating and sometimes wonders "why I have done all this?". He knows people are losing interest in the war.
It is a heavy going book and yet, if you push through it, it is interesting and it's great to get a feel for what it might be like over there first hand from a very knowledgable and trusted journalist. I liked this one.
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Format: Hardcover
"War Journal" is a personal and engaging account of Engel's experiences in the five years since the invasion of Iraq. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and read it almost straight through in about a day and a half. Engel covers a wide ranges of topics including military tactics, media coverage of the war, Iraqi and US politics, personal accounts from those he speaks with, and even recounts a rather revealing talk he had with Bush (particularly interesting in comparison to Engel's most recent interview with the president). He also revisits most of the moments and events featured in his MSNBC special "War Zone Diary", including the bombings of his hotels and the false kidnapping of one of his reporters. Here he gives them more context and illuminates them with more of his own personal reflections.
The text is quick-paced with the straightforwardness of a journalist. It reads easily and informatively. That said, the descriptive prose sometimes lacks the eloquence of a novelist as the similes often border on the trite and tired. Nonetheless, they effectively convey the atmosphere or mood Engel means to evoke. The quickness of the text seems to mirror the experience of covering the war as Engel is unable to spend much time contemplating the atrocities he sees and the losses he experiences as there always seems to be another story to file.
Engel's personal anecdotes pepper the recounting of events and intersperse the background information Engel eruditely includes to help the reader understand the various "why's?" many of us have regarding the war. His anecdotes range from the harrowing and infuriating to the comedic and touching.
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Format: Hardcover
Heard a book interview with author, today on NPR. Mr. Engel's concise and keen knowledge and appreciation of the culture, coupled with his language skills left me with a realistic impression of what lies ahead regarding the alliances and treaties being formed in the lull of a war-torn society. What struck me most was the caller who asked if we are getting the whole story from the media and leaders of our country. Without hesitation, Mr. Engel said, 'what we assess as illogical and as irrational reasons for war is not without its own logic.' Based on the observations that history and events have led to what he identified as five (5) separate wars, I believe he has made his case. This informative book, without embellishment provides compelling talking points necessary to our national dialogue on the subject. This timely assessment should be on every citizen's must read list.
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