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War Reporting for Cowards Hardcover – July 10, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ayres asserts from his opening sentences that he is a coward. But this sometimes amusing, often harrowing but poorly organized account of war life makes it clear he is anything but a wimp: he is stuffed inside the confines of a Humvee, digs foxholes in the desert and watches Iraqis blown apart or incinerated (and fears the same will happen to him; he clutches a can of diazepam to commit suicide if he is struck by nerve gas). He reported from Iraq for the London Times from 2002 to 2003 and asserts that he takes no point of view on the war, yet the tone of his story is highly uncritical of the war, and his epilogue (alas, now hopelessly out of date) puts the U.S. firmly in control of the battlefield and describes the insurgency as on the wane. The book's strengths lie in Ayres's details of the gritty, hot, lonely daily grind; its weakest aspect is the too-long tangent of his rise as a young reporter. Ayres's gratitude at surviving his tour is palpable, as he writes, "Now that I know what war is like, I've stopped worrying about death.... I made it home. I'm still alive."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

A twenty-seven-year-old hypochondriac, Ayres managed just nine days as an embed in Iraq before retreating to a luxury hotel in Kuwait, and his book is principally about the serendipitous career path that landed him in the back of a Humvee. With self-deprecating wit, he recollects his days as a newsroom intern and then as a reporter covering the dot-com boom for an English paper. He dates his vocation as a war correspondent to the collapse of the Twin Towers and the receipt of an e-mail from London requesting a "thousand wds please on ‘I saw people fall to death,' etc." When the Iraq invasion began, his editors dismissed embedding as a diversionary ruse by the U.S. Army, and put their veteran correspondents far from the front lines, leaving Ayres with an American artillery unit nicknamed Long Distance Death Dealers. Facing his own death during an ambush by Iraqi tanks, Ayres admits that he feels like a coward not "for being scared of war" but, rather, "for agreeing to go to war" and letting "my journalist's ego get the better of me."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; English Language edition (July 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871138956
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871138958
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,448,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chris Ayres is a contributing editor at The Sunday Times Magazine (London) and British GQ, and the author of four books, including War Reporting for Cowards, which he is currently adapting for television. His other books include two New York Times bestsellers with Ozzy Osbourne: I Am Ozzy, winner of the Literary Achievement honor at the 2010 Guys' Choice Award, and Trust Me, I'm Dr Ozzy, based on Chris's long-running column with Ozzy in Rolling Stone.

Chris lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Robert Busko VINE VOICE on August 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Chris Ayres in War Reporting for Cowards is an entertaining read. Will it win the Pulitzer? Nope. Will it go down in history with other books about war? Maybe. Will you be glad you read the book? Yup.

I thought the most entertaining parts of War Reporting for Cowards are those sections dealing with the Marines he was attached and the war itself. There is a lot of personal history that Ayres includes that may be important, but I found to be distracting. I especially liked Ayres story of his first few minutes at Camp Grizzly. Approached by a young Marine who wants to banter a few lines from Full Metal Jacket, Ayres finally catches on. Truly irreverent but so truly typical of Marines.

An easy read, War Reporting for Cowards will give you a view of the war in Iraq not available anywhere else.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David N. Thielen on April 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The author definitely had a tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was in New York during 9-11, the anthrax letters got people at his paper working on the same floor as him, and he was embedded with a front line unit in the Iraq invasion.

A lot of the book is really how he changes his viewpoint as these events occur. He starts off as someone who is writing about the news but is not really involved. And as these events occur he becomes involved and realizes that we are entering a war and he is on one side of the war.

There is discussion about what is happening around him - but it is in the context of how it makes him feel and how it affects him. As he points out, when you are embedded with the troops, you suddenly have a very strong desire to see your troops win every battle - and as easily as possible. Because you want to live.

This is a unique view - more on reporting the war than the war itself and it is very well written. The author is also openly critical of himself in many places which again makes it a better book.

Really 4-1/2 stars and very hard to put down once you start.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kris the Bookworm on October 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I've been reading a bunch of books lately about the Iraqi war, but this one has given me the most personal look at the war. Chris Ayres communicates clearly his ambivalence about the war and reporting from the battlefield. He feels badly for the Iraqis, but he also would rather they be dead than he and his Marine convoy. The better part of the book begins when he becomes a "war correspondent" and has to make his preparations to go to Iraq. The earlier chapters are Ayres just getting in backstory and it is not as compelling. His descriptions of being at the scene of the 9/11 attacks were real and disturbing. A funny thing about Ayres is he doesn't strike me as someone who should be a reporter. He expresses almost no curiosity about anything. Even when he could see the smoke coming from the World Trade Towers on 9/11, he didn't immediately go the site. He just thought it was an accident, and really had no interest in checking it out. When gathering up his equipment to go to Iraq, he displayed an astonishing amount of ignorance. If I were going to war, I would make sure I had all the right equipment--not in bright colors. The first half of the book was marred by his constant use of this annoying phrase: "veal-fattening pen." I counted five times by page 95, twice on page 92--in the same paragraph. He also had a lot of product brand-name dropping: Neutrogena, Sony Vaio, Dolce & Gabbana, etc. Ayres was an unlikely candidate to be a war reporter, but he does his best (while squeezing his eyes shut and screaming) and the last half of the book is a good read.
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Format: Hardcover
Ayres's basic premise will win over any pacific or Iraq-war-doubter. He's a wimp, a coward, and he doesn't want to go to war (not to mention that he doesn't think he would physically survive war). His "wimpiness" is what endears even the most skeptical reader to his story. Our narrator doesn't have all (or ANY) of the answers, he's not an activist, and when fired upon by Iraqis, he's darn surprised by his own desire to have them obliterated to save his own hide.

Ayres's story is not just about Iraq in 2003. His history starts much earlier, as that of a journalist trying to make a living, that of a NY resident/journalist coping with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and that of a New York Times reporter grappling with the reality of anthrax afflicting the very people who work in his office. When I picked up this memoir, I expected to get into the gory details of war, but Ayres educates the reader in the reality that the life of anyone at war in Iraq has a history in 9/11.

One of the most-eye opening and heartbreaking moments of the Ayers experience was in finding the drafted members of the Republican Guard who refused to fight and were subsequently executed. Again and again, Ayers faces an enemy that he can't fault for choosing this way of life (or be executed), yet he still wants those bad guys to be killed before they attacked Ayers's convoy.

If there is one theme of this memoir, of war as a whole, of the military experience, it is uncertainty. The ground forces faced uncertainty and changes of orders on a moment's notice, of course. Ayers got out of the war on uncertainty--his satellite phone was seized for no reason, and therefore he had no means with which to do his job. When he got his guilt-free release from war, he was nearly killed in random RPG fire on the way out of the county (he was fine in the front lines, though!).
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