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Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War Hardcover – March 23, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 113 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this hauntingly direct war memoir, a cocky West Coast frat boy becomes a reflective leader in the later part of the Iraq conflict. Not long after his 2007 deployment, Lt. Gallagher had become a much-read blogger, but his blunt account ran afoul of the higher-ups. In this blog-like memoir of his year-plus in Iraq, he provides an episodic, day-by-day account of life during wartime, covering everything from the fear of shooting innocent citizens to the impact of a Dear John letter on a unit. Gallagher employs a close eye and enormous compassion when recounting tragedies like a horrible explosive accident and pervasive poverty and despair in an area known as "trash village." Gallagher's vivid, atmospheric descriptions can occasionally get away from him ("It was modern Iraq, permanently soaked in a blood-red-sea past it would never be able to part"), but he provides much canny, moving commentary on the power of war to transform soldiers and civilians: "Suddenly the stare was the norm house by house, block by block, and town by town, and all of the flower petals dried up, and we suddenly recognized that those cheers of gratitude were actually pleas for salvation."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Wall Street Journal, 3/23/10
“Understanding that comedy best captures the irony of the human condition, Mr. Gallagher pokes fun at himself, his soldiers and those above him…Above all, Kaboom is about the day-to-day travails of a typical platoon set smack among thousands of disillusioned and war-weary Iraqis…Without a trace of sentimentality, Mr. Gallagher draws the reader into the everyday complexities of leading 44 soldiers from every strata of American society…One of the attractions of Kaboom is its first-hand reporting, unfiltered by a journalist’s interpretative ‘framing.’ Whenever a tense situation arises, whenever bullets start flying, Mr. Gallagher and his soldiers rush to the scene and instinctively take charge through pure force—and we’re right at their side. Mr. Gallagher brings the reader down to the stinking streets, through the sewer water and into meetings with cunning sheiks and sycophants…Mr. Gallagher is too modest, and too ironic, to tout his own accomplishments, so I'll do it for him: He is a classic representative of the U.S. military, a force that imposed its will, both physical and moral, to shatter al Qaeda in Iraq and quash the Shiite-Sunni civil war and that is now withdrawing with honor, leaving Iraq a much better place than under Saddam Hussein. Mr. Gallagher’s platoon served in chaos and brought order. His book tells us what a grind it was. Victory over the insurgency wasn’t foreordained; it took the work of gritty soldiers and leaders.”

Library Journal, 4/1/10
“[Gallagher’s] exceptional narrative technique makes the soldier in-group cant both believable and coherent; his relentless pursuit of sanity in the midst of a chaotic storm of IEDs, policy changes, sheiks, civilians, and baffling missions makes this blog-based memoir an exciting read reminiscent of Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead.”

Zink magazine, April 2010
Kaboom is nothing short of purely honest, unabashedly descriptive and unexpectedly humorous.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4/4/10
“An oddly fascinating account of the high points (and low points) of Gallagher’s 15-month deployment…Kaboom will generate strong responses from readers.”

Entertainment Weekly, 4/30/10
“as funny as it is harrowing.”

InternetReviewofBooks.com, April 2010
“[Gallagher] proves himself a gifted writer in this boots-on-the-ground report, with some of his prose echoing the scattershot riffs of Dylan without the guitar…[His] analysis of his situation, his troopers, the rear echelon, the high command, the profiteers, and the Iraqis (friend and foe) is insightful and candid...Gallagher simply gives a platoon leader’s perspective of an ugly war that has cost our nation so much in so many ways. Perhaps it is best to think of the young lieutenant’s memoir as one more paving stone for the road toward a fair historical assessment that our grandchildren may appreciate.”

Galveston Daily News, 4/18/10
“While the opening of the book borrows heavily from the blog, it doesn’t simply regurgitate his blog postings. Gallagher adds material that puts his experiences in context and rewrote much of the rest. Unchanged is what made the blog so delightful—the irreverence of his words and the immediacy of what he experienced...Kaboom offers an intimate and poignant look at the rough men willing to do violence so good people can sleep peacefully in their beds—during a period that tested those men to their limits. It is well worth reading.”

Reno Gazette-Journal, 5/2/10
“A sharp, episodic survey of [Gallagher’s] 15-month deployment in Iraq in a frightening war where few things are as they seem…Kaboom is a modern war story. It's a 21st-century memoir reflecting the age of blogs and instant messaging in a war where national and religious customs are complicated and where the line between combatants and noncombatants is faint…The writing style, quick and incidental, might be an example of the future of prose, with younger people turning out books under the influence of blogs, Twitter and text messaging…Heavy yet compelling reading.”

ForeWord, May/June 2010
“This gritty, in-your-face account…holds its own with the best memoirs of Vietnam and World War II veterans… Gallagher describes colorfully the challenges of keeping order in a tribal society run by Sunni and Shia sheiks who hated Americans but loved American dollars…Sixteen pages of black and white photographs illustrate an already vivid book…Gallagher provides compelling accounts of the sacrifices made by the military, while questioning the purpose of war…Will greatly appeal to readers of military history and battlefield accounts.”

Publishers Weekly, 5/17/10
“[A] hauntingly direct war memoir…Provides an episodic, day-by-day account of life during wartime…Gallagher employs a close eye and enormous compassion when recounting tragedies…Vivid, atmospheric descriptions…He provides much canny, moving commentary on the power of war to transform soldiers and civilians.”

Military Times, 5/24/10
Kaboom is funny and profound, urbane and vulgar, witty and worthwhile…Photos with informative captions, and an index [are] the only pages in Kaboom without a sense of humor…As jaw-dropping, laugh-inducing and eye-opening as any life-threatening rollercoaster ride in a war zone.”

Sacramento Book Review, 5/26/10
“A candid look at counterinsurgency warfare…Gallagher’s descriptions of daily interactions between his soldiers, civilians, sheiks, Iraqi army, and Iraqi police will keep most readers turning the pages. He conveys the terrible stress soldiers face in dangerous situations, while also communicating the marathon tedium of their daily lives…An excellent book for anyone interested in the observations, expectations, humor, and work ethic of the next generation of American leaders.”

St. Petersburg Times, 5/30/10
“A memoir by turns harrowing, hilarious and absurd.”

The New Republic, 6/11/10
“A vivid and introspective chronicle of Gallagher’s fifteen months in Iraq…Its aim is simple: to explain what it is like to wage an unconventional war…Unlike a journalist, whose Heisenberg-like presence inevitably distorts, Gallagher is able to candidly depict the lighter moments of war…And Gallagher gives the book’s characters…much more than the name-rank-hometown exposition that too often flattens soldiers in print…Evocative prose, convincing dialogue, and, especially, telling vignettes of life as an American soldier in Iraq.”

Tucson Citizen, 6/14/10
"[Gallagher] freely shares what it was like to face the ever-presence threat of snipers and roadside bombs. He debates the effectiveness of the overall military strategy of the latest surge and struggles to understand the big picture in a memoir that is honest, candid, and insightful.”

JulesCrittenden.com, 6/14/10
“Beautifully written, literary in its approach, and looks to be a good companion to [Rage Company’s] more Spartan, unadorned take on the business end of surge operations and counterinsurgency.”

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; First Edition edition (March 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306818809
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306818806
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,287 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert G. Leroe VINE VOICE on April 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a retired LTC and combat veteran, I found Kaboom hard to put down. It offers a platoon-level gritty look at what happens outside the wire where the real conflict is found. I've nothing against the desk jockeys who enable the action, so long as they don't impede it (sometimes they do). LT G gets dirty with the troops and into the scary places where things are happening--namely, missions of substance. While some things don't change in war, every war has its own unique touches, vocabulary, and frustrations. His depiction of the diverse people, both US and Iraqi, are outstanding. Every war has its characters, heroes, and screw-ups. I came away from this book with a better appreciation of the feel of the war. Vividly depicted are the conflicts with higher-ups, the various dangers on the ground, responding to change, funny stuff happening, and all very human, very real. This should be required reading for Officers Basic, every branch.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Junior officer Matt Gallagher parlayed his 15 minutes of fame as a widely-read military blogger into a contract for this memoir of his 15-month deployment in Iraq, where he was assigned to lead a cavalry platoon in counterinsurgency duties in a small desert municipality. Later, he gets in trouble when he submits an unauthorized blog entry complaining about an irrational promotion that takes him away from his beloved platoon, but he gets kicked upstairs anyway and spends nearly half of his deployment as an intelligence captain near Sadr City. Gallagher's sympathy, and his strongest material, lies with the first section of the memoir in which he is actually leading soldiers in dangerous situations -- he wisely emphasizes this part of his war experience in the book.

It's interesting to see what modern war looks like, and Gallagher writes an engaging picture of it. Counterinsurgency is more like what we would think of as policing than the types of battles we associate with war in the movies -- diplomacy and the coolheadedness not to shoot in panic situations are more important to his mission than violence. Throughout his deployment, neither Gallagher nor anyone in his unit is injured in combat or fires upon anyone. The greatest loss to his unit comes in an accidental fire that critically burns a member of his platoon; the greatest loss of innocence he experiences is when he gives a conditional order to fire, even though circumstances make it unnecessary for his men to shoot anyone on his orders. But some military experience is universal, and the usual ground-level gripes about the bizarre and labyrinthine American military bureaucracy get a thorough airing here. (You'd think after all this time we'd have figured a way around that.
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By Tnkboy on March 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My copy of Kaboom arrived Thursday at 2pm. I started reading it at 3:30 pm expecting to knock out a chapter or two a day until I'd finished it. By 6:53 pm that same day I had finished the entire book. It drew me in within the first three paragraphs and didn't let go. Well written account of what it was like over there dealing with the complex, wild world of COIN while dealing with sheiks who want to make a difference in their country, or sheiks who only want to make a buck.

Superiors out to make a name for themselves at the expense of their character, our how tight the common Soldier bonds with other Soldiers of all races and nationalities that they may have never even spoken to had they passed each other on the streets as civilians.

If you're looking for intense combat,with bullets flying on every page then go pick up a few copies of a Sgt Rock comic book. If you want a realistic look into a 15 month deployment on the tail end of The Surge in a COIN fight while trying to maintain your sanity and sense of purpose,while staying true to yourself,your country,and your Soldiers and while managing to make sense of this period of the war that the Soldiers were living,scarifying,fighting and dying in while the rest of America was at the mall,then this book is for you.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I wanted to enjoy this book -- I really did -- and I tried -- but the writing was just not overly compelling. Maybe this has to do with the fact that I was a combat officer in Iraq in 2004 and in Afghanistan in 2008. I could understand and empathize with the author and the challenges he faced, but after each small entry, I was left with the feeling that the good Lieutenant was in over his head. Although he purported all his actions were about his men on the line, there was an underlying sense of selfishness I was left with by his descriptions of his interaction with his soldiers and those around him. Also, the author used the rape analogy way to many times to describe his time in Iraq -- a bit off putting.

I find tremendous value in these memories and I usually snap them right up as I want to be reassured others experienced the horror's of war as I did and I firmly believe more people need to know the stories from Iraq. This story though just did not satisfy.
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Format: Hardcover
With a unique voice and from an uncommon perspective, Matt captures his experience as a tactical-level Army combat leader operating in the Baghdad Province of Iraq on the coattails of the surge. Through his often detached, tell-it-like-it-is style, Matt presents his readers with a first-hand account of what it is like to lead Soldiers in a modern counterinsurgency environment. I believe that readers quickly understand that such responsibility in said environment is wrought in complexity and frustration and requires young leaders like Matt to perform as diplomats, pacifiers, and policemen- an amalgamation far above the stereotype of meathead Soldier. The insight that Matt is availed and then paints for readers of Kaboom is a relatively unknown picture of the day-to-day struggles in Iraq that supersedes those provided by embedded journalists and other media outlets. Matt depicts his dealings with shady Sheiks, his platoon's partnership with the often amateurish Iraqi Security Forces, and the misgivings he sees in the leadership and actions of his superiors. A most gripping aspect of Matt's shared reality is that while his leadership role forced him to follow sometimes fuzzy orders in the most obscure of military operating environments, it is the Troopers he led- very well-intentioned, admirable men, ripped from a cross-section of America and smartly depicted in this book- that kept Matt poised and propelled him through day upon arduous day. This account is not only a page-turner because it presents the harsh, eye-opening realities of actual military operations, but it is Matt's distinct literary style, boosted by his ability to find the humorous amongst the sometimes desperate and destitute, that keeps the reader yearning for more. No matter where you place yourself on the political spectrum or how you live as an American, this book will educate, entertain, and hopefully deepen your sense of appreciation for those military personnel deployed to combat zones.
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