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The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows Hardcover – July 10, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 152 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2012: To those trained in Explosive Ordnance Disposal, the last-resort tactic for defusing bombs is known as the Long Walk: a soldier dealing with the device up close, alone, with no margin for error. The Long Walk is Brian Castner's tale of two wars. He fought the first in Iraq, serving two tours dismantling roadside bombs before they exploded, or wading through the grisly carnage of unchecked detonations. The second battle began when he returned home, his life exploding as he stepped from a curb into what he calls the Crazy: a consuming froth of panic and undiagnosed pain that alienated him from his family and compelled him to rig his minivan with ammunition clips for faster reloads while driving through suburbia. With its tense and claustrophobic portraits of the violent streets of Kirkuk, Castner's account is a dead-on description of modern warfare in an unfamiliar land. But it also offers sober insight into the stresses of war on the human body and mind (the effects of blast waves on soft tissues--especially in the brain--are chilling), destruction wrought on those left behind, and the long, lonely walk home. --Jon Foro


Praise for The Long Walk:

“The Long Walk
is a raw, wrenching, blood-soaked chronicle of the human cost of war. Brian Castner, the leader of a military bomb disposal team, recounts his deployment to Iraq with unflinching candor, and in the process exposes crucial truths not only about this particular conflict, but also about war throughout history. Castner’s memoir brings to mind Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece, All Quiet on the Western Front. ”
Jon Krakauer, author of Where Men Win Glory

“Castner has written a powerful book about the long cost of combat and the brotherhood of men at arms. Remarkably, he has made the world of the EOD entertaining, occasionally hilarious, and always harrowing. His honesty is refreshing and the book is written with such candor and openness that one can't help but root for him. And did I mention that it is entertaining? There were scenes at work with the bomb disposal unit where I found myself holding my breath.”
Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead

Do you want to know a little something about our war in Iraq?  Begin with The Long Walk, Brian Castner’s elegant, superbly written story about the bomb-disposal guys.  As you read think of Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner.  Castner gives us that steady rhythm of one foot in front of the other.  Think of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.  Here is the reality of the exhausted mind, and of profound thought wandering all Creation: this is what I saw, this is what I did, this is what I have become.  It’s the story of the long walk out, as they say, from the Humvee to the bomb in the street, and the long look back.”
Larry Heinemann, author of the National Book Award-winning Paco’s Story and Close Quarters 

Damn, this is a very human book.  If you have come back from Iraq or Afghanistan, or know someone who has, you need to read The Long Walk.”
Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco and The Gamble

"[A] painful but compelling read."—Quil Lawrence, NPR's Morning Edition

"At times, The Long Walk...is almost unbearable to read. Not because the writing is bad — it’s often excellent. It’s unbearable because of Castner’s brutally vivid descriptions of the war and the way it tore apart his mind and his life.... [T]his is an important book to read for anyone who wants to get some sense of the long-term human toll of the Iraq war. How many soldiers have been damaged as Castner has? How many lives and families have been destroyed — or will be — by the effects of TBI? The Long Walk brings home in a visceral way the hidden, personal burden of war that many veterans continue to carry.”—The Boston Globe

"Vivid.... Castner's book intersperses stateside scenes of intense military training, off-hours hijinks and marital strife with vivid, often grisly accounts from Iraq's war-ravaged landscape, where his EOD teams disarmed improvised explosive devices, hunted for the bomb makers or cleaned up after their horrific handiwork while dodging gunfire and angry locals... [He writes] bluntly in describing how he has been changed by the war."—Associated Press

"The Long Walk
is a powerful, intimate, disturbing look at the ways that war can infect the life of a soldier. By the end of the story...we’ve watched him fight a deftly drawn series of battles, from the physical, to the emotional, to the existential. Each one of these is more intense and wrenching than the last. The Long Walk is not for the faint of heart.... Castner tells us what he is thinking and feeling at all times and has the magnificent ability to fill his scenes with the suspense of the moment....  It is the ultimate show-not-tell."—Jennifer Miller, Christian Science Monitor

"Not the typical testosterone-driven account that plagues the war-memoir genre.... [Castner] gives equal, if not more, weight to the time and effort that goes into readjusting to his family life, and his straightforward, unself-conscious writing paints an absorbing picture of war in the twenty-first century.... [This] memoir forces a reader to empathize with these unrelenting psychic and emotional pressures."—Chloe Fox, www.newyorker.com

"Brian Castner is a bomb-disposal technician who served two tours in Iraq, in Balad and Kirkuk, in 2005 and 2006. His affecting war memoir, The Long Walk, contains vivid depictions of “The Crazy” he has battled since coming home: the imaginary rifle he finds himself clutching at all times—at the breakfast table with his kids, in bed with his wife, sitting at the top of the stairs in the middle of the night; the gaps in his memory of home; the lucid recall he has of the war—each IED-destroying mission and the taut tedium in between; the constant, painful tightness in his chest. “I died in Iraq,” Castner writes. “If I didn’t die, I don’t know what else to call it.”

A Freudian might reply that this identification with death is one way of expressing the impossible burden of living. At the end of his narrative, Castner seems to be improving—coming back to himself, and to his family—though “The Crazy” still follows him like a shadow. We leave The Long Walk trusting that the shadow will one day leave him—but also understanding why, for a disquieting number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the fight against the war’s after-effects is ending in suicide....[It] demands to be read now. These stories remind us that we are at war, and that the effects of war will be with us long after the final soldier returns home. They begin to make audible the too-silent struggles of the people who wage it, over there and over here. And in awakening our empathy, they can perhaps inspire that most urgent and rarest of leaps: toward a reckoning with how the war is lived and relived by the people—Iraqi and Afghan, Pakistani and Yemeni—upon whom it is waged."—Eli Jelly-Schapiro, the Nation

"Although the stress and terror of war is tough, this memoir shows the return to civilian life presents the biggest, longest challenge.... Castner offers a brutally honest, sharply observed account of life at war.... [His] descriptions are written with a clarity that brings alive not just the stress, terror, and anxiety of disarming improvised explosive devices, but also the difficult stretches of boredom and loneliness, not to mention the glimmers of joy and brotherhood that go along with it. Even more compelling is Castner’s account of just how hard it is to return to civilian life. Back in the U.S. with his wife and children, Castner struggles to keep at bay a host of troublesome emotions and reflexes—together denoted simply as “Crazy” in his telling. The Long Walk is both harrowing and poignant—an intensely personal story of what it takes not just to survive war, but also to fully leave behind the nightmare of combat and readapt to ordinary life."—The Daily Beast

"Forthright, unflinching.... What makes Castner’s astonishing memoir so unique is his forthright, unflinching look at postwar life. To read this veteran’s story is to realize that even after returning home, a veteran’s hardest battles may still lie ahead."—David Tarrant, Dallas Morning News

There are many memoirs of trauma-affected minds, and there are sure to be more coming as vets keep returning. Castner's is an opening salvo in a defensive war.... [He] maps out this new and sorrowful territory with the skill and focus of someone who has had to defuse a bomb inside his own body."—Emily Carter, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Brian Castner writes like a man on fire in a searing memoir about dismantling bombs in Iraq - and the permanent scars he's brought home.... Then and now, Brian Castner feels like a tightly coiled spring, ready to pop at any time. And his memoir...transmits this sensation with heartbreaking mastery. His book is so viscerally engaging that it's hard to read it without shaking. Castner writes with a keen mind, sharp intellect and literary flair. His powers of observation are extraordinary — just what you would expect of a man accustomed to scanning every little pile of roadway trash for evidence of a concealed bomb. At the same time, Castner writes with the desperate immediacy of a man whose skin has been burned away.”—Brad Buchholz, Austin Statesman

“ ‘The first thing you should know about me is that I’m Crazy.’ So begins this affecting tale of a modern war and its home-front consequences.... Scarifying stuff...[that is] absolutely worth reading.”—Kirkus Reviews

"A powerful account of war and homecoming.... [A] gripping tale of intense endeavor, and also of the aftermath at home once the war zone is left behind-if it ever really is."—Blaine Taylor, Military Advisor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (July 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385536208
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385536202
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (152 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #832,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Nathan Webster TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was of two minds when I read this book - there were times when I didn't like it, when I was like "gad, another, 'I'm crazy' memoir from the war," but I was equally impressed with author Brian Castner's raw, and earned, emotion. He does not back off the details, or take the easy way around any of his stories. There's a lot of pain here, and he gives it to the reader in full measure.

It's got its flaws. I appreciate his difficulties in re-acclimating to the US, after his tour as an officer in charge of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit. But as a reader, I did not need Castner's constant "I'm Crazy" with a capital C to make his point. I got his point without that, and it felt overboard at times.

But - Castner's not a 'school-trained' writer or memoirist. What might be melodramatic from a writer with a creative writing degree began to seem, as I read, more honest and forthright from Castner - because maybe he doesn't know how else to say it, except with "Crazy" with a capital C. Is there some literary metaphor that would do as good a job? Maybe not.

Castner's description of the EOD job itself is excellent. This is a real-life 'Hurt Locker,' minus the phony dramatics. On the ground, it's simply a grinding, dangerous job. This made me appreciate the training and attention to detail that the job obviously requires.

He does an outstanding job defining and explaining Traumatic Brain Injury, and why it's a more common injury than I had previously considered.

There are a few times when I think he took dramatic license a bit too far (he mentions unloading a chambered pistol round in a colonel's office - maybe it happened, but I've never heard of loaded weapons being carried inside a headquarters).
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author is a former American soldier who served three terms of duty in the Middle East. That seems enough to leave him crazy but his role in the elite team that disarmed explosive devices impacted him forever in a number of ways. His job was one that required nerves of steel and a willingness to expose himself to constant danger and tension. He saw the results of the specific kinds of horrors of this war up close and personal, trapped in his uncomfortable body armor and participating in death and destruction. He and the elite members of his bomb squad wore uncomfortable protective gear but sometimes they had to just walk up to a bomb and disarm it and sometimes they were blown to pieces. Not only was the tension constant, but other aspects of their experience, such as traveling in uncomfortable small planes for hours and being exposed to heat and cold and nausea were part of the deal.

The author is brutally honest in his descriptions of the job itself, his fellow soldiers, the expensive high-tech weapons and the horror of watching victims of explosions having their remains blown over the landscape. Much of this is hard to read.

And then, later, after his discharge, the nightmares and craziness started, impacting is life with his wife and four children and making his civilian world a horrible nightmare. It took years of trauma and therapy for him to be able to write this book and it was these long-lasting effects that horrified me even more than the lurid descriptions of the actual bomb blasts.

I learned more in this book than I ever wanted to know about the war in the Middle East told from this author's personal point of view. I identified with his willingness to serve his country as well as his later problems in adjusting to the civilian world. I also applaud his courage for writing his book and sharing it with the world.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Long Walk is a train of consciousness memoir written from memory by Brian Castner following his multiple deployments in Iraq and final training of new Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) volunteers prior to their deployment. It expresses extremely well the mental trauma that follows our combat veterans home; but no one who hasn't experienced it can truly understand the intensity of that trauma.
He expresses to his wife Jesse how he writes this with no souvenirs, no research documents, and no notes: "I don't try to remember. I don't need to. I am surrounded by reminders; the images simply emerge in the front of my thoughts." There is a very poignant segment where he describes carefully dressing his son before a hockey game. It reminds him of dressing an EOD brother for the Long Walk - to personally attempt to disarm an explosive device. As his son heads for the ice, Brian's memories hit him hard - "I have just sent my seven year old son on the Long Walk."
Brian Castner's technique really pulls the reader into his story. Brian's memories jump back and forth between today's activities safely at home and his experiences in Iraq; so does his book. Just as these memories impact his life without warning, this story impacts the reader's perception of the frustration - even horror - of living with these memories superimposed over the mundane tasks of civilian living.
Amazon asks reviewers to indicate how much they like the book being reviewed. I cannot say "I love it!" about this book - how can I like or love what happened to Brian Castner or any other combat veteran? But I must give it five stars! It will stay with me a long time. This memoir will help me to understand that none of our husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, mothers, or fathers return from the obscene violence of war the same.
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