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Masters of Chaos: The Secret History of the Special Forces Hardcover – October 12, 2004

4.2 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have given the U.S. Army's Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets, a central role in American military action like never before. Several hundred U.S. Special Forces operators helped a motley band of Afghan rebels orchestrate a stunning rout when they overthrew the Taliban after 9/11. In Iraq, as journalist Linda Robinson explains in Masters of Chaos: The Secret History of the Special Forces, Special Forces units were the main U.S. elements on the ground in the northern and western regions of the country, where they defeated government forces that outnumbered them many times over. Robinson tells the story of the Special Forces through the eyes of a few of its more colorful personalities, men with call signs like Rawhide and Killer. She follows them around the world from Panama and El Salvador to Somalia, Kosovo, and, finally, Afghanistan and Iraq. Surprisingly, however, she devotes only a few pages to the Green Beret-led victory in Afghanistan, even though it was arguably their greatest achievement since they were created after World War II.

Critics and supporters of the recent American interventions alike should find the technical proficiency of the Special Forces interesting and impressive. Each 12-soldier team may marshal more than a century of combined experience in weapons, foreign languages, intelligence, communications, air control, and trauma medicine. For a book about such an action-packed subject, though, Robinson's effort is somewhat dry, and she devotes more time to mundane background biographies than to the dramatic battle scenes in which the Special Forces invariably find themselves. In addition, Robinson's "secret history" is an authorized and sympathetic one, and readers may be left wondering what she may have left out of her accounts in order to maintain her access. --Alex Roslin

From Publishers Weekly

This impressively readable account chronicles the role of the U.S. Army's Special Forces (aka the Green Berets, a label they do not care for) over the past 15 years. Special Forces operations included Somalia, the first Gulf War, the Balkans, Afghanistan and once again the Gulf. The latter two operations are are allotted half the book, with the ongoing presence in Iraq being the forces' largest operation since Vietnam. Based on interviews with 30-odd operators, the book is a compelling group portrait of some of America's most dedicated warriors. A journalist specializing in national security subjects, particularly unconventional warfare, Robinson mostly shows the men performing their original role: organizing and training local friendlies to liberate their countries or at least achieve American goals. Recent achievements along those lines include organizing Shiite militias in Iraq and leading Kurdish forces to tie down Saddam's army in the north. Robinson also presents in some detail the new role of the Special Forces, one of major strategic significance: calling in aerial fire support on enemy targets in support of either U.S. or indigenous forces in distant lands. Still mostly secret, she finds even after careful investigation, is their work with the FBI after 9/11.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (October 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586482491
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586482497
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #940,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By George G. Kiefer on November 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After reading a number of rush to print books on the Iraqi War, mostly written by embedded reporters, I have been waiting for this book. None of the earlier works included the war we knew was going on in the west, north and northeast while our conventional forces drove north to Baghdad. Indeed, during the buildup and the first few months after the invasion started, I only came across one or two news accounts that even mentioned SOFs being in the area. Having read Robin Moore's, "The Hunt for Bin Laden", I knew that SOFs had to be active behind the lines in those areas.

The author, Linda Robinson, having covered numerous guerrilla conflicts and Special Forces operations before, was one of the few journalists allowed to cover the Special Forces as an embedded reporter during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She accompanied the SFs from Umm Qasr to Basra, from Nassiriya to Kut and on to the Iranian border. This fact is revealed only in the introduction as she wisely and selflessly avoids the first person in the telling of the soldiers' unique story.

As other reviewers have pointed out, the book begins with a brief but informative history of Special Forces including their formation, their training, Nam, the Balkans and ends with Afghanistan and Iraq. The larger portion of the book deals with Afghanistan and Iraq. As for the Afghanistan War, a truly remarkable story, greater depth is required and this reviewer recommends the Robin Moore book above.

Before the official Iraq invasion date, 1st Battalion of 5th Group launched the first operations of Iraqi Freedom. They were in country the day before the early "decapitation strike" of March 20th.
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Format: Hardcover
Linda Robinson has penned an impressive and highly readable work of military journalism. "Masters of Chaos" chronicles various operations the U.S. Army's Special Forces over the past 15 years through the eyes of the Special Forces operators. Those operations include El Salvador, Panama, counter-drug operations, both Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Somalia. Still mostly secret, even after the author's investigation, is their work with the FBI after September 11th.

The theme of the book is the sheer skill and maturity of the men who make up the Green Berets. Unlike other special operators (such as Marine Force Recon, SEALs, or the Rangers), the Green Berets are more than just commandos. Robinson shows them engaging in raids, functioning as crack light infantry, and most important, performing their primary role: organizing and training local friendlies into viable military forces. The author clearly has deep admiration for the Special Forces, and drives home the vast pool of experience and skill embodied in even a single A-Team. Robinson's writing is crisp, and she brings out the drama of the many Special Forces operations in pleasing style.

My only complaint with the book is a relatively small one, and is directed at whoever makes marketing decisions at Public Affairs: what is with the title of your book? "Masters of Chaos?" I know it is a quote drawn from the text, but combined with the two bearded-and-ballcapped operators on the cover, I could not help but make an instant association with heavy metal. Beavis and Butthead were literally chortling in my head. Furthermore, since the main theme of the book is the judgement, poise, maturity and professionalism of America's corps of unconventional warriors, "chaos" has very little to do with it.
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Format: Hardcover
I was disappointed by this book. For one thing, it's one of the few cases in which I have been totally misled by the reader reviews on Amazon.com, which liberally use the word "excellent" to describe this book. The book isn't excellent, it's good, which given the exciting subject is a real shame.

The author was an imbedded journalist with the Special Forces during the Iraq War, but for whatever reason she was not able to turn her experiences into the kind of vivid, well-informed writing that makes BLACK HAWK DOWN and GENERATION KILL, also written by journalists, such superb and accurate books.

The decision to grant Linda Robinson the kind of access she obtained was really an opportunity wasted. I think the basic problem is that Linda Robinson just isn't a very talented writer or a particularly insightful thinker. Her descriptions of the Special Forces personnel are a long series of tired cliches: "he had a thousand-megawatt smile", "Jimmy could charm the pants off any friend or foe", "he was as loyal as a Saint Bernard", yadda yadda yadda. This kind of crap writing comes close to cancelling out the benefits of her unparalleled access to the Special Forces, which should have produced the kind of gripping accounts that one gets from other people who have had privileged access, whether journalists like Mark Bowden and Evan Wright or former operators like Eric Haney ("Inside Delta Force"), Charles Beckwith "(Delta Force"), and John Plaster (numerous great books on the Vietnam-era Studies and Observation Group "SOG") or Frank Greco ("Running Recon").

This book is not a total write-off by any means. The book has some interesting information that is not obtainable elsewhere.
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