Top critical review
on May 27, 2012
I too like non-fiction and am a fan of first person military accounts. I opted for the unabridged audiobook version read by Dick Hill who did an excellent job.
Coughlin's story is an interesting one that covers much of the roller coaster of life, career, and battlefiend events and decisions. Overall, I found the book enjoyable.
With many authors, there are things that can become bothersome,such as formulaic stories, inconsistent timelines, missing information, and statements of fact that are obviously in error. This last category occurs throughout the book which is bothersome because it is set off by Coughlin's insistence on repeatedly stating how good he is, how shooting comes so easily to him, etc., but especially how well he knows his craft. He may know his craft, but the statements in error and inaccurate descriptions certainly made me question as to whether or not other information in the book not familiar to me is accurate or not.
Probably the first thing that I really noticed that indicated that the information Coughlin was going to provide wasn't going to be realistic was his claims that he was so good and knew his craft so well that he knew what was going to happen even before he pulled the trigger. Really? Then I don't know why the Marine's top sniper pulled the trigger knowing that he was going to miss, but that must have been the case since he did miss shots and make poor shots. I would be inclined to think that if he know how the shot was going to turn out and that the outcome wasn't good, that he would not take a bad shot. This shortcoming was countered by him stating that even when he missed, then he knew why he missed. Based on examples from the book, that wasn't the case at all.
One example later in the book was of the only combatant that ever survived being shot by him and was shot by him twice. That is a big claim that there is only one given that as Coughlin noted that during battle, he and other snipers undoubtedly shot a lot people but could never verify the kill. So there likely others that survived being shot by him. So there was a combatant spotted running. Coughlin noted that there were formulas for computing the shot given the speed and distance of the moving target that give a minumum accuracy of 90%. I believe the accuracy estimate is a maximum, not a minimum. So Coughlin shoots at the runner who doesn't go down and shoots a second time and he does go down. Coughlin is embarrassed and can't believe he missed. Later, he is called to check out a prisoner "who looks like he has been shot by a sniper." I have no idea how such a determination would have been made. The prisoner had been shot twice, once through the arm and once through the chest with a through and through from back to front...hardly diagnostic of being shot by a sniper. So he made the first shot which was not what he expected (so much for knowing what happens before he pulls the trigger) and a second shot that was good, but was far from fatal, missing all the vital organs despite good placement.
Initially and repeated through the book is Coughlin's descriptions of what he sees through his "powerful 10x Unertl scope." 10x is certainly much more powerful than just going with iron sights, but Coughlin's descriptions of people and things nearly 1000 yards distant being brought in so close with the sight that he feels he could reach out and touch them with his hand is just amazing. By "amazing," I mean "silly." It is really amazing when he talks about the amount of detail that he can see, down to subtle facial expressions and grooming. He does correctly note that seeing a person at 1000 yards through a 10x scope makes them appear as they would at 100 yards with no scope. So Coughlin must have amazingly long arms if he can reach out and touch something 100 yards away with his hand and his eyesight is awfully good as well, maybe too good.
Throughout the book are descriptions of bullet impacts that are right out of Hollywood, with claims of bodies being thrown about by the impacts of singular shots. The physics behind the descriptions indicates the descriptions are less than accurate. As an expert in his craft, it would be expected that Coughlin would separate the difference between what the bullet impact can actually do versus what is produced from the body's reaction to impact. Coughlin's descriptions make it sound like the bullets performed much like their Hollywood counterparts.
In different parts of the book, Coughlin notes human biometric averages that he supposed used to help make his shots. He stated that the height of the average man is 72". That isn't even the height of the average Marine, average US male, or average Iraqi male. There are only few places in the world where where the average height of a male is 72" or more, but over the majority of the planet, the average is less, often many inches less.
In another spot, Coughlin discusses making a shot at nearly 1000 yards with his rifle that with its special ammo, will hold groups of 1" or less at 100 yards which means 10" or less at 1000. Okay, no problem there, but then he notes that such accuracy should be fine for head shots at 1000 yards because the diameter of the average human head is 12" which is an amazingly stupid statement. The diameter of a basketball is only about 9.5" and I can't think of too many people with heads significantly larger than a basketball. Depending on the direction of viewing, the human head ranges from abtou 6" (front view) to 9" (side view), on average (US). There is some variability, of course, but Coughlin would be hard pressed to find anybody with a head the size he described as an average.
Beyond these unfortunate embellishments and errors of fact, the story flows well enough and the descriptions of events and what led up to them is quite interesting as are the emotional descriptions that accompany them. If you are a war buff you will likely enjoy this book quite a bit, but it helps if you don't actually pay attention to the details.