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VINE VOICEon March 5, 2016
David Finkel embedded with an army battalion known as the 2-16 who were part of President Bush's Surge. They occupied one of the least controllable and unfriendly quarters of Baghdad, Iraq.

This book chronologically tells the story of the commander, soldiers and the killed and wounded of the battalion during their 2007-08 deployment. Without delving into how well the surge worked, Finkel's story understandably describes the change some of the soldier's experienced from gung-ho ambassadors of American resolve to war weary and wary professionals bent on just finishing the job and coming home alive.

Their assignment was perhaps one of the most difficult for a combat unit trained to meet an identified enemy, beat them and take territory. As the book shows, occupation of a hostile territory is a very different war assignment from battle and maneuver. The weight of having to search, destroy, occupy and re-occupy buildings and blocks in the 2-16's zone of assignment exacts a toll on soldiers. Not knowing what your enemy looks like and from where in the crowd they may be coming is perhaps the most stressful combat a professional can undertake.

I did think Finkel played the battalion commander in a bit of a cartoonish way, and unfairly. The necessity of any commander is to believe in the mission and instill that confidence in subordinates. The author seemed to lean heavily on the Colonel's optimism with the benefit of hindsight and not on the many operational decisions he made over the course of the year. It seemed like back-filling to me to support the book's general theme that at the deployment was difficult and stressful and perhaps not successful (although one could argue the latter as people will for years).

Finkel does an excellent job of portraying the human cost of this corner of the war by focusing on deaths and injuries the troops absorbed. A stateside visit to a rehab hospital with some of the battalion's seriously maimed is heart-wrenching and moving. Whatever one thinks of the war or the surge, the dedication of our young men (and continuing belief among some of them in what they did) who came close to paying the ultimate price of war needs to be held up and I think the author did a good job of this.

An interesting and important book.
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on January 26, 2015
This book was a difficult read for me, because it was personal. My husband was a member of the 2-16 during the surge in Iraq. So even though this story isn't specifically about him, this is his story.

So what did I think about this book? I pretty much hated it, but not because it's bad. I hated it because it put me in the soldiers shoes, showing me the blood, guts and the s*** in Baghdad. I hated it because it made me relive every email I received from the FRG (Family Readiness Group) each time a member of the unit was killed with much more detail than we ever received in those emails. I hated it because it put me in the shoes of one of the wives that watched her husband suffer for months before he succumbed to his injuries because it reminded me that that could have been me. And I hated it because it felt so real that it frequently left me in tears.

The only thing I liked about this book is that in spite of the fact that my husband has refused to talk to me much about his time in Iraq, I now feel a little bit more like I know what he went through. Overall I give it 5 out of 5 stars, because everything I hated about it, is just an indication of how good it is. This is one book that I think all Americans should probably read.

Reviewed on Just Another Girl and Her Books Blog
(...)
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on September 7, 2015
War may be hell but it has nevertheless been fought by young men throughout history. This story of a 15 month deployment in Iraq is graphic in descriptions not only of injuries and deaths, but also in the mental price paid by those who fight America's current brand of war.
The last time American fought to win was in World War II. Now soldiers are waging a totally differential war where they cannot identify the enemy, are hampered on all sides by politics, and yet face the daily possibility of death or injury.
Like many, I thank service personnel for their service whenever I see them. After reading this book you may feel that you want to do more than just shake hands. I know I did and I am.
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I have embedded as a freelance photojournalist with US soldiers in Iraq three times, including a small part of the time that Finkel describes here, in 2007. At that time, and as excellently described here, the country was basically a hellstorm.

There are z-e-r-o images or anecdotes in this book that come across as anything less than powerfully true, and many of his observations mirror in some ways things I saw on a much smaller scale. So for me, the credibility was rock solid. I kept thinking to myself, "oh yeah, I remember when something like X happened."

But, the most factually accurate book won't work if it's not written well. That is NOT a problem here. He tells it straight and without a lot of florid adjectives and overwriting. It's a strong enough story to succeed on its own merits, without the author trying to make us notice him as well. I really respect how he keeps himself totally out of it. There's nothing wrong with an "I" biographical style, but it's good to see the soldier's stories told here with a minimum of editorializing. It just tells us what happened; a lot of it's pretty horrible, some of it is very funny, with plenty in between.

Dexter Filkins' "The Forever War," had been my most respected book about Iraq, but this surpasses it only because it focuses so closely on an individual unit and the men doing the job. Filkins does a lot more in his book, but I think the tight focus of "Good Soldiers" helps it stand even more apart.

I'm not even sure it could be summed up as what it's "about." It doesn't have a happy ending, there's no big defining battle, just a lot of fights that don't seem to add up to much. It's not pointless, because we know that the 'surge' the men suffered through actually did work to some extent (though no one knows the future), so we can look at the sacrifice of the men who died a lot differently.

It's not easy to read. It's not fun. It always seems like the audience wants these types of books to be either blatantly anti-any-war polemics, or rah-rah, wave-the-flag screeds. Iraq was neither of those places. It wasn't anything other than the worst place on earth, with a lot of bad things happening, and everybody telling a lot of funny stories while they were hoping to get home okay. Nobody really remembers or considers the soldiers who had to go out there, into that fight. They think they do, but they don't. This book will help you understand.
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on March 21, 2017
One of the best, if not the best, story about what the "surge" did and didn't accomplish and how it affected the men who had to fight it. A lot of them died - and for what end ! This is a true story, including the name of ALL the soldiers in one Army Battalion who were deployed just for this SURGE. If this doesn't "get" you - you have never serve in the US Military. Not an expose, just the truth of what happened and what the results were. You don't have to have been in the military to never put it down once you have started the book. Extremely well written.
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on September 5, 2016
This book is written by David Finkel. "The Good Soldiers". I am a soldier who was stationed a Fort Riley, KS and this book is part of the big red one family and those who are mentioned in it. I thank David for writing such a true and honest book.
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on February 5, 2017
At the very beginning of this book, as the troops deploy to Iraq, the reader is gripped by the competing emotions; the sadness of leaving home, the anxiety of possibly being killed or injured and the excitement of going to war. Mr. Finkel makes you FEEL things throughout this book. You can smell Iraq, you can visualize the people and the landscape, you can touch the dust and dirt.

The reader has a continuing empathy connection with various individuals throughout this book. Some of those people come home without a scratch but will be affected by the experience for the rest of their lives. Some of those people are horrifically injured. Some die from their injuries. Some are friends and loved ones. Some are just trying to earn a living, others are professional soldiers and some are adrenalin-addicted adventurers but they are individuals with their own unique perspectives; enlisted men, NCOs and officers. We are also given an opportunity to understand the bond that these men share — a bond that will endure well past this and other wars.

The subject matter is captivating and the writing is superb. Finkel is that rare combination of reporter and novelist who knows how to tell a story.
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on March 31, 2015
Very good and important book but it tries to do too much to provide an evaluation of the 2007 surge in Iraq overall through the saga of exactly ONE unit in the middle of the worst of the fighting near Sadr City in Baghdad. The tone is decidedly anti-war and I can understand the soldiers' sentiment that served but the author implies that the surge strategy did not work based on the experiences of exactly one infantry battalion. The book does not expand itself beyond that battalion to evaluate the success of the surge from a larger point of view which included the Anbar provinces and key areas outside of the capital It does not include what David Petraeus saw as the bigger picture.

What this book does do is provide an account of the war at the battalion level and a commander's effort to keep his troops engaged so the unit can survive and return home. The book is about the hope that went into the mission that sent 2/16 to Iraq and the efforts and sacrifices made by individual soldiers there and the toils of war on their psyches as they experienced the terror of going out into the city every day and wondering if they would make it back as they saw their friends and platoon members attacked and blown up by IEDs and EFPs, lived under constant mortar and rocket attack for fifteen months. You grieve with these soldiers and what they are going through. In their darkest moments, they curse their commander who maintains the spirit of an eternal optimist for his troops' sake. By the end of their tour, they see a turnaround, but the city seems to fall apart again as they leave. And it is this narrative I got the impression from the author that he judges the effectiveness of the surge.

Still an important book to read. One thing among many I learned is that this is not necessarily a civil war we were helping to resolve between Shi'a and Sunni, but this conflict was Shi'a against Shi'a and there is no clear distinction just who the enemy is beyond the Jaish al Mahdi of Sadr.

But the author makes too much of the success of the Surge by tracking the story of ONE infantry battalion.
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on October 22, 2010
Have you ever wondered what really happens to the soldiers involved in the Iraqi war? Most of us have read articles in the paper or online about the war; maybe it was a story about an injured soldier or the death of a sergeant. Most of these articles don't even touch on the reality of what happened to these soldiers. If you were like me and didn't really know what was really happening in Iraq, I would highly recommend reading "The Good Soldiers", by David Finkel. This book is about the trials that a group of young soldiers had to endure during their time in Iraq. Once I started reading this book I couldn't put it down. One of the first things that grabbed my attention was the extensive detail in every page. Every day the soldiers wake up to the sound of rockets or gunfire wondering if this would be the day they would die. The events unfold quickly and the suspense is never ending. Another fantastic part of the book is that Finkel goes into the lives of some of the Iraqis that are helping the Americans in the war. These individuals put themselves and their families at risk on a daily basis with the hope that their country will become a better place to live. This book goes into great detail about how these brave individuals work with the American soldiers and also how life is in Iraq now that the Americans are there. One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was the effect the war had on the soldiers when they returned home. Day after day the soldiers are surrounded by gunfire, explosions, extreme heat, and dusty conditions. It is a world they have been thrown into and had no way to be prepare for what they were about to see. Now you put those soldiers back into a normal environment and they don't know how to function. This is not only hard on the soldier, but on the families as well. They have lost all normal forms of communication which results in a very sad situation for them all. Even if you don't like to read, "The Good Soldiers" will keep you interested throughout the entire book. This book is a must read for anyone that wants to know the reality behind daily life for the soldiers of Iraq and how they and their families deal with life when they return home.
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on January 11, 2011
David Finkel has a way with words. His descriptions often times are short punches. Like rounds from a .50 cal. Some of his sentences describe the present and the future simultaneously. He likes to tease the reader as only someone who knows what's coming next could. His descriptions are gritty, sweaty and fast, and when all is done, and you've read the last page - you feel as if you've been through a war. Mentally scarred by an IED. If your heart is made of stone you will not cry - but if you care the least bit for humanity tears will be shed. It follows the months these soldiers endure a world of sepia and grey dirt, the stench of raw sewage and burning tires, and a land where it rains mortar shells almost daily. Humvees go out on missions and come back to the FOB mangled, full of jagged holes, and pieces of soldiers, their passengers long since taken and rushed to operating rooms or placed in body bags. Soldiers try to come to grips with the loss of friends in war, or seeing one torn, burning, and screaming in pain. They must understand that the next day's suffering could well be their own. Only the dead fear death or war no more.
I read books on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan so that I might better appreciate what our men and women go through there. Being former military during Vietnam, I know what it is like to be away from family in some hell hole serving your country. I know the pride and the pain of it all. Fortunately I missed the part about the tracer bullets skimming past your head. If your motive or interest to read this book is for that reason - to better understand what they are going through over there, you can't do much better than this book.
But it is a hard book to read. Your spirit will be tarnished from the madness of it all, and your brain will ache. I will not forget the visions from this book, but like the soldiers among it's pages, I wish
I could. Strong, powerful, gritty and mean with incredible imagery. With a properly prepared mindset, "The Good Soldiers" is a good read.
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