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Monday, December 1, 2014


This 2009 edition has been updated to reflect new developments and includes new material obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

I am torn about this book. 

If you are not familiar with Pat Tillman, in the broadest terms, he was an NFL player who quit the NFL to join the army after the 9/11 attacks.

The book talks about the war in Afghanistan, the ongoing war that has been mostly forgotten and ignored. Krakauer's review of the recent history of Afghanistan makes this book worth reading in and of itself. For most people, the reasons that Al Qaeda used Afghanistan as a base of operations is murky at best. The descriptions of how Tillman's unit operated and where they traveled are very vivid.

Krakauer's 2000 Presidential election spin (the Florida recount - he only tells part of the story and does not mention numerous "recounts" by the media had Bush winning - about as many as had Gore winning) was slanted and one-sided against George W. Bush. In fact, every time he mentions Bush throughout the book it is with disdain. There was no particular reason to mention Bush and the election except that Krakauer was building tension to show the inevitability of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so long as Bush was president and as long as those wars were inevitable, Pat Tillman would die. To me, that seemed to be a long way to go to make a point, if that was his intention. Personally, I think Krakauer just wanted to take the opportunity to give Bush a hard time.

Te descriptions of Tillman and his life and career left me cold at best. Krakauer's seemingly endless descriptions of the game-by-game performances of Tillman in his college and professional career and the parade of "Pat was just such a great guy" stories made me tired, not of Tillman himself but of the lazy writing style. This is a biography, but there was no need to include all of the exhaustive details of his entire professional life.
Corporal Patrick Tillman.jpg
Pat Tillman (1976-2004)

Pat Tillman's death due to friendly fire was tragic and Krakauer tells the story of the military patrol that ended with the death of Tillman extraordinarily well. The way that his body was treated afterwards was certainly odd and seemed to be covering up something. Krakauer is critical of the way the military handled the whole affair but has no explanation as to what they may have been covering up. If they were covering up the fact that he died due to friendly fire, that was foolish. There has been a steady rate of friendly fire deaths in American wars of about 2% (heck, the famed Confederate General Stonewall Jackson died due to complications from a friendly fire incident). Although I am hardly a firearms expert, my few experiences with archery equipment, target shooting and hunting leave me wondering why the friendly fire rate is not much, much higher.

So, what were they covering up? 

Krakauer does not tell us and I was left wondering how many investigations that Tillman's family was going to be granted and to what purpose? Krakauer's description of the firefight that killed Tillman makes it obvious that spooked soldiers mistook Tillman and his two companions for the men who had been shooting at them earlier and they thoughtlessly fired on them without verifying their targets. Sad, to be sure, but it sounded like there was no malice behind it, just an awful mistake.

Krakauer's postscript chapter is an odd hodge-podge of stuff. Stories of the continuing chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan, long quotes from Nietzsche deriding how soft and thoughtful modern man has gotten and then idealizing Tillman as the Ubermensch ideal. Once again, for me, Krakauer's style got in the way of his story-telling. In that way, it was a fitting end for this mixed bag of a book.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on December 1, 2014.

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