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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership and Brotherhood by Donovan Campbell

An enthusiastic 5 stars! A fantastic book.

I was offered Joker One as part of the Amazon Vine program and I decided to take it because I am a history teacher and I decided I needed to read a book about the Iraq War just to have a greater sense of what was/is going on and to be able to speak more intelligently about it to my classes.

So, I picked Joker One and I let it sit on my pile of books. I let it sit and sit because I was afraid it would be preachy, depressing and difficult.

Finally, with classes over I picked up Joker One and I was hooked by page 2 with Lt. Campbell's description of an explosion that he had just avoided. It was filled with honest emotions, including a bit of honest, self-deprecating humor.

I shot through Joker One. I carried it everywhere I went. I read passages to my long-suffering wife. I told her shortened versions of the stories. Literally, I laughed (his account of their first night mission and the pack of dogs is hilarious!) and I teared up multiple times, especially at poignant moments like after their first serious day of all out fighting when Campbell is asked, "...do you think we fought well today, sir? I mean, that was our first big fight. Would the Marines who fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, you know, be proud of us?" (p. 178)

Donavan Campbell
I guess I identified with Campbell - a married college graduate who is likely to think too much, feel too much and questions himself. Campbell is a Christian and his faith is lightly woven into the text throughout.

Campbell offers no answers to what is going on in Iraq. He barely mentions Bush administration policy, except for his stated dislike of the Coalition Authority government. His concerns are the survival of his men, not winning the war by re-writing policies and strategies.

His descriptions of battles are gritty and can be bewildering - not due to poor writing but rather due to an accurate portrayal of the fighting as he lived it.

The book was mostly created as part of a veteran's writing project class at the Harvard Business School. To me the book has the feel of being crafted - being re-written many times and being thoroughly discussed. I think the writing pulls out the best out of Campbell's story. For example, his story of his battle-hardened Sargeants watching the DVD of The Notebook in the NCO room with tears streaming down their faces is priceless.

The day of reckoning is April 6. "Golf Company knew that something was wrong, because for the first time since our arrival we knew exactly what each mosque was saying during its call to prayer. From every minaret in the city, the same word rang out, over and over, in short, chanted blocks:  JIHAD, JIHAD, JIHAD...JIHAD, JIHAD, JIHAD...JIHAD, JIHAD, JIHAD...Every single muezzin in Ramadi was calling for a holy war against the Marines." (p. 156) Campbell effectively expresses how completely alone this little cluster of Marines were. I got chills up my spine as I read and re-read these pages.

Pages 299-302 are as beautiful a description about the nature of love - sacrificing love - as I have ever read. Those pages are an extended play on the faith, hope and love verse in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:13) and are brilliantly written - masculine, yet tear-evoking. Good stuff. Makes you proud of those men and grateful that Campbell can bring their story to us.

The best book I read in 2009.

Highly recommended.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Joker One.

Reviewed June 30, 2009.

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