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Publisher's Summary

From a decorated Marine war veteran and National Book Award finalist, an astonishing reckoning with the nature of combat and the human cost of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.

"War hath determined us...." (John Milton, Paradise Lost

Toward the beginning of Places and Names, Elliot Ackerman sits in a refugee camp in southern Turkey, across the table from a man named Abu Hassar, who fought for al-Qaeda in Iraq, and whose connections to the Islamic State are murky. At first, Ackerman pretends to have been a journalist during the Iraq War, but after establishing a rapport with Abu Hassar, he takes a risk by revealing to him that in fact he was a Marine special operation officer. Ackerman then draws the shape of the Euphrates River on a large piece of paper, and his one-time adversary quickly joins him in the game of filling in the map with the names and dates of places where they saw fighting during the war. They had shadowed each other for some time, it turned out, a realization that brought them to a strange kind of intimacy. 

The rest of Elliot Ackerman's extraordinary memoir is in a way an answer to the question of why he came to that refugee camp and what he hoped to find there. By moving back and forth between his recent experiences on the ground as a journalist in Syria and its environs and his deeper past in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, he creates a work of remarkable atmospheric pressurization. Ackerman shares extraordinarily vivid and powerful stories of his own experiences in combat, culminating in the events of the Second Battle of Fallujah, the most intense urban combat for the Marines since Hue in Vietnam, where Ackerman's actions leading a rifle platoon saw him awarded the Silver Star. He weaves these stories into the latticework of a masterful larger reckoning with contemporary geopolitics through his vantage as a journalist in Istanbul and with the human extremes of both bravery and horror. 

At once an intensely personal story about the terrible lure of combat and a brilliant meditation on the larger meaning of the past two decades of strife for America, the region, and the world, Places and Names bids fair to take its place among our greatest books about modern war.

©2019 Elliot Ackerman (P)2019 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

One of NPR's Best Books of 2019

“In Places and Names, perhaps the most striking war memoir of the year, Ackerman attempts to make sense of the reasons he served (personal and geopolitical), the people he met, the kinship he felt and the reckonings he has since confronted. Places and Names is as clean and spare in its prose as it is sharp and unsparing in timely observation.” (Time magazine) 

“[A] spare, beautiful memoir.... Places and Names is a classic meditation on war, how it compels and resists our efforts to order it with meaning. In simple, evocative sentences, with sparing but effective glances at poetry and art, [Ackerman] weaves memories of his deployments with his observations in and near Syria. He pulls off a literary account of war that is accessible to those who wonder ‘what it’s like’ while ringing true to those who - each in his or her own way - already know.” (The New York Times

“Beautiful writing about combat and humanity and what it means to ‘win’ a war.” (Mary Louise Kelly, NPR) 

What listeners say about Places and Names

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A crazy ride through the Mideast.

Heartfelt story of personal history through the last war in the Mideast. It also gets into the current issues with the Taliban/ISIS/Iraq/Turkey from someone that is dealing with it firsthand.

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An American Hero

Eliot Ackerman is truly an American hero. When one reads this book, you cannot help being reminded of other classics on war like From here to Eternity and the Young Lions. It is brilliantly written by a warrior who survived the battle of Falluja. And we remember our fallen Marines who gave their lives for our country.

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This is what true patriotism looks like.

Very dynamic description of the "situation" in the middle east told first hand. In a time of bumper sticker patriotism and veterans being used as pawns in political warfare, this is a must read. Thank you for sharing a look into your world Elliot.

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Magnificent

This work, as both text and narration, is almost beyond praise. Insightful and full of personal description, but never self-indulgent and often self-deprecating,, Ackerman presents a brilliant remembrance of what it means to be at war, and what it means to strive to comprehend that war in the aftermath. It is a magnificently memorable memoir, made even more so by the author’s understated narration.

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best narrative style

so interesting and i like his narrating style which at first seems a bit monotone but in the long run is precise and soothing.