• The Fifth Act

  • America's End in Afghanistan
  • By: Elliot Ackerman
  • Narrated by: Elliot Ackerman
  • Length: 6 hrs and 16 mins
  • 4.9 out of 5 stars (58 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A powerful and revelatory eyewitness account of the American collapse in Afghanistan, its desperate endgame, and the war’s echoing legacy

Elliot Ackerman left the American military ten years ago, but his time in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Marines and later as a CIA paramilitary officer marked him indelibly. When the Taliban began to close in on Kabul in August 2021 and the Afghan regime began its death spiral, he found himself pulled back into the conflict. Afghan nationals who had worked closely with the American military and intelligence communities for years now faced brutal reprisal and sought frantically to flee the country with their families. The official US government evacuation effort was a bureaucratic failure that led to a humanitarian catastrophe. With former colleagues and friends protecting the airport in Kabul, Ackerman joined an impromptu effort by a group of journalists and other veterans to arrange flights and negotiate with both Taliban and American forces to secure the safe evacuation of hundreds. These were desperate measures taken during a desperate end to America's longest war. For Ackerman, it also became a chance to reconcile his past with his present.

The Fifth Act is an astonishing human document that brings the weight of twenty years of war to bear on a single week, the week the war ended. Using the dramatic rescue efforts in Kabul as his lattice, Ackerman weaves a personal history of the war's long progression, beginning with the initial invasion in the months after 9/11. It is a play in five acts, the fifth act being the story’s tragic denouement, a prelude to Afghanistan's dark future. Any listener who wants to understand what went wrong with the war’s trajectory will find a trenchant account here. But The Fifth Act also brings listeners into close contact with a remarkable group of characters, American and Afghan, who fought the war with courage and dedication, and at great personal cost. Ackerman's story is a first draft of history that feels like a timeless classic. 

©2022 Elliot Ackerman (P)2022 Penguin Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

“Making sense of chaos is never easy, but this powerful book does much to explain why America’s debacle in Afghanistan ended the way it did . . . Courage and folly, dedication and tragedy: Ackerman deftly captures all dimensions of a protracted foreign policy failure . . . A must-read account of the end of America’s longest war.”Kirkus (starred review) 

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A painful but necessary read

AFG and Iraq Marine vet juxtaposes his personal memoir on the chaotic US evacuation from Kabul. Even if you opposed this war, you should understand the effect of our wars of choice have had on a generation of Americans. The personal sacrifices and subsequent cost were just as significant in these wars as others. He provides ample evidence as to why all wars need to be declared, specifically funded through a war tax, and why a national draft is necessary to get and keep the American people’s attention. Author’s narrative style brought more realism to his story. As a retired Marine, I’m proud of what he’s done here in introducing his friends to us and sharing his personal struggle. Semper Fi

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Current favorite author.

Elliot doesn't miss. Glad he decided to narrate this book too. Not one to typically review audiobooks but felt the need to leave some feedback. thank you, I will recommend this and Places and Names to my friends and family.

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Well worth a listen!

Spent time in Afghanistan and was unfortunately tied to our sad exit. This book hits the mark. Kudos to Mr. Ackerman!