• The Good Soldiers

  • By: David Finkel
  • Narrated by: Mark Boyett
  • Length: 10 hrs and 57 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (1,084 ratings)

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The Good Soldiers

By: David Finkel
Narrated by: Mark Boyett
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Publisher's Summary

It was the last-chance moment of the war. In January 2007, President George W. Bush announced a new strategy for Iraq. He called it "the surge". "Many listening tonight will ask why this effort will succeed when previous operations to secure Baghdad did not. Well, here are the differences," he told a skeptical nation.

Among those listening were the young, optimistic Army infantry soldiers of the 2-16, the battalion nicknamed the Rangers. About to head to a vicious area of Baghdad, they decided the difference would be them. Fifteen months later, the soldiers returned home forever changed.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter David Finkel was with them in Bagdad almost every grueling step of the way. What was the true story of the surge? Was it really a success? Those are the questions he grapples with in his remarkable report from the front lines.

Combining the action of Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down with the literary brio of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, The Good Soldiers is an unforgettable work of reportage. And in telling the story of these good soldiers, the heroes and the ruined, David Finkel has also produced an eternal tale - not just of the Iraq War, but of all wars, for all time.

©2009 Dave Finkel (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

  • 100 Notable Books of 2009 (The New York Times)
  • Best Books of 2009 (Publishers Weekly)
  • Best Nonfiction of 2009 (The Boston Globe)
  • Best Reads of 2009 (Slate.com)
  • Best Books of 2009: Nonfiction (Christian Science Monitor)
  • "Finkel's keen firsthand reportage, its grit and impact only heightened by the literary polish of his prose, gives us one of the best accounts yet of the American experience in Iraq." ( Publishers Weekly)
    "A superb account of the burdens soldiers bear." ( Kirkus Reviews)

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    • Overall
      1 out of 5 stars
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      1 out of 5 stars

    Honest opinion folks

    The author wrote the story from the perspective of an anti-war correspondent as opposed to the perspective of the men of the unit he claims the book is about. The book isn't about the men in that unit, it's about the horrors of war that met the men in that unit, through the eyes, mind, and words of an anti-war correspondent.

    This book honors anti-war activism, not the Americans he walked amongst. His Nobel Prize did the same.

    My son did 6 years Air Force and was deployed overseas to various locations. My daughter did 6 years Army and was deployed to Baghdad just after the surge. My daughter's husband is U.S. Army and has been deployed to Iraq (during the surge) and Afghanistan, where he was wounded by an enemy mortar round and is home healing awaiting the birth of his son. I have no military experience. My dad was Navy in WWII. A high percentage of my high school students have gone to various branches of the military.

    War is absolutely brutal and the worst thing that our young men and women will ever have to experience. I am absolute anti-war.

    I lived during Vietnam and saw what journalism did to the men and women who served and how they swayed public opinion not only against the war and American government but also against those who served. It was a national disgrace. Some of those soldiers were my friends.

    Ask an American soldier who has been to Iraq or Afghanistan what they think of the American media they watched on TV's while in those countries. It was and still is demoralizing with zero interest in those who served and sacrificed. They use those men and women as pawns in their quest for furthering their own agendas.

    Not all correspondents and reporters are the same, but this author sure as heck continued on in the tradition of going to war with soldiers so he could justify the book he'd already written in his mind.

    Personally, I think Congress and the White house needs to be relocated to the middle of Arlington National Cemetery so everyone of those politicians has to walk by all those headstones everyday and see them everytime they look out a window. And go find the ones whose families they are now representing and learn what the man buried there did in his life. That honors him and his family.

    You want to write a story, pick one of those headstones and write the history of the man that lies beneath it instead of how horribly he was killed during a war. War is what war is, telling the horror of war doesn't honor those who survived or died. Nor will that horror story stop the next war or it's horrors.

    I downloaded this book based on the descriptions. I'd like to see the descriptions corrected to reflect what the book is really about. I would have ignored it as just another journalist working his own personal agenda.

    64 people found this helpful

    • Overall
      5 out of 5 stars

    This book is amazing, but brutal

    The journalist writing this book is awesome at putting this story together. A lot of the reviews talk about the repetiveness, but that was an effect the author was using to drive home particular points. I loved it and thought it was well used and totally appropriate. The narrator for this book was perfect as well. I've had good audiobooks with terrible narrators that made the listen unbearable. Not so with this book.

    The subject matter is hard to digest at times. The author spares nothing and the stories he tells of the American soldiers and the Iraqi civilians caught in the crossfire is heartbreaking. The people and places are real. You can google the KIA and read their tributes in the Washington Post. It makes the war very real. We all should be paying attention whats going on in the Middle East and supporting our troops no matter how we feel about the war. This book brings that home.

    64 people found this helpful

    • Overall
      4 out of 5 stars

    Splash of cold water

    A tight novel telling from a soldiers perspective the situation in Iraq 2007/2008. It does not try to make a point..it just overviews what happened during their deployment. This book helps you draw your own conclusions without a liberal or conservative megaphone held to your head.

    42 people found this helpful

    • Overall
      4 out of 5 stars
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    The Things They Still Carry

    When it comes to war, America's self-image is that we're always winners. And that we're never monsters. And that each death will be justified by the achievement of some greater end goal. Such are the ideals that carry the confident men of the Ranger 2-16 Battalion, part of the 2007 troop surge, into Rustamiyah, Iraq, a violent, difficult-to-comprehend hellhole of a place that quickly begins to undercut simple truths.

    To me, so much about the official decision-making behind Iraq is captured by a memory towards the end of the book. A Liberian soldier (visiting an army school in the US) expresses faith in the protective power of a sacred talisman that has carried him through many battles, then swings a knife at his own arm to prove it. The knife cuts through skin and flesh, and the man's eyes fill with astonished panic at the sight of reality's imposition on belief.

    Perhaps this is war's first casualty. If so, The Good Soldiers brings that truth to readers at a visceral level, putting us in the boots of soldiers sent to make up for official misjudgment and getting us to experience things as they do. The story centers around the battalion’s leader, the ever gung-ho Lieutenant Colonel Kauzlarich, but includes about a dozen of his men in its focus. We hear the initial earnest belief of young officers that their strength and generosity will carry the day, destroying a vicious enemy and winning over the rest of the population of Iraq. We experience the shock and horror of IED attacks, the weird out-of-body unreality of watching friends and enemies die in firefights. The way those moments refuse to stop ricocheting through memory. The frustration and anger of dealing with a population that seems indifferent to America's helping hand -- and the vast disconnect between Iraqis' personal concerns and US policy assumptions. There's staring out the window and wondering if you'll have any warning of the one that kills you -- and what your last thoughts before that moment will be. The fatigue, disillusionment, resignation, burnout, and despair that come with reliving that moment over and over, with few visible signs of improvement. The alienating, dreary normalcy of returning to the States after the intensity of war (little about that experience seems to have changed since Hemingway's short story about a returned WW1 vet). The fearful, lonely life of Iraqi contractors, distrusted by American soldiers and in constant danger from their own people.

    Finkel's writing is very good and gives the book more impact than most in the category. Though embedded as a journalist with the 2-16, he leaves himself entirely out of the text, and builds a narrative from interview snippets, reports, lists of details, and moments that carry layered emotions. At its best, the writing takes on a simple stream-of-consciousness feel not unlike Tim O'Brien's famous The Things They Carried. Officially apolitical, he offers no big-picture analysis, but juxtaposes different moments, images, and words in a way that challenge easy idealism. An optimistic platitude from President George W. Bush is followed with the image of an infantryman killing a dog lapping up a pool of human blood. Colonel Kauzlarich's avuncular sentiments while bestowing a medal on a dismembered 19 year old lying in a hospital bed ring hollow next to the young man's blank stare, and the obvious fact he will never again live anything approaching a normal life. There is the visual of a soldier's charred remains being removed from a bomb-wrecked Humvee, where he may or may not have died before the flames engulfed him. There's a tortured human corpse haunting the sewage tank of a building chosen as an operations base like a plot element from the novel Catch-22, because no one wants to be the one to remove it.

    These are gut-wrenching images that hurt and anger to think about, and there are others like them. It's all the stuff implicit in countless Reuters articles about IEDs and counterinsurgency operations. All the stuff that Americans, for or against the occupation of Iraq, have formed various abstract opinions about, but are seldom made to contemplate in terms of their horrific costs to real human beings, who can't be blamed for signing up to be what all countries expect from their soldiers. For this reason, I consider The Good Soldiers and other books like it necessary reading for all Americans, regardless of your politics.

    For me, the takeaway lesson came in the last chapter, as waves of insurgents swarm out of Sadr City, attacking government sites and threatening the 2-16. To Colonel Kauzlarich, it's validation, proof that the insurgency is growing desperate. To some of his men, it's one more demonstration of the irredeemable f-ed-up-ness of Iraq. But no one really knows. The battle, like the book, ends without obvious conclusion, the 2-16 shipped home again, and no one seems any better tuned-in to what's going on in the minds of Iraqis or why. And therein lies the tragedy of goodness alone: it's not understanding. Was the war worth it? We simply don’t know, and it’s out of our hands now. Meanwhile, our own crumbling democracy awaits our salvation.

    40 people found this helpful

    • Overall
      4 out of 5 stars

    Heart Breaking

    Very well written by a journalist embedded with a battalion of US soldiers participating in the Surge in Iraq.
    There is very little analysis in the book - it is primarily a third-person perspective of what the soldiers went through during their tour.
    The effects of the war on the soldiers is heart-breakingly difficult to listen to at times. It's a wonder how anyone could go through these experiences without long-term mental stress.
    A solid book for those both in favour of and against the war in Iraq.

    27 people found this helpful

    • Overall
      3 out of 5 stars
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      4 out of 5 stars
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      3 out of 5 stars

    The best book on this subject, still not great

    This is one of those books that has far too many 5 and 1 star reviews when the correct number is 3.

    I feel like too many people, including the author of the book, but also all these professional reviewers (slate non-fiction book of the year...), are viewing the decision of whether or not to read this book, and then whether or not to praise it, as somehow taking a great moral stand in support of the troops. Reality check: it's not. I /support/ the troops, in the sense that I don't really do anything for them, except vote for people who vote to fully fund the veterans administration, etc. Spending your time listening to a discussion of how they clean their uniforms after they get body parts blown into them doesn't really make you any better of a person than not doing so. The writer keeps trying to impart weight to his prose, and frankly it gets really tedious and irritating.

    The question should be is this book interesting to listen to. And there I have to say the answer is somewhat. If for some reason you're really interested in the experience of US troops during the counterinsurgency years of the Iraq war, perhaps because you know someone who was there, I don't know of a book that tells this story better. But if you're just looking for something interesting, perhaps something about war, I don't really recommend this. Maybe Imperial Life in the Emerald City or Generation Kill, both of which are about Iraq, but neither about this particular topic.

    23 people found this helpful

    • Overall
      5 out of 5 stars
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      5 out of 5 stars
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      5 out of 5 stars

    Compelling, moving, disturbing

    I listened to this book right after " Duty" by Robert Gates ( the latter which, without hesitation, I also recommend). Althought there have been books books and news articles and tv shows and documentaries on the two wars, Gates ( from high above) and Finkel ( down with the troops) give the listener the perspective of the danger, resolution and disillusionment of the men ( as much as any of us safe at home can begin to understand). I found the narrator excellent and fit exactly the sentiment of the book

    Excellent excellent book. I recommend

    15 people found this helpful

    • Overall
      1 out of 5 stars

    Hate the rant...

    Can't get over the ranting about one persons perspective. The soldiers I know had a very different experience. Sorry I just could not get over the constant pounding and interjecting of politics in this book. Rather than state a fact or opinion and leave it at that the author continues to beat you over the head with it as though I did not hear or understand it the first time.

    14 people found this helpful

    • Overall
      2 out of 5 stars
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    Unabashed anti defense book

    Would you try another book from David Finkel and/or Mark Boyett?

    Finkel....only if it was fiction...(and I don't read fiction).
    Boyett....definatly a superlative reader.

    Would you ever listen to anything by David Finkel again?

    Probably not.

    Would you be willing to try another one of Mark Boyett’s performances?

    Yes...I will look for his readings.

    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Good Soldiers?

    It's not what I would take away...it's what I would add....objective depiction.

    Any additional comments?

    The good....the author is a very gifted, colorful writer..... good fiction style.

    However, if you are expecting an unbiased reporting of the 2007 surge that saved America & moderate Iraqi's from almost
    certain ignominious defeat in Iraq.......you will be sorely disappointed.

    David Finkel, a journalist for the Liberal newspaper, the Washington Post has used this book to attack President George Bush...and scare the hell out of any American from fighting the ongoing war on terror....ever.

    This is sad commentary portraying American servicemen as "caught" in "Bush's war", who simply want to go home, due to the hopelessness and poor management of the situation. His total focus on American casualties and failure...virtually nothing on American successes & individual effort.

    To Finkel, there are NO American servicemen who know well that America has had a deadly religious war thrust upon them & understand where their duty lies.

    My recommendation?...you want a good read about this war.....read Chris Kyle's, "American Sniper" or "Thunder Run" by David Zucchino....no politics, just uplifting books about real American hero's.

    11 people found this helpful

    • Overall
      5 out of 5 stars

    Best book on the war ive heard so far.

    I am a war book junkie and have read many books on the iraq war but this one takes the prize. The authors conveiance of events and description of character is superb. I felt closer to the soldier and civilian while listening to this book than any other I have read or listened to..

    11 people found this helpful