BOOK REVIEW: THE BLOG OF WAR
The first time I ever reviewed anything written by Matty O'Blackfive, I had this to say:
...the setup is overly long, and the first part probably should've been in a separate post and shortly summarized before the more relevant part of the story.
In other words, "shut up, boy... ya talk too much".
After I got to meet him in person, I found out that that was a feature, not a bug. Matt's a born story-teller, and - since he's of Irish descent - I assume that he not only kissed the Blarney Stone, he may have given it more than a little tongue in the process.
However, when it comes to his book ("The Blog of War", by Matthew Currier Burden, paperback, 304 pages, available at Amazon.com) he does an amazing thing: aside from various introductions and the Epilogue, he actually shuts up and lets other people do the talking. You'll never see that in REAL life, so you might want to buy the book just for that experience alone.
On the other hand, those of you who know Matt also know how much he enjoys name-dropping. In this book, he does little but. What it lacks in personal loquacity, it makes up for in shout-outs to folks both in and closely related to the military.
Which is appropriate, since it's their stories that he's telling in his book - told in their own words and often taken directly from their own blog posts - with very short introductions by Matt. These are arranged in chapters according to various aspects of the war experience, summarized below:
1 - "Some Must Go To Fight The Dragons" - Setting the stage for the rest of the book by dealing with the broad, philosophical reasons why some men chose to put their life on the line to answer their nation's call. This chapter - like many of the others - is hard to read. Not because it's poorly written, but because it's written so well. It's hard on the heart, and touches the reader's deepest core
2 - "Life In A War Zone" - Very earthy, very gritty, very you-are-there tales from the front line. I imagine that to civilians, some of the oddball fuck-aroundery in NCO Alley will seem incomprehensible, but those with military experience will be able to relate and will get a huge kick out of it. I don't know if I'll ever get that "like a coyote ravishing a housecat" line out of my head.
3 - "The Healers" - Tells exactly WHY war is hell, in heart-rending, blood-soaked detail. If you don't tear up, wince, or flinch away from the book at least once during this chapter, I'd suggest getting your soul checked, because I would question your humanity.
4 - "Leaders, Warriors, and Diplomats" - There's a lot of talk about "winning hearts and minds" in this war. The newspapers will never explain what that actually means. This chapter does. You'll see soldiers winning with a cool head instead of a hot hand, and perhaps you'll come away with a better understanding of the fact that war isn't all about killing. It's about accomplishing the mission, however that needs to be done.
5 - "The Warriors" - I'm going to be understated. This - in clear and disturbing detail - is what good men have to do to keep you safe. If you ever meet one of these men, thank him. Profusely.
6 - "Heroes of the Homefront" - Another "hard on the heart" chapter. This is the hell the families left stateside have to go through to keep you safe. If you ever meet them, thank them also.
7 - "The Fallen" - Unlike the other chapters, you KNOW how the stories in this one will end. There is no way to thank these men. They are gone. All you can do is honor them by cherishing the freedoms they bought for you with their lives, and never forgetting what they've done.
8 - "Homecoming" - As much as our troops want to be out of the war zone, the transition back to life in the safe, civilized United States is rife with mixed emotions and conflicting feelings. For our troops, it's one final battle to win the war inside themselves.
As for the epilogue... well, you remember how Animal House ended? With little snippets of "where are they now?"
Somehow, I'm not surprised Matt used this technique himself.
Teasing aside, I think it was an excellent idea to give some closure with the people the reader has come to know and care about. Well done.
I'll also mention that there's a handy glossary for military terms and acronyms. You probably won't need it, though, since Matt and the contributors did a pretty good job of defining the terms as they came up. Even the greenest of civilians will be able to avoid getting lost in the terminology.
So... were there any bad parts? Is this review going to be nothing but ass-kissing suck-uppery of Matt's brilliance?
Not really, and mostly. The only thing I could find to complain about is that a few of Matt's introductory paragraphs are written - for no discernable reason - in present tense instead of past tense. I realize that's a bit of nit-picking on my part, but I stand by it. I also lay the blame for it squarely on the shoulders of the book's editor, who should have corrected it before the book went to press.
However, that and the occasiona minor typo (possibly in the original posts being reprinted) will likely pass completely unnoticed by the reader, since the stories themselves are too gripping to leave awareness left over for grammatical niceties.
Do I recommend this book?
If you support the war, but don't know anyone personnally who's serving overseas, you owe it to yourself - out of intellectual honesty, if nothing else - to read this to find out EXACTLY what it is you're supporting.
If you enjoy reading warbloggers, you will enjoy the familiar, blog-entry-like style of the tales contained within. It reads so much like a blog, I sometimes found my hand twitching to try to click a link. No book has ever cried out more to be published in a fully hyper-linked electronic format.
If you've served overseas, you should read it so that you can see whether you should nod your head in agreement or call "bullshit" over an inaccurate description (of which I suspect there will be very few). I'd be curious to see whether those in-the-know think Matt got it right.
Who would I not recommend this book to?
Those with delicate constitutions. There's plenty of coarse language and adult situations. I'd give it a good, solid R rating. Definitely not for children or the child-like.
On the other hand, I also think everyone should buy this book so that Matt can quit his crappy day job and go to blogging full time. Which would be a wonderful thing.
Even if he does talk too much ;-)
posted by Harvey
on September 5, 2006 at 08:10 PM
This is really one of funniest and best reveiws I have read (nudge, much better than Frank J's)
Anyway, first thing that comes to mind, I will never ask you for a blog critique...
I also think that the out-clicking thing...well it happens when bloggers meet live, folks just click and walk...
Anyway, thanks for actually reading and reveiwing the book.
I cannot make it past the Fallen Chapter, I am stuck...
Feeling lucky and guilty again...
Matt a name-dropper? say it isn't so!!! I never noticed that, I mean, I heard from my dear friends former senators Nunn and Miller that he used his association with ME to crash Sir Elton John's birthday party for Gwynneth Paltrow last week at the Applebees in Dawsonville, but I don't know. I couldn't make it what with housesitting for the Indigo Girls.
Good Job Harvey. Good Job.
RSM - Dude! I don't know how many times I have to tell you - It was Senator Dole! Get it right man or I'll have to tell Bruce Willis to stop talking to you the next time you're hanging at Denzel's place. Capisce?
Harv - thanks! You DID read it!
"occasiona minor typo"...yeah, guess we ALL know about those, huh??!! :)
TNT - It's the Grammar Critic's Corollary to Murphy's Law that any criticism of grammatical, spelling, or typographical errors will, itself, contain such an error.
I think you've got it exactly right Harvey. I'd link to this - but my blog is gone for the moment... figures - just when I might have something to say. *grin*
Since trackbacks aren't working... let's see if this works...
Fuckroundery? Is that what it is called?
Airborne! All the Way!! Great review, now this old paratrooper has to buy the book. Well, if it helps Matt, that's good, because Matt helps all of us veterans. God bless!
"A sniper is a soldier highly trained in fieldcraft and marksmanship, who delivers long range precision fire at selected targets from concealed positions in support of combat operations." Top Team, XVIII ABN Corps Sniper Course, Class 3-86
Great review. Thanks for the great slice o'Matty, and for that giving us the term "*uck-aroundery" for what often passes for what goes on.
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