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Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning Paperback – 1 January 1900
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"What a great, honest book--the kind that makes one feel lucky to have in one's hands. Ackerman has served his country twice: first as an infantryman in our nations wars, and then as a guide--wise beyond his years--who helps us understand what we've done. His prose is easy and comfortable like an old jacket. His understanding of war is so profound that one feels like secrets have been revealed--truths--information that one day may be necessary for our survival. Well done." --Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe "Places and Names is its own profile in courage: the story of how a Marine turned reporter struggled with the polemics of desolation in the Middle East. Elliot Ackerman is a man of both action and thought, and his book is closely observed, rigorously lived, and clarifying for all of us who have not understood how U.S. policy in the Islamic world went so terribly wrong." --Andrew Solomon, author of Far and Away, Far From the Tree, and The Noonday Demon [Ackerman's] descriptions of Syria, which he visited as a writer, were so painfully evocative for me that I had to stop reading for a time. His vivid, sparse prose bears comparison to that of Tim O'Brien in The Things They Carried or Norman Lewis in Naples '44; Places and Names has the same clear-eyed view of what war is." --The Spectator's Books of the Year 2019 "It's so readable I devoured the book in one plane journey . . . a master of dagger-sharp prose and memorable detail." --Times (UK) "Brings a fiction writer's touch to his reportage . . . His descriptions of battle itself are all the more effective for their matter-of-factness . . . A gifted and thoughtful witness." --Sunday Telegraph "[Places and Names] contains many insights into the purpose of war and how it damages all parties involved. . . . Any fan of Ackerman's previous novels, memoirs on the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, and valuable outlooks on the nature of war and its combatants will find this phenomenal." --Library Journal (starred review) "The power of this memoir comes from [Ackerman's] illumination of paradoxes and contradictions that provide a common emotional denominator for soldiers who previously found themselves in wars where they discovered more than two sides. . . . A profoundly human narrative that transcends nationality and ideology." --Kirkus (starred review) "[A] searing, contemplative, and unforgettable memoir-in-essays. . . . Deeply personal yet never losing sight of the big, historical reasons for recent events, this collection recalls Michael Herr's classic Dispatches as well as William T. Vollmann's voluminous ruminations on violence in Rising Up and Rising Down, and is perhaps the finest writing about the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts that has been published to date." --Booklist (starred review) "Elliot Ackerman fought the Long War, and now, with Places and Names, he gives us a searingly honest record of his ongoing effort to make sense of that war. This is, literally, a book of wanderings; Ackerman's sojourns to conflict zones, old battlefields, and muddy refugee camps recall the wanderings of that earlier soldier, Odysseus, as he struggles to come home from war, and, no less than his predecessor, Ackerman finds himself journeying through the shadow world of ghosts and spirits that go by the name of memory. Vivid, profound, restless, and relentlessly probing, Places and Names is destined to become a classic of the Long War." --Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Places and Names is a brilliant and gripping account of the aftermath of failed wars and revolutions, and of the still burning idealism that smolders in the wreckage. Elliot Ackerman brings a novelist's skill with language, a reporter's eye for detail, and his life experience as a highly decorated Marine veteran of five deployments to bear in this unique and powerful meditation on violence, heroism, and the fracturing of the Middle East." --Phil Klay, author of Missionaries and Redeployment, winner of the National Book Award "Elliot Ackerman's voice scares me. It's a bit too close for comfort. He sees too much and he knows too much, and that makes him a great guide to today's post-everything Middle East. Read him at your own risk--but ignore this book at your own peril." --Thomas E. Ricks, author of Making the Corps, Fiasco, and Churchill and Orwell "In Places and Names, Elliot Ackerman, a soldier turned writer, seeks out his former foes and confronts his own memories on battlefields where the killing continues. The result is one of the most profound books I have ever read about the real nature of war and the abstract allure of the ideas and the bloodshed that fuels it." --Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Fall of Baghdad and Guerrillas: Journeys in the Insurgent World "Elliot Ackerman writes beautifully about war--especially the new wars of the Middle East through fiction and now non-fiction. His exceptional memoir is really a double memoir of his own experiences as a Marine and those of a jihadist fighter he befriends in a refugee camp. The result is an superb, unique, and unforgettable story of war and death, fear and cruelty, above all the horrors and allure of combat." --Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs
"Places and Names is an extraordinarily beautiful and insightful work of memoir and journalism by a writer who deserves to be read widely. Elliot Ackerman is as adept at describing the strange cocktail of emotions that accompany the moments preceding combat as he is unraveling the Gordian Knot of contemporary geopolitics." --Kevin Powers "Ackerman's honest searching to come to terms with his war experience helped me better understand my own. This book is a gift that should be shared with every American who helped pay for people like Ackerman to fight their wars for them." --Karl Marlantes, prize-winning author of Matterhorn and Deep River
About the Author
- Publisher : Penguin Books (1 January 1900)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0525559981
- ISBN-13 : 978-0525559986
- Dimensions : 13.87 x 1.68 x 20.88 cm
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There seems to be a trend towards putting previously-published articles from magazines into some kind of order, and then marketing as “an intensely personal book about the terrible lure of combat”. The Daddy of them all was Michael Herr’s ‘Dispatches’ from Vietnam, bruited as the ‘New Journalism’. The sub-title of this volume – ‘Dispatches of War’ is probably a deliberate echo. Frankly, I find earlier styles less mannered, more honest and more robust in their enquiry.
What Elliot Ackerman has going for him is an interesting personal back-story, good writing style and an eye for people. Clearly, there was indeed a lure of combat for this guy, although living in Turkey may seem edgy to residents of North America, yet pretty standard to a European! This year I read something very similar, but by a Muslim from Iran living in Germany. The latter also wrote good prose about Syria and Afghanistan, but with the same inability to grasp the agenda of others who actually live in the free fire zones.
At least Ackerman is clearly making the effort; and is light-years ahead of the majority of his compatriots. However, clearly to earn a crust he had to find ‘hooks’ in news stories that already engaged with readers on his own continent. This makes quite a lot of what is collected here seem dated. ‘A Prayer for Austin Tice’ is a good example, as are the various discussions on the 2009 desertion of Bowe Berghdal in Afghanistan. Embedded in this kind of stuff, there is an intelligent perspective on such matters, for instance, as the effect on the unit Berghdal deserted from, and the effect it had on unit deployment. What Ackerman cannot bring himself to do is criticise his own institutions. I am just flabbergasted at the way military operations of no strategic value were conducted just to get that one guy back.
The diversions to the author’s memories of skateboarding in London, and looking up old pals in Berlin, do protect the narrative from becoming too ‘samey’, but contribute zero to any development of perspective. None of this, of course, can deny, Ackerman’s combat experiences. I just wish I was reading about these instead. (more about that below.) I have encountered more real danger and different cultures on church missions than is manifest in this dipping over borders. The party piece of the volume is ‘The Fourth War’, which is an update of the old trope of former enemies chewing the fat in a time of peace. I appreciated the tacit recognition that they were not really ‘former’ enemies at all. No wonder they discussed the 1914 Christmas Truce on the Western Front in WW1 -which led to 4 more years of hell. However, the low point of the book is an article recounting how they do not meet up a second time. Here is my summary; ‘Is Abu in? - No, he’s got a job 2 hours away. - Oh.’ The actual second meeting is only a tiny bit more worthwhile, but smacks to me of hanging onto a meal ticket.
What added a star to this review is the last section. This is the formal citation report that got the author his ‘best’ medal. Initially, I thought this was utterly contrary to the quite attractive tone of the rest of the book. Then the author started making interpolations, turning the ‘officialese’ into heat, fear and blood. These short sections on what really took place are very effective; and conclude movingly. They have an emotional charge that is lacking in the rest of the book. After all, we care far more about what happens to us and ours than them and theirs.
It's not all harrowing combat experiences, though that's certainly there in the chapter on the Marine Corps ebgagement in Fallujah where Ackerman 'won' a citation for the Silver Star. There's also the human stories of meeting up with former 'enemies' to explore the ways in which they were used and abused by the political 'principalities and powers'.
At times, rightly so, this is bleak, awful and depressing. It's also thoughtful enough to make you wonder how this could be done any differently - and to come away with an admiration for the honour and professionalism of the military men and women who get sent into harm's way - sometimes for very mixed or dubious reasons.
Very readable if you are at all interested in the motivations, personality and psyche of soldiers in the 'war on terror'.
The book has a slightly impressionistic feel, jumping from the present to key moments in the author's past and reflecting on aspects of his life and the war experiences that have both shaped him and provide the on-going subject of his writing.
There is an elegiac quality to some chapters of his book as he travels back to places where he saw action, lost friends and makes new acquaintances – though he reflects that there can be no real closure for him in a war that is still being waged across the territories he himself fought over.
A veteran of the Iraq war, Afghanistan and now living in Turkey, his observations on the bewildering and fast-changing war between the would-be Islamic State and the various allied groups is illuminating – especially in light of the current US President's decision to withdraw from Syria.
The final chapter of the book is an annotated (and exciting) account of the actions in the Second Battle of Fallujah that led to Ackerman's citation for the Silver Star.
A sobering, but eloquent and reflective intimate account by an engaged and perceptive author.
From memories of US Marine ops in Fallujah to strange meetings with would-be enemies who turn out to have unexpected commonalities, this is a raw, haunting but also deeply thoughtful and human response to what is happening in the Middle East.
There is a clear intent to be objective of personal experience, but for me there is an intensive emotional element which has clarity. The “wreckage of experience” from the author is stamped on every page.
He tries to clear some ambiguities of political intent perhaps, but it always cloud over again. Incisive and impressive. A potted yet nevertheless clear précis of the political history of the past century.
Elliot Ackerman is conservative with words, and the old adage about “only write within personal experience” is so brutally true here.
There is a bleakness, an awfulness, but saying how it was for him, and countless men over history. A potted history yes, but nevertheless succinct and erudite, this is a highly engaging piece of writing. Riveting.