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From the front lines of the battle against Islamic fundamentalism, a searing, unforgettable book that captures the human essence of the greatest conflict of our time. Through the eyes of Dexter Filkins, the prizewinning New York Times correspondent whose work was hailed by David Halberstam as “reporting of the highest quality imaginable,” we witness the remarkable chain of From the front lines of the battle against Islamic fundamentalism, a searing, unforgettable book that captures the human essence of the greatest conflict of our time. Through the eyes of Dexter Filkins, the prizewinning New York Times correspondent whose work was hailed by David Halberstam as “reporting of the highest quality imaginable,” we witness the remarkable chain of events that began with the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, continued with the attacks of 9/11, and moved on to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Filkins’s narrative moves across a vast and various landscape of amazing characters and astonishing scenes: deserts, mountains, and streets of carnage; a public amputation performed by Taliban; children frolicking in minefields; skies streaked white by the contrails of B-52s; a night’s sleep in the rubble of Ground Zero. We embark on a foot patrol through the shadowy streets of Ramadi, venture into a torture chamber run by Saddam Hussein. We go into the homes of suicide bombers and into street-to-street fighting with a battalion of marines. We meet Iraqi insurgents, an American captain who loses a quarter of his men in eight days, and a young soldier from Georgia on a rooftop at midnight reminiscing about his girlfriend back home. A car bomb explodes, bullets fly, and a mother cradles her blinded son. Like no other book, The Forever War allows us a visceral understanding of today’s battlefields and of the experiences of the people on the ground, warriors and innocents alike. It is a brilliant, fearless work, not just about America’s wars after 9/11, but ultimately about the nature of war itself.


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From the front lines of the battle against Islamic fundamentalism, a searing, unforgettable book that captures the human essence of the greatest conflict of our time. Through the eyes of Dexter Filkins, the prizewinning New York Times correspondent whose work was hailed by David Halberstam as “reporting of the highest quality imaginable,” we witness the remarkable chain of From the front lines of the battle against Islamic fundamentalism, a searing, unforgettable book that captures the human essence of the greatest conflict of our time. Through the eyes of Dexter Filkins, the prizewinning New York Times correspondent whose work was hailed by David Halberstam as “reporting of the highest quality imaginable,” we witness the remarkable chain of events that began with the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, continued with the attacks of 9/11, and moved on to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Filkins’s narrative moves across a vast and various landscape of amazing characters and astonishing scenes: deserts, mountains, and streets of carnage; a public amputation performed by Taliban; children frolicking in minefields; skies streaked white by the contrails of B-52s; a night’s sleep in the rubble of Ground Zero. We embark on a foot patrol through the shadowy streets of Ramadi, venture into a torture chamber run by Saddam Hussein. We go into the homes of suicide bombers and into street-to-street fighting with a battalion of marines. We meet Iraqi insurgents, an American captain who loses a quarter of his men in eight days, and a young soldier from Georgia on a rooftop at midnight reminiscing about his girlfriend back home. A car bomb explodes, bullets fly, and a mother cradles her blinded son. Like no other book, The Forever War allows us a visceral understanding of today’s battlefields and of the experiences of the people on the ground, warriors and innocents alike. It is a brilliant, fearless work, not just about America’s wars after 9/11, but ultimately about the nature of war itself.

30 review for The Forever War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    Dexter Filkins - image from PRH Speakers This is a bleeding, personal image of real-world horror. Filkins dots his canvas largely in red, with the bloodshed he has seen in war, in Afghanistan, Iraq, on 9/11. The book is comprised of many short passages, images of participants, of events, that offer a visceral experience of these zones of death, deceit and confusion. He does not make pronouncements on what he has witnessed, but puts the images out there for the reader to absorb. This is a must re Dexter Filkins - image from PRH Speakers This is a bleeding, personal image of real-world horror. Filkins dots his canvas largely in red, with the bloodshed he has seen in war, in Afghanistan, Iraq, on 9/11. The book is comprised of many short passages, images of participants, of events, that offer a visceral experience of these zones of death, deceit and confusion. He does not make pronouncements on what he has witnessed, but puts the images out there for the reader to absorb. This is a must read for anyone interested in the reality of 21st century war and 21st century war reporting. ==================================QUOTES p 73 - Some days I thought we had broken into a mental institution. One of the old ones, from the nineteenth century, where people were dumped and forgotten. It was like we had pried the doors off and found all these people clutching themselves and burying their heads in the corners and sitting in their own filth. It was useful to think of Iraq this way. It helped in your analysis. Murder and torture and sadism: it was part of Iraq. It was in people’s brains. Sometimes I would walk into the newsroom that we had set up in the New York Times bureau in Baghdad, and I’d find our Iraqi employees gathered around the television watching a torture video. You could buy them in the bazaars in Baghdad; they were left over from Saddam’s time. The Iraqis would be watching them in silence. Just staring at the screen. In one of the videos, some Baath party men had pinned a man down on the floor and were holding his outstretched arms, while another official beat the man’s forearms with a heavy metal pipe until his arm broke into two pieces. There was no sound in the video, but you could see that the man was screaming. None of the Iraqis in the newsroom said anything. I tried to recall these things when I got impatient with the Iraqis. Sometimes, when readers from America sent me e-mails expressing anger at the Iraqis—why are they so ungrateful? Why can’t they govern themselves?—I considered sending them one of these videos. p 199 - Out there, the boundary between life and death shrank so much that it was little more than a membrane, thin and clear.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    The Last War Intolerance is not an intrinsic feature, it is a derived one. Derived from threat. Threatened religions have always been intolerant, with no exceptions. And threatened societies have always been prone to adopt the militant versions of their religions, hoping to rally for one great push, one blind atrocity before they can resume their daily lives on the other side of the abyss. Media likes to portray this desperate rally as an obscenity, as a characteristic. And that is where brutally The Last War Intolerance is not an intrinsic feature, it is a derived one. Derived from threat. Threatened religions have always been intolerant, with no exceptions. And threatened societies have always been prone to adopt the militant versions of their religions, hoping to rally for one great push, one blind atrocity before they can resume their daily lives on the other side of the abyss. Media likes to portray this desperate rally as an obscenity, as a characteristic. And that is where brutally honest reportage, like Filkins' comes in. To show the world that these are human beings, desperate to survive, with equal right as anyone else to do so. To me this is perhaps the only good thing about American/European military presence in conflict-areas - it allows inside accounts like these that prove to be an important counterbalance against the dehumanizing invective of mainstream journalism. The Forever War Filkins, in this stunning (and exceptionally ballsy) piece of journalism, captures the continuing desolation of Post-Taliban Afghanistan and post-Saddam Iraq. Life goes on, obviously. But he also shows how difficult it is for the real people, living inside the event horizon, to see the 'progress' that historians love to see. For them nothing has changed. It is a "Forever War", for survival. They are never able to make up their mind if things were better before Taliban/Saddam or after. Like one woman explains, during those times it was as if one malignant sun rained down hatred on them, but it was possible to escape those deadly rays... but now, with the disintegration of al institutions and tribal/social orders, it is a continuos asteroid shower that destroys every shelter they might seek out. Life has been a spiral, and it shows no sign of letting up. Meanwhile a triumphalistic America prepares to "leave them in their own capable hands", having helped them out of tyranny.

  3. 5 out of 5

    brian

    i was initially irritated by filkins refusal to widen focus and take in the broader picture, y’know, the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind the iraq war -- i wanted a top-down history starting with the geo-political chessboard and ending with boots on the ground. i was quick to realize i had put my own demands, the demands of a history book, on what is something entirely different. filkins knows that, generally speaking, the participants in wars (even in the age of internet, tivo, and cell phone) do not hav i was initially irritated by filkins refusal to widen focus and take in the broader picture, y’know, the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind the iraq war -- i wanted a top-down history starting with the geo-political chessboard and ending with boots on the ground. i was quick to realize i had put my own demands, the demands of a history book, on what is something entirely different. filkins knows that, generally speaking, the participants in wars (even in the age of internet, tivo, and cell phone) do not have access or privilege to knowledge of the events in which they participate. this is the iraq war he presents. even more impressive than filkins’s balls (so big you could attach ‘em to a crane and use ‘em to knock over the chrysler building) is the intellectual confidence to admit he just doesn’t know what the fuck is going on. while nearly every pundit/reporter/activist/partisan gobbles down loads of friedman/huntington/lewis/etc and claims to understand the ‘arab mind’, the 'arab street', the nature of freedom, and what the founding fathers would have done, filkins hangs in the ‘known unknown’ camp: he waits and watches. it’s tough, as I write this in 2009 for those who supported the war to defend their position. and tougher, perhaps, for those who were 100% opposed to it to understand that there was a noble side to this thing. not necessarily a noble side to the bush administration’s motives, but a noble byproduct in the removal of saddam hussein. y'know, the guy who gassed tens of thousands of innocent kurds, threw tens of thousands of his own people into torture chambers and rape rooms, waged one of the bloodiest and most pointless wars of the last century (with absolutely no result other than millions of corpses), invaded kuwait, encouraged suicide bombings by offering cash rewards to the families, shot at planes in the no-fly zone, and was set to leave his demented creation to sons who were zealous practitioners of rape torture and murder. one aspect of president dipshit’s legacy is that, once again, american intervention has been totally and thoroughly discredited. and for the most part this is a good thing. but, still, american intervention, preferably with NATO or some other alliance, could have cut short the rwandan genocide. after taking its thumb out of its ass, when america finally committed, it took down milošević and ended that genocide. and it sickens me that congress didn’t even bother to seriously debate sudan. but, these are not easy questions, and after reading filkins’s book it feels even more maniacal to subject anyone to the shit he describes. but the triumph of the book -– after the insider's view of combat (perhaps the most harrowing i've ever read) and terrific character studies of marines, insurgents, extremists, iraqi civilians, chalabi, bremer, etc -– is that i can only imagine the most rabid partisan, the most extreme wingnut of the right or left, refusing to rethink –- if only for a brief period -– all they felt certain about before.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Buck

    Technically, The Forever War is a work of reportage - magnificent reportage, in fact - but that's not all it is. For one thing, Filkin's tone is at times more personal, more anguished, than conventional journalism usually allows. For another, the cumulative impact of the pieces is beyond the literary reach of your average hack reporter. I'd suggest, then, that it belongs to that growing subgenre known as survivor literature: traveller's tales, in effect, brought back from a netherworld of human Technically, The Forever War is a work of reportage - magnificent reportage, in fact - but that's not all it is. For one thing, Filkin's tone is at times more personal, more anguished, than conventional journalism usually allows. For another, the cumulative impact of the pieces is beyond the literary reach of your average hack reporter. I'd suggest, then, that it belongs to that growing subgenre known as survivor literature: traveller's tales, in effect, brought back from a netherworld of human suffering. Filkins spent years in post-invasion Iraq, living entirely outside the Green Zone, and he got to know the country as well as any non-Arabic speaking Westerner could be expected to - and much better, I'd guess, than just about any American official you could name. What's great about Filkins, though, is his intellectual modesty. He's not afraid to show us his sheer, lip-twiddling confusion in the face of some intractable bit of Iraqi reality, and to use his own incomprehension as an index of the wider myopia besetting the occupation. One instance among dozens: Filkins is interviewing an insurgent whose brother has allegedly been murdered by a rival faction. Out of nowhere, the leader of that other group comes along and sits down at the next table. Filkins senses an 'animal tension' in the air and readies himself for a gunfight. The two adversaries spring to their feet and then, with all the fake bonhomie of Long Island party girls, they set to hugging each other and promising to get together some time. Here, as with so many of Filkin's vignettes, there's a sort of invisible, authorial 'wtf' hovering between the lines. Or take his portrait of Ahmad Chalabi, the slippery political operator and former darling of the neo-cons. Filkins honestly doesn't know what to make of him. Is he an American stooge? An Iranian puppet? A political genius or a cynical rogue? For Filkins, resting as he does in a negative capability rare among journalists, that very ambiguity is the point: It wasn't just that he was brilliant, or nimble, or ruthless, or fun. When I looked into Chalabi's eyes and saw the doors and mirrors opening and closing, I knew that I was seeing not just the essence of the man but of the country to which he'd returned. L'etat, c'est lui. Chalabi was Iraq. Whatever your political convictions, whatever your views on Iraq, they're going to be, at the very least, recalibrated by The Forever War . On the one hand, nobody but the most indefatigable cheerleader of the war could fail to be revolted by the sadistic lunacy unleashed in the aftermath of the invasion. Of course, we've always known about the Shi'ite death squads with their electric drills and the Islamist nutjobs with their snuff films. But Filkins makes this vast collective nightmare all the more real and terrible by putting faces to the names and sketching in all the ghastly little human details. It's hard-going at times, but it's absolutely essential, I think. On the other hand, anyone espousing the more simple-minded pacifism of the purblind left is bound to be equally troubled by Filkin's reporting. And maybe, just maybe, the supposedly humane middle ground where many of us huddle nervously is not a viable option, either. I don't know, I really don't. But neither does Filkins. That's one reason I trust him, and one of the many reasons I admire him.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

    Dexter Filkins, the author of The Forever War, is a New York Times foreign correspondent who covered the middle east from Afghanistan's Taliban rule in 1998 to Iraq through 2006. I should probably confess right away that I'm not a fan of journalism. I resent the whole idea of getting information from people who are in the business of selling it. I don't know what the alternative would be, but still....it seems like a conflict of interest. On top of that, there is the issue of bias. We all have it. Dexter Filkins, the author of The Forever War, is a New York Times foreign correspondent who covered the middle east from Afghanistan's Taliban rule in 1998 to Iraq through 2006. I should probably confess right away that I'm not a fan of journalism. I resent the whole idea of getting information from people who are in the business of selling it. I don't know what the alternative would be, but still....it seems like a conflict of interest. On top of that, there is the issue of bias. We all have it. I'm not sure it's possible to communicate without it. So, when it's somebody's job to write/talk/share about an issue, I don't believe anyone is completely able to leave it out. It's a lot more obvious to detect when your own bias stands in opposition. I can't read Arianna Huffington or Ann Coulter without some serious eye rolling, but Peggy Noonan? I think she's brilliant. I think she's fair. I can't see her bias as easily, but I'm sure that's because I agree with her, most of the time. I must agree with Dexter Filkins too because I had a very hard time detecting any bias in his book. The Forever War doesn't give a chronological time line of the war on terror, or even a history or reason for the conflict up to this point. Instead, the book's focus is much more narrow. Using small snippets from his observations, conversations and the various situations he found himself in as an American journalist living in a fundamental Islam dominated middle east, the war takes its own shape without much molding from the author. Through Filkin's reporting, the war is viewed from many various perspectives. The Taliban's, Afghani women, American soldiers, American politicians, American ambassadors, Iraqi Sunni's, Iraqi Shiites, Kurds, hardliners, moderates, families, women, children. Iraqis as gracious hosts. Iraqis blind to American goodwill. Iraqis determined to keep their country in chaos. Iraqis as the neighbor or friend you wish you had. As he sometimes traveled under the protection of the US Forces, he was able to observe their behavior too. Like their Iraqi counterparts, soldiers and military leaders ranged from the truly valiant, noble even, to complete jerks. But, because he told individual stories and reported moments in time as they happened, very few of his reports are tinged with the burden of hindsight or the sensationalism that I so loathe. It's incredibly present. A snapshot with words. Filkins manages to keep himself out of his reporting most of the time as well. Even when he's part of the story, such as when he runs in shorts that he knows bothers Muslim modesty, it's not about his running or even his legs, it's about the Iraqi guard's humor, generosity and discomfort. When he's not part of the story, his presence is hardly noticeable. For example, he doesn't editorialize an interview with an Iraqi jihadist. The emotion, that spills out of the pages is one of the jihadist's single-mindedness and hatred for the infidels, not of Filkin's response. No apologies. No excuses. When he's interviewing a 19 year-old American soldier from Pearland, Texas, the pages fill with the soldier's optimism, hope and unquestioning obedience to his superiors, not Filkin's east-coast, Harvard educated sensibilities. Sometimes, the book becomes more than raw reporting. Sometimes, Filkins allows his own confusion and conflicting emotions to tell this story too. Like the time he gets lifted into an angry anti-American mob, and his certain soon-to-be death, but before any harm befalls him, he is pulled back into the safety of his car by his Iraqi driver. Gratitude for one Iraqi and fear of another. Conflict. If there should ever be required reading on the present day conflict in Iraq, The Forever War should hold a place at the top of that list. While it is a book that no doubt Filkins hopes will sell, I don't think he's trying to sell a view of this war to the left or to the right. Instead, like a meaningful piece of art, he captures what war is - past, present and future: hope, corruption, fear, courage, sacrifice, weariness, destruction, honor, death and change - all together. Forever.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Saadia B. || CritiConscience

    Almost one of the first books I read on wars and its catastrophes. Horrifying statistics and incidents. We can’t end wars by starting another. Blog | YouTube | Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn Almost one of the first books I read on wars and its catastrophes. Horrifying statistics and incidents. We can’t end wars by starting another. Blog | YouTube | Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    I have a shelf of books on Iraq & Afghanistan – mostly unfinished because the absurdity and the carnage, the futility and mendacity, are too dispiriting and I have to put them down. Filkins has written something different, a first person account of what it's like to be in the midst of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens – his book is a series of vignettes, carefully observed and plainly written. It pretty much avoids the political background and concentrates on the foreground, people he knows, I have a shelf of books on Iraq & Afghanistan – mostly unfinished because the absurdity and the carnage, the futility and mendacity, are too dispiriting and I have to put them down. Filkins has written something different, a first person account of what it's like to be in the midst of American soldiers and Iraqi citizens – his book is a series of vignettes, carefully observed and plainly written. It pretty much avoids the political background and concentrates on the foreground, people he knows, events in which he plays a part. It's unpretentious and deeply-felt; whatever rage and futility he feels is between the lines, present but unobtrusive. Unlike most war reporters, who want to put the reader in the meat-grinder, Filkins' writing has a quiet dignity: there are moments of tragedy, crude comedy, heartache and beauty. To my mind, this war is a brutal folly, an unforgivable example of American hubris. For Filkins it's a bit more complicated than that, and I can only admire what he's accomplished.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    5 STARS, one of the best books on the Iraq war (and the Afghan war to a lesser extent) ever written. Featuring large cojones, smashed sterotypes, WTF, tragedy, hope… OK, Mr. Filkins clearly has a pair of big, hairy ones considering the situations he gets himself into voluntarily or haphazardly. Jogging in Baghdad in the midst of the emerging civil war? Meeting with insurgents in Ramadi, sitting with Mahdi Army types in the middle of the siege of Najaf, into Fallujah with the Marines, showing up a 5 STARS, one of the best books on the Iraq war (and the Afghan war to a lesser extent) ever written. Featuring large cojones, smashed sterotypes, WTF, tragedy, hope… OK, Mr. Filkins clearly has a pair of big, hairy ones considering the situations he gets himself into voluntarily or haphazardly. Jogging in Baghdad in the midst of the emerging civil war? Meeting with insurgents in Ramadi, sitting with Mahdi Army types in the middle of the siege of Najaf, into Fallujah with the Marines, showing up at car bomb sites? Dude. Whether you oppose the war or support it, stereotypes are in danger here. For those who support(ed) the war, you can only shake your head and wonder “WTF” are we doing here at times. The beautiful field next to the river in Baghdad built at great cost is an apt metaphor for the waste, naiveté and sheer stupidity of how much of the war is carried out. Yet there are also wonderful moments where those who oppose the war will have to face how much good we did (and still do). There are regular people in Afghanistan and Iraq that view us favorably. I appreciate Mr. Filkins gives us a word picture but not a biased one. You come to your own conclusions, he doesn’t steer you. Mr Filkins captures the tragedy of the war yet there is an undercurrent of hope that something good will come out. As the book comes to a close and the civil war is raging, he gives us a slight peek at what will turn out to be the Anbar Awakening that will coincide with the Surge in 2007. It took real guts to carry out that surge and overcome the civil war/terror campaign raging at the end of the book in 2006. Mr Filkins gives a very fair picture of the times. If anyone told me I would not only read a book on the Iraq war by a NY Times reporter, but I would also list it as one of the greatest pieces of wartime writing ever, well I would have dismissed it out of hand. If the NY Times carries an article by Mr Filkins, I will buy that edition. If the NYT makes him the editor, I will subscribe. There is an honest, uncorrupted reporter here. I did not believe one existed in that organization anymore.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    In many ways this is a very straight-forward account of the American occupation of Iraq. The beginning of the book is about Afghanistan (about 70 pages) – then it shifts to Iraq. The author does not follow a narrative or time-line flow. He explores themes and focuses on the individuals involved. For the most part he does not judge – that is left to the reader. Mr. Filkins is an excellent observer and recorder - it is this situational documenting that allows us to learn and evaluate. And we do ind In many ways this is a very straight-forward account of the American occupation of Iraq. The beginning of the book is about Afghanistan (about 70 pages) – then it shifts to Iraq. The author does not follow a narrative or time-line flow. He explores themes and focuses on the individuals involved. For the most part he does not judge – that is left to the reader. Mr. Filkins is an excellent observer and recorder - it is this situational documenting that allows us to learn and evaluate. And we do indeed need to react as Mr. Filkins illustrates the effects of a deadly occupation. Whole towns are razed as tanks fire point-blank and houses are invaded; meanwhile religious violence, factionalism and intolerance increases. The author accompanies soldiers into combat and also listens to jihadists. His style sometimes reminds me of the World War II journalist Ernie Pyle. Through-out we are cautioned of the election promises. Are the Iraqis five years (at the time of writing) after the (Bush) invasion better off? As one woman states – at least with Saddam we knew the rules. Now there are so many different competing rules. Breaking any one of them can lead to death.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Szplug

    When you invade and break countries, bad shit usually happens. Doesn't always have to, but the dial leans that way. Good shit happens too, but it needs nurturing, time, and a whole pile o' shit-ass luck, especially when what was broken is used to seeing it all go down through a different set of goggles. The bad shit needs little prompting—it's nature's wily stunted bastard child hopped up on Skittles™ and chuffing smoke. Be very careful when you break shit like countries. Try and think things throug When you invade and break countries, bad shit usually happens. Doesn't always have to, but the dial leans that way. Good shit happens too, but it needs nurturing, time, and a whole pile o' shit-ass luck, especially when what was broken is used to seeing it all go down through a different set of goggles. The bad shit needs little prompting—it's nature's wily stunted bastard child hopped up on Skittles™ and chuffing smoke. Be very careful when you break shit like countries. Try and think things through a bit. Prepare for it all going Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie. 'Cause that bad shit, that horrible, nasty bad shit always seems to be just waiting to happen. *                                    *                                    *                                    *                                    * Along with Jon Lee Anderson's The Fall of Baghdad , this book occupies the top tier of Iraq War reportage that I've so far partaken of. Following a tense and cacophonous prologue through the darkness-drenched, bullet-riddled environs of insurgent Falluja circa 2004, Filkins—whose survival of one scenario fraught with peril after another comes eventually to take on the appearance of a not-so-minor miracle—warms up the reader with a brief-but-informative glimpse at pre-9/11 Afghanistan and its new Taliban liberators/oppressors. These chiaroscuro slide-show revelations perfectly set the stage for the vignettes from war-torn Iraq that comprise the majority of Forever, leaps back-and-forth through time and across the flat Iraqi desertscape to provide a jigsaw view of the progression of the original conflict between the United States and the army of Saddam Hussein into a sectarian uprising featuring Sunni and Shiite insurgencies and militias in action against the American liberators/oppressors and their native allies. The one common element throughout is death, ofttimes impassionately narrated by Filkins and which offhand manner—especially when used as a brisk end punctuation to the deceased subject's anecdotal depiction—somewhat paradoxically comes to generate a powerful hold upon the reader. This termination of life affects US soldiers, reporters, and contractors, though the vast majority of the dead are citizens of that unlucky land, in many cases simply the victims of having been in the wrong place at the wrong time. As other reviews have pointed out, Filkins does not wade into the politics of invasion and subsequent occupation, though his own anguish, rage, and despair can be detected limning the stories stamped upon the printed page. The lack of an effective US plan to deal with a leaderless realm whose infrastructure had suffered from military strikes and post-invasion looting, the inscrutable nature of the Iraqi populace in their dealings with the Western Power, the nihilistic savagery of the insurgency cells, and the blossoming of razor-wire barriers, blast walls, and military checkpoints as new and alienating features of the urban maze of antebellum Baghdad form strong underlying elements of the collected stories' structure; particularly effective, in my opinion, are the brief interludes in which Filkins describes his daily routine of jogging the banks of the Tigris river near the hotel in which he was established and his interactions with the Iraqi citizens—guards, police, merchants, restauranteurs, children—whose paths he crosses while his running route becomes incrementally walled-off from the coterminous and increasingly dangerous residential neighborhoods. The sad doe-eyes of the little girl in The Kiss and the sinister adulthood which surrounds her devastatingly sums up the miasma of post-millennial Iraq in a few snatches of brilliant writing. Chaos and orphans are the commonest offspring of civil warfare; Filkins records their grim proliferation even while allowing the reader to see the attempts by, and admire the courage of, those doughty individuals, American and Iraqi both, who are struggling to craft a more enduring and meaningful legacy for all of the bodies claimed by the violent breaking and remaking of this tripartite Mesopotamian nation. There is little hope on display here, but little is not the same as none.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Naeem

    I withheld a star despite my belief that this book MUST be read; read today. Filkins writes about his experiences as a war reporter in Afghanistan and Iraq (mostly the book is about Iraq). It is composed of short, medium, and long vignettes. He makes no effort to connect them. It works as fiction works, implicitly. Mainly Filkins describes his situations and leaves his readers the job of interpreting. Some of these are as mundane as jogging along the Tigris river. Others are in the middle of fire I withheld a star despite my belief that this book MUST be read; read today. Filkins writes about his experiences as a war reporter in Afghanistan and Iraq (mostly the book is about Iraq). It is composed of short, medium, and long vignettes. He makes no effort to connect them. It works as fiction works, implicitly. Mainly Filkins describes his situations and leaves his readers the job of interpreting. Some of these are as mundane as jogging along the Tigris river. Others are in the middle of firefights. His descriptions and his multiple angles reminded me how the show "The Wire" works. That is the highest praise I can deliver. Sometimes I detested Filkins. He does not hide his loyalty to the U.S. soldiers with whom he is embedded. But because he does not hide his commitments (neither does he parade them), the reader can sense when he is trying to stretch himself towards Afghans and Iraqis. To some degree Afghans and Iraqis get to tell their story. But locals with whom he speaks are translators, drivers, photographers, snitches, and con artists. It is rare indeed for Filkins to portray an Afghan or Iraqi as an equal, as a seriously considered adversary. This bias comes out especially strongly near the end of the book. The section called "The Departed," is an homage to the dead. Here especially I felt the absence of proportion, an inability to imagine adversarial Iraqis as whole human beings. The "acknowledgments" are also revealing. The confirm my sense of Filkins mostly uncritical embrace of the status quo. Still, I found the book compelling. I wouldn't hesitate to use it in a classroom. Filkins strength is an overwhelming faithfulness to the messiness of the concrete details. This not only gives us a thousand images for each word (to invert the usual saying), but allows us the benefit of our own interpretations. Here is book that is wholly better than the author. I am not sure I would turn down a chance for coffee with Filkins, but nor am I sure I wouldn't have some sharp question I would like to put to him. He is better than, say the likes of Steve Coll (Ghost Wars) but not as humane as Mary Anne Weaver (Children of the Jihad). I offer three of my favorite quotations from the book below. (1) There were always two conversations in Iraq, the one the Iraqis were having with the Americans and the one they were having among themselves. The one the Iraqis were having with us – that was positive and predictable and boring, and it made the Americans happy because it made them think they were winning. And the Iraqis kept it up because it kept the money flowing, or because it bought them a little peace. The conversation they were having with each other was the one that really mattered, of course. That conversation was the the chatter of a whole other world, a parallel reality, which sometimes unfolded right next to the Americans, even right in front of them. And we almost never saw it. 115 (2) “I am so tired,” Yusra said. “In Saddam’s time, I knew that if I kept my mouth shut, if I did not say anything against him, I would be safe. But now it is different. There are so many reasons why someone would want to kill me now: because I am Shia, because I have a Sunni son, because I work for the Americans, because I drive, because I am a woman with a job, because” – she picked up her abaya – “I don’t wear my stupid hejab.” She took my notebook and flipped it to a blank page. This was Yusra’s way of explaining her situation and, sensing the limitations of language, she would sometimes seize a reporter’s notebook and diagram her predicament. She drew a large circle in the middle. “This was Saddam,” She said. “He is here. Big. During Saddam’s time, all you had to do was stay away from this giant thing. That was not pleasant, but not so hard.” She flipped to another blank age. She drew a dozen circles, some of them touching, some overlapping. A small galaxy. She put her pen in the middle and made a dot. “The dot I the middle, that is me – that is every Iraqi,” she said. “From everywhere you can be killed, from here, from here, from here.” She was stabbing her pen into the notepad. “We Iraqis,” she said. “We are all sentence to death and we do not know by whom.” 326 (3) When I was in Iraq, I might as well have been circling the earth from a space capsule, circling in farthest orbit. Like Laika in Sputnik. A dog in space. Sending signals back to base, unmoored and weightless and no longer keeping time. Home was far away, a distant place that gobbled up whatever I sent back, ignorant and happy but touchingly hungry to know. And then I was back, back in the world with everyone else, looking back on the ship myself though not returning all the way, still floating like Laika, through the regular people in the regular world. Back in the world, people were serious, about the fillings in their sandwiches, about the winner last night’s ballgame. I couldn’t blame them of course. For me, the war sort of flattened things out, flattened things out here and flattened them out there, too. Toward the end, when I was still there, so many bombs had gone off so many times that they no longer shocked or even roused; the people screamed in silence and in slow motion. And then I got back to the world, and the weddings and the picnics were the same as everything had been Iraq, silent and slow and heavy and dead. Your days may die but your dreams explode. Not with any specific recollections; they were more the by-products of the raw material I carried back. Rarely anything I saw. 339-40.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Max

    Chaos, cruelty, hopelessness: It’s all here in this tome of despair, a New York Times reporter’s vignettes of the wars he saw in Afghanistan and Iraq. These mind numbing pages repeat one episode of senseless violence after another. I feel so sorry for these people. I can’t imagine living in their world. Filkins depicts the clueless Bush administration trying to impose American values on an Iraqi culture it does not understand. An awful tyrant was replaced with a veritable hell. As one Iraqi put Chaos, cruelty, hopelessness: It’s all here in this tome of despair, a New York Times reporter’s vignettes of the wars he saw in Afghanistan and Iraq. These mind numbing pages repeat one episode of senseless violence after another. I feel so sorry for these people. I can’t imagine living in their world. Filkins depicts the clueless Bush administration trying to impose American values on an Iraqi culture it does not understand. An awful tyrant was replaced with a veritable hell. As one Iraqi put it, at least under Saddam a person could keep a low profile, obey the rules and stay out of trouble. After the US took over, people faced death from every side with no way out. Bush and Cheney did succeed in creating millions of new enemies for America and destroying millions of innocent lives. A must read for anyone who thinks America’s attempts at “nation building” in these countries makes any sense - a good reminder for those who know better.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dana Stabenow

    Impossible to praise this book too highly. It doesn’t tell how we got into Iraq and Afghanistan, or how to get out of it, no blame assigned, no pointing of fingers, this isn’t that book. It’s just a reportorial account of what Filkins saw when he was stationed in both places as a journalist, a book that counts the human cost of war. He is an extraordinarily able writer, his prose is so sharp it leaves marks on your skin. Some examples: [in Afghanistan:] Sometimes on the street a woman would pass Impossible to praise this book too highly. It doesn’t tell how we got into Iraq and Afghanistan, or how to get out of it, no blame assigned, no pointing of fingers, this isn’t that book. It’s just a reportorial account of what Filkins saw when he was stationed in both places as a journalist, a book that counts the human cost of war. He is an extraordinarily able writer, his prose is so sharp it leaves marks on your skin. Some examples: [in Afghanistan:] Sometimes on the street a woman would pass and you’d hear something from behind the vent in her burqa. Sometimes it was light and flirtatious, sometimes a little darker. “I was a teacher of Persian,” one of them said once from behind her vent. “This is like a death.” and [in Iraq:]…whenever the prospect of normalcy presented itself, a long line of Iraqis always stood up and reached for it…And they went to the slaughter. Thousands and thousands of them: editors, pamphleteers, judges and police officers…The insurgents were brilliant at that. They could spot a fine mind or a tender soul wherever it might be, chase it down and kill it dead. The heart of a nation. The precision was astounding. And “There were ugly moments and there were hopeful ones,” Filkins writes, “and they made me wonder not only what the Americans were doing to Iraq, but what Iraq was doing to Americans.” He goes on to describe an American raid on the village of Abu Shakur, where men, women and children were pulled from their beds in the early hours of the morning and found no guns or suspects in the subsequent search. “If you multiplied the raid on Abu Shakur a thousand times, it was not difficult to conclude that the war was being lost: however many Iraqis opposed them before the Americans came into the village, dozens and dozens more did by the time they left. The Americans were making enemies faster than they could kill them.” I had to put the book down after chapter 11, “Pearland,” where he describes the battle of Falluja, and walk away from it for a while. …Bravo Company’s three platoon leaders, each responsible for the lives of fifty men, were twenty-three and twenty-four years old,” Filkins writes, but he also goes on to say, “There wasn’t any point in sentimentalizing the kids; they were trained killers, after all. They could hit a guy at five hundred yards or cut his throat from ear-to-ear. And they didn’t ask a lot of questions. They had faith, they did what they were told and they killed people. But he calls them kids, because that’s what they are. Just kids. There is a brief chapter that describes his life when he returns home to America and the alienation he feels. We drew closer to each other, the hacks and the vets and the diplomats, anyone who’d been over there. My friend George, an American reporter I’d gotten to know in Iraq, told me he couldn’t have a conversation with anyone about Iraq who hadn’t been there. I told him I couldn’t have a conversation with anyone who hadn’t been there about anything at all. You should read this book. If you think you can bear it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I expected this book, a NYT reporter's stories of Iraq and Afghanistan between 2000 and 2006, to be a chore or a penance, like The Dark Side. While it's disturbing in its own way, it's a gripping read, more Black Hawk Down than political analysis. Filkins may have been fundamentally an observer but he manages to write about his experiences in a way that draws the reader into the middle of the action. Filkins was sent to report on the Taliban before 9/11, and the book opens with him witnessing a s I expected this book, a NYT reporter's stories of Iraq and Afghanistan between 2000 and 2006, to be a chore or a penance, like The Dark Side. While it's disturbing in its own way, it's a gripping read, more Black Hawk Down than political analysis. Filkins may have been fundamentally an observer but he manages to write about his experiences in a way that draws the reader into the middle of the action. Filkins was sent to report on the Taliban before 9/11, and the book opens with him witnessing a soccer-stadium execution. Later, he takes up residence in Baghdad's Green Zone and describes its surreal remoteness from the lives of ordinary Iraqis. He profiles U.S. Marines struggling to keep the mission on track as the situation in Iraq curdles, and works among a platoon of Marines during the attack on Falluja. One of the most affecting parts of the book involves a young serviceman who is killed helping Filkins and his photographer get a story, and Filkins's meeting with the man's parents, who generously insist that he'd only been doing his job. What makes this book worth reading is that it takes years' worth of impersonal news reports about the Middle East, and puts a series of human faces on it, without letting the scenes feel anecdotal or trivial. Instead, they're a series of vivid impressions of a unique place and time that acknowledge the desperation while imparting dignity to the people being profiled.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    Powerful collage of the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Heartfelt tribute. Memorable evocation of the tragic and often surreal situations at play.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robert Morris

    Whoof. This is a powerful-ass book. Cold-hearted pundit that I am, I was hoping for more of a narrative history of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that would help me make snide commentary. That is not this book. It is much more valuable than that. Dexter Filkins worked for American newspapers in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and, most importantly for this book, in Iraq from 2003 to 2006. There is some coverage of Afghanistan, before and after the US invasion, and one particularly effecting chapter Whoof. This is a powerful-ass book. Cold-hearted pundit that I am, I was hoping for more of a narrative history of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that would help me make snide commentary. That is not this book. It is much more valuable than that. Dexter Filkins worked for American newspapers in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and, most importantly for this book, in Iraq from 2003 to 2006. There is some coverage of Afghanistan, before and after the US invasion, and one particularly effecting chapter from lower Manhattan on September 11th, but the bulk of the book is dedicated to the disintegration of Iraq. The Forever War's picture of the conflict is deeply personal. It's a series of carefully reported anecdotes and their impact on the author rather than a coherent narrative. Many of the chapters are fleshed out and personalized versions of articles Filkins wrote for the New York Times. He will start the story of a kidnapping, or a charismatic governor, and then move on to another chapter without following the narrative thread through. The anecdotes are the point, not the resolution of any particular story, which is an effective way of dealing with a conflict that has lasted decades and shows no sign of stopping. The book occasionally seems to be perversely anti-chronological, though there's a logic to how it's all laid out. As you'd expect, the early chapters are more hopeful, and the later ones are more grim. Filkins's tenure in Iraq did not extend through the end of the first insurgency. The intent here is not to document Iraq's history during the war, but to provide one man's very subjective view of it. It's very powerful stuff. It's not history with dates, but the book is filled with lessons nonetheless. I always knew that we sent out kids to die for essentially nothing in Iraq, but when Filkins tells the stories of how these teenagers fought and died, I learn this fact on a deeper level. As you'd expect from a story from a US journalist, the focus here is on the deaths of the soldiers he was embedded with, and the co-workers that he knew. This is not a criticism. He illustrates the suffering of the Iraqi people in numerous anecdotes, but those traumas are not the ones he felt directly. One of the most powerful images in the book is that of the "Vanishing World". As the conflict became bloodier, and the streets got more dangerous for foreigners, journalists knew less and less about the country they were supposed to be reporting on. Living behind the New York Times compound walls, only venturing out to visit a scene of destruction with heavily armed drivers, or to witness the creation of scenes of destruction with heavily armed US soldiers, or to press conferences reporting "progress", he was going to end up with a skewed view. One of the book's accomplishments is the way it lays out the impossibility of truly "reporting" on such a conflict. Generally when I pick up a book with blurbs filled with praise as over the top as the ones covering this volume, I end up hating the book and ripping it to shreds. Can't do that here. Deeply impressive and well worth reading. I'm a little too devoid of feeling to call it one of my favorite books, but it's certainly a great one.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jess Van Dyne-Evans

    I can't remember who recommended this book, so I don't know who to thank...but I walked away from this book with my mouth open, shaking my head in awe. This man can *write*. He brought scenes from war-ravaged countries into my living room, and found a way to accentuate both the devastation and the quiet small moments, creating a book that horrifies and educates and gives you hope, all at once. Really, read this.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cav

    This was a very gritty, but captivating read. Although I admit that it was not what I expected from reading its description... I was expecting a central narrative: A story about the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, told through the eyes of author Dexter Filkins. However, The Forever War is not that. It is a rather loosely formatted telling of the author's personal experiences in the fields, reporting on these wars. I became a bit conflicted; I was hoping for a central theme and a bit more of a This was a very gritty, but captivating read. Although I admit that it was not what I expected from reading its description... I was expecting a central narrative: A story about the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, told through the eyes of author Dexter Filkins. However, The Forever War is not that. It is a rather loosely formatted telling of the author's personal experiences in the fields, reporting on these wars. I became a bit conflicted; I was hoping for a central theme and a bit more of a fact-driven narrative. But on the other hand, the writing here was so good that it made up for the lack of central narrative. While not containing a lot of broad-based facts, Filkins' story-telling and captivating prose more than makes up for it. The stories in here are insane and extremely well-told. Filkins definitely knows how to hold the reader's attention. There are many crazy accounts here, chronicling the horrors of war. He drops a great quote about the massive cluster-fuck of dysfunctionality that is Afghanistan: "People fought in Afghanistan, and people died, but not always in the obvious way. They had been fighting for so long, twenty-three years then, that by the time the Americans arrived the Afghans had developed an elaborate set of rules designed to spare as many fighters as they could. So the war could go on forever. Men fought, men switched sides, men lined up and fought again. War in Afghanistan often seemed like a game of pickup basketball, a contest among friends, a tournament where you never knew which team you’d be on when the next game got under way. Shirts today, skins tomorrow. On Tuesday, you might be part of a fearsome Taliban regiment, running into a minefield. And on Wednesday you might be manning a checkpoint for some gang of the Northern Alliance. By Thursday you could be back with the Talibs again, holding up your Kalashnikov and promising to wage jihad forever. War was serious in Afghanistan, but not that serious. It was part of everyday life. It was a job. Only the civilians seemed to lose." Author Dexter Filkins is a bit of a wild character; It sounds like he escaped at least a half-dozen close brushes with death over the years, over in the Middle East. He also talks a lot about how he would go jogging through Baghdad as the war was raging. Some incredibly reckless behavior, IMHO, but it did make for a good story. I would definitely recommend this one to anyone interested in the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 4 stars.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    The best book yet on Iraq, from a Taliban execution in 1998 to the WTC, where Filkins sees an intestine lying on the ground, to Iraq, where an attempt to get the story gets a Marine killed. Visceral, smart, funny, and pained (the acknowledgements mention, in passing, that these experiences destroyed his marriage), with sweeping, memorable images of devastation and meaningless absurdity mixed with short-short stories--a fitting equal to Herr's Dispatches, and also sneakily alluding, I would guess The best book yet on Iraq, from a Taliban execution in 1998 to the WTC, where Filkins sees an intestine lying on the ground, to Iraq, where an attempt to get the story gets a Marine killed. Visceral, smart, funny, and pained (the acknowledgements mention, in passing, that these experiences destroyed his marriage), with sweeping, memorable images of devastation and meaningless absurdity mixed with short-short stories--a fitting equal to Herr's Dispatches, and also sneakily alluding, I would guess, to Joe Haldeman's Vietnam-era SF allegory, which is also well worth your time. Read the John Leonard review in Harper's; his work is becoming ever more self-parodic, with long, long lists of whatever substituting for reviews. (Por ejemplo: The Forever War is like a pointillist Seurat, a neo-Impressionist juxtaposition of spots of pure color with black holes and open wounds. In this corner: laptops, satellite phones, “Wag Bags,” razor wire, Black Hawks, Sea Stallions, infrared strobe beacons, AC/DC, and Metallica. Yonder: watermelons, soccer balls, kebabs, goat skeletons, kidnapped children, detached feet, decapitation videos, and snipers shooting down from minarets. ) I used to think he was a genius, but now--adjective, adverb, weird random noun, participle, reference to obscure author--I'm not so sure.

  20. 5 out of 5

    S.

    21 July 2013 very impressive, very high 4 pushing the 5, with Filkins synthesizing detail, the background and incident in a superb and spell-binding text. combines the best of his professional training and his life experience (Filkins was born in 1961) to create arguably the most impressive embedded reporter book of the Iraq War. richly deserves the 4.2 it is currently tracking on Goodreads. 11 February 2015 reiterate 4 stars 4/5, although what stands out now is how Filkins' seniority as a correspo 21 July 2013 very impressive, very high 4 pushing the 5, with Filkins synthesizing detail, the background and incident in a superb and spell-binding text. combines the best of his professional training and his life experience (Filkins was born in 1961) to create arguably the most impressive embedded reporter book of the Iraq War. richly deserves the 4.2 it is currently tracking on Goodreads. 11 February 2015 reiterate 4 stars 4/5, although what stands out now is how Filkins' seniority as a correspondent allows him to name-drop significant names with ease, e.g, "Paul Bremer stated so-and-so," "General Petraus claimed this-and-that,"; etc, because, of course, Filkins is the New York Times' senior reporter in Iraq/ Afghanistan. still stands out that he is the 50-something commenting on the extreme youth of the soldiers he reports on. 4/5, with top level access, yet of course does not stun stun stun 5/5 and others have done just about as well with less. 7 september 2019 3rd read through. upgrade to 5/5. a narrative that spans the arc of pre-9/11 america to small-town USA after the insurgency "finds its feet" in Iraq. 31 May 2020 reiterate 5/5. Filkins' work passes the test of time. very fluent, very comprehensive, and compelling. the journalist immerses you in the heat and terror of the Iraq War.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Charlie Ravioli

    An amazing book. Sad, brutal, spiritual, unbelievable, violent, mind-numbing are all adjectives that aptly describe this book. There are probably at least 500 more. It's various stories told by a New York Times war correspondent from his time in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The stories reminded me a lot of the book Redeployment I read around this same time last year. The book is kind of all over the place, various stories that don't really follow any sequence per se other than the descent and dest An amazing book. Sad, brutal, spiritual, unbelievable, violent, mind-numbing are all adjectives that aptly describe this book. There are probably at least 500 more. It's various stories told by a New York Times war correspondent from his time in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The stories reminded me a lot of the book Redeployment I read around this same time last year. The book is kind of all over the place, various stories that don't really follow any sequence per se other than the descent and destruction of civilization in both countries (told chronologically from a time perspective). My sense is that the various stories strung together represent the chaos, confusion, sense and nonsense of what both countries were, became and are now. I have no idea how the author survived with all he was involved in and how he even remotely functions now in a post-war world. In the Acknowledgments section he closes by saying, "I fared better than many of the people I wrote about in this book; yet even so, over the course of the events depicted here, I lost the person I cared for the most. The war didn't get her; it got me." He and his wife divorced while he was in Iraq (I think). I guess that answers my question, he is a 'new' person (but I'm not sure, he'd say he's better off, so much as just different). After reading his book, I wonder to myself, how could he not be?

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    Filkins is a journalist who witnessed the terrorist attack of 911 firsthand, his Middle East assignments preceded 911 and later followed the U.S. deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. His book shares a title with Joe Haldeman's 1974 The Forever War. Like Haldeman's science fiction, we are quickly immersed in the ludicrous unstoppable momentum of war. Filkins, like Haldeman, might ask, 'when will these heart wrenching totally destructive conflicts ever end.' I would agree with other reviews of this Filkins is a journalist who witnessed the terrorist attack of 911 firsthand, his Middle East assignments preceded 911 and later followed the U.S. deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. His book shares a title with Joe Haldeman's 1974 The Forever War. Like Haldeman's science fiction, we are quickly immersed in the ludicrous unstoppable momentum of war. Filkins, like Haldeman, might ask, 'when will these heart wrenching totally destructive conflicts ever end.' I would agree with other reviews of this book, this is excellent journalism. Readable and meaningful. For Filkins, it's not about the sweeping big picture, it's all about the individuals. It is his intimate relationship with a decade of conflict.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Terrific. My only complaint is that the story ends before more current events, such as the Surge, take place. (I’d love to read Filkins on-the-ground take on that.) However, there is a moment late in the book where Filkins interviews an Iraqi terrorist who is getting more than a bit sick of Al-Qaeda (the "foreigners") killing fellow Iraqis. It's something of a sea change, since the result is an ordered hit against two Al-Qaeda gunmen. I was also hoping for more on Afghanistan, probably because i Terrific. My only complaint is that the story ends before more current events, such as the Surge, take place. (I’d love to read Filkins on-the-ground take on that.) However, there is a moment late in the book where Filkins interviews an Iraqi terrorist who is getting more than a bit sick of Al-Qaeda (the "foreigners") killing fellow Iraqis. It's something of a sea change, since the result is an ordered hit against two Al-Qaeda gunmen. I was also hoping for more on Afghanistan, probably because it's in the news a lot now. But these are not reasonable complaints, and Filkins probably spent more time in Iraq than most. The Forever War is probably the most personal of all the Iraq accounts I've read so far. And so far the best. Maybe more on this later...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Steve Horton

    Amazing, riveting, powerful, absorbing...like All Quiet on the Western Front . A great piece of war literature that transcends adjectives. See the haunted look in Dexter's eyes on the dust jacket flap? He poured his soul into this magnificent work. A must read for anyone interested in the export of democracy.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    This heartbreaking and graphic daily war diary by a news reporter is a necessary complement to other books on the overarching politics of the war. The tragedy and terror of war comes through clearly. For our fighting men and women, and the people of Iraq, we get a better look at their lives.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tom Hembree

    Absolutely incredible and heartbreaking - Everyone should read this.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Paltia

    Please read Mikey b’s review for this book. His review led me to this great book. It’s a triumph for Mr. Filkins. I couldn’t put it down until I finished.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Justin Pahl

    Honestly, if I could, I’d give this book like 8 stars. It deserves all the stars. That’s a bad way to begin a review, but hopefully it captures my passion for “The Forever War”. It’s a difficult book to describe. Like all great books, its greatness is completely unique; it can’t be replicated or explained, only experienced. The basic outline is pretty simple: Filkins is in Afghanistan pre-9-11. There are vignettes – citizens whose lives have been ruined by the Taliban; a Taliban execution; an old Honestly, if I could, I’d give this book like 8 stars. It deserves all the stars. That’s a bad way to begin a review, but hopefully it captures my passion for “The Forever War”. It’s a difficult book to describe. Like all great books, its greatness is completely unique; it can’t be replicated or explained, only experienced. The basic outline is pretty simple: Filkins is in Afghanistan pre-9-11. There are vignettes – citizens whose lives have been ruined by the Taliban; a Taliban execution; an old warlord, fighting his last battle – but really, the beauty is the details: the way Filkins makes you respect a Taliban fighter who would happily cut your throat; the deep sorrow he brings to an ordinary man doing his thankless, hopeless job as best he can; the unbridled joy of children sprinting through a minefield to chat with the American. After 9-11, Filkins heads to Iraq. Again, the outline is simple: Filkins charts the hopeful, tentative first days after the invasion; he hears story after story of Iraqi duplicity towards their occupiers; he’s nearly killed a dozen times (most memorably in a kebab shop) and captures the blithe ignorance of most of the Americans tasked with rebuilding the country; hope gives way to chaos which gives way to despair; through it all, he takes his nightly run along the Tigris. Once again, the heart of Iraq is the details: the girl who runs along beside him and vanishes; the woman who runs for Parliament, despite the death threats; the shady informant who may or may not want Filkins dead; the strange hopefulness of the country’s first elections. I could go on and on. Of course, a great book must be at least passably well-written, and “The Forever War” is full of direct, but elegant prose. When an insurgent who may well kill him tells Filkins about avenging his uncle’s death at the hands of Al Qaeda, Filkins writes beautifully about the surreal relationships and encounters that spring up in a country riven by a thousand different fault lines: “This was one of those moments in Iraq, not the first, when I felt like I had drifted far from the world I thought I knew. The whole tale, of course, might have been a concoction. Abu Marwa himself might have been a fake. And that was the thing about Iraq: you were untethered, floating free, figuring out the truth by a different set of standards.” In some ways, “The Forever War” reminded me of “The Things They Carried”, the great work of fiction about Vietnam. The books – one fiction, one not – share an intuitive, free-flowing style. Filkins eschews time markers, choosing to let the stories stand for themselves. We’re not told Iraq is coming apart at the seams. We watch, we feel, as it happens. Filkins’ reportorial gaze creates a tapestry of two countries in dissolution; he tells a hundred different human stories, of people - Iraqi and American, Sunni and Shia - trying to find meaning in a shitstorm of violence and meaningless death. There is precious little politics in the book, though surely Filkins had his opinions. Instead, he writes about his emotions: the fear he felt; the love; the numbness. Mostly, he does what he was paid to do: he reports. What some on the outside might consider politics was, in Iraq, accepted fact: no one doubts that the Americans royally fucked the country. When on one of his nightly runs, Filkins observes a park – one the Americans paid a million dollars to build – abandoned and on fire, he writes, “Everything was like that in Iraq: anything anyone ever tried burned to black.” And yet, from the blackness, there are moments of light. There is a scene in another of my favorite books, Roberto Bolaño's masterful “2666”, that comes as close as I can to the heart of “The Forever War”. In Part 4 of “2666”, Bolaño, over the course of a few hundred pages, documents in excruciating, dispassionate detail, the slaughter of hundreds of poor women in Santa Theresa (a fictional Juarez) in the mid-90s and the institutional indifference to their deaths. Part 4 of “2666” is literally three hundred pages of meaningless, horrifying death. It’s probably the closest approximation to hell as exists in literature. And yet, Part 4 ends on Christmas Day: “Even on the poorest streets people could be heard laughing. Some of these streets were completely dark, like black holes, and the laughter that came from who knows where was the only sign, the only beacon that kept residents and strangers from getting lost.” Even in hell, there is laughter. During the first hellish years of the Iraq War, there was deceit, there was destruction, there was evil, there was so, so, so much meaningless death; and yet, there was also beauty. There was laughter and kindness; there was humanity. And Dexter Filkins documented all of it. Read this book. Please, just read this book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    The Forever War is an attempt on the “War is Hell” theme. Unfortunately there’s no perspective, insight, analysis or even poignancy to the writing and the narrative is at best disjointed. There’s very little empathy for the U.S soldiers the author encounters. They’re all lumped together as clueless as to what they’re fighting for, their method of fighting, and especially “understanding” the local population. As for the “locals” themselves they too are treated with a not so subtle level of contem The Forever War is an attempt on the “War is Hell” theme. Unfortunately there’s no perspective, insight, analysis or even poignancy to the writing and the narrative is at best disjointed. There’s very little empathy for the U.S soldiers the author encounters. They’re all lumped together as clueless as to what they’re fighting for, their method of fighting, and especially “understanding” the local population. As for the “locals” themselves they too are treated with a not so subtle level of contempt by the author. In this narrative Afghanis switch sides in the conflict without much thought. Iraqis damn American intervention in one breath and plead for the author’s assistance – usually accompanied by tugging on his shirt – in the next. The religious conflict among Muslims is reduced to beards, music and women’s clothing. Many of the jihadists the author encounters – mostly captured - are innocent victims who were “conned” into taking up arms in the Holy War by either their fathers or imams in their hometowns. Because of this one dimensional and limited perspective the narrative becomes repetitive and superficial. Even the writing itself is tiresome and cliché-ridden – “War is serious in Afghanistan, but not that serious.” and “But he walked with saddened eyes and stooped shoulders, like a man for whom life weighed too much.” One tragedy reads like the next and that in itself is tragic. Another deficiency in the book is that the author appears to have missed every major news event over the last 8-10 years – or at the very least didn’t feel the need to write about them. The two minor exceptions being the looting of Baghdad, which reads more like a thinly-veiled knock at the US Military for not being prepared nor able to stop it; and the toppling of Saddam’s statue – the author’s description adding nothing to what we saw on television. This is baffling considering how much time the author spent “in country” and “on the ground”. What the author does spend much of this book writing about is himself. If one thumbs through the book and picks a page at random the use of the pronoun “I” is what jumps out over and over again. Some of the inane topics covered include the author’s jogging schedule in Iraq and his falling asleep near Ground Zero in a Brooks Brothers store on September 11th (!), awakened briefly by a crew of NY Police Officers trying on cashmere coats. Usually though the author is in the midst of war or actually close to it – there’s a lot of him running to the sounds of the guns. When he does find himself in a firefight and describes it – “feeling the wind of bullets” - the author doesn’t seem to understand that by his actions – and more importantly the reactions he elicits from the US troops – he was simply in the way. The author claims that it’s difficult if not impossible to talk with anyone about Iraq, (or Afghanistan for that matter), if they haven’t “been there”, i.e. like he has. Unfortunately the author sheds no light as to why that is. Maybe I’m naïve but I thought that was the point of good reporting – to explain to us who haven’t been there what it is to be there. Condescension is not enlightenment. In the realm of war correspondence The Forever War simply doesn’t compare with the books by Halberstam, Sheehan and Herr about the Vietnam War nor does it measure up to the author’s contemporaries such as Coll, Wright and Packer. I found this book disappointing but it’s also a shame that someone who spent that much time covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for the New York Times nonetheless, couldn’t provide a more coherent, lucid and thoughtful narrative about what he witnessed

  30. 5 out of 5

    Greg Brown

    Already, the Iraq War is fading from our memory. 2003 already seems in the distant past, and the withdrawal in 2011 is getting there. Still wrought with civil war, our attention has already shifted to other wars, both present and potential: Iran, Libya, Syria. This amnesia should be surprising. the Vietnam War—a similar quagmire—traumatized the nation, and led to a suspicion of the military that only started to thaw by the time of Desert Storm. Yet there's one important difference: the draft is g Already, the Iraq War is fading from our memory. 2003 already seems in the distant past, and the withdrawal in 2011 is getting there. Still wrought with civil war, our attention has already shifted to other wars, both present and potential: Iran, Libya, Syria. This amnesia should be surprising. the Vietnam War—a similar quagmire—traumatized the nation, and led to a suspicion of the military that only started to thaw by the time of Desert Storm. Yet there's one important difference: the draft is gone, and an all-volunteer army increasingly draws from rural and poor youth, all categories nearly invisible in the media. Rather than a shared sacrifice, war is increasingly waged using the unprivileged few. This forgetting and ignorance, which had already started during the occupation itself, means the public isn't so easily soured by war—making books like The Forever War all the more crucial as reminders of just how crazy the times were. Crazy is almost a cruel way to describe the events, as that doesn't capture the very real suffering inflicted on all parties involved, but especially Iraqi civilians. For them there was no withdrawal coming, no salve to the daily reality of trying to balance the hope of collaboration with the sobering knowledge that it would make them a target for violence. It's apt that the writing style reflects this craziness, a pointillist vision through dozens of discrete events, all adding together to chronicle the deeply dysfunctional occupation. At first, the institutional corruption and the violence are two separate problems. Before long, though, they merge: sectarian militias made official instruments of the state, carrying out civil war under police uniforms. Filkins' book works because it captures the street-level degeneration, shows how the civilians are pulled between the will of the state and the much more dangerous will of the insurgency—or really, how that dichotomy is false, concealing a much more complex tug-of-war between powers, some clothed in official authority and others not. It's hard to go into much more detail, because in some sense this book is all detail; it resists summary, and therein is its power. Sorry if this sounds like a mess as a result.

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