War: Memoirs & Journalism

Tuesday, November 24, 2015; 9:45am to 12:00N Chelmsford Public Library

 Nonfiction assignment for November 24, 2015:

War: Memoir & Journalism Benchmark: Everyone reads David Finkler’s The Good Soldiers.

Appeal to be read for November meeting: Focus on all the appeal factors, but really think about tone and character.

Please post War: Memoir & Journalism second title choices on this RA RT Blog: under Submit 2nd Title Info.

 If you read a fourth title in the LGBTQQ literature—your choice—please post it on our blog.

Handouts: Cords, Sarah Statz.. The Real Story: A Guide to Nonfiction Reading Interests. “Investigative Writing.” LU. 2006. pp. 311-315

Wyatt, Neal. The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction. “History and Historical Biography.” ALA. 2007. pp.168-179.

NOTES from 11/24/15 MEETING

Notes taken by Jessica Atherton from Newburyport Public Library.


Bowden, Mark. Black Hawk Down: Story of Modern War. 1999.

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait & Andrew Thompson. Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story from Hell on Earth. 2004. UN Peacekeepers—Africa & Haiti

Clancy, Tom, w/Gen. Chuck Horner. Every Man a Tiger. 1999. Desert Shield & Desert Storm

Fick, Nathaniel. One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer. 2005.

 Howarth, David. We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance. 1955.

Irving, Nicholas. The Reaper: Autobiography of a Legendary Special Operations Sniper. 2015.

Junger, Sebastian. War. 2010. Afghanistan.

Kelly, Michael. Martyr’s Day: Chronicle of a Small War. 1993. 1st Persian Gulf War

Kyle, Chris. American Sniper. 2012. Navy SEAL sniper.

Luttrell, Marcus. Lone Survivor. 2007. Navy SEAL.

Marlantes, Karl. What It Is Like to Go to War. 2011. Vietnam.

Mason, Robert. Chickenhawk. 1984. Vietnam helicopter pilot

Moore, Harold G. & Ralph L. Galloway. We Were Soldiers Once…and Young. 1992. Vietnam

Sides, Hampton. Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic of WWII’s Most Dramatic Mission. 2001.

Smith, Graeme. The Dogs are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan. 2015.

Tapper, Jake. The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor. 2013.

Tobin, James. Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to WWII. 1998.

Webb, Brandon. The Red Circle: My Life in the Navy SEAL Sniper Corp and How I Trained America’s Deadliest Marksmen. 2012.

Elective Titles

Jim Riordan

One Soldier’s War – Arkady Babchenko
Appeal Factors: day-to-day experience of soldiers, story telling style of the narrative, setting

This is the memoir of Babchenko’s service as an infantryman in the Russian army during the First and Second Chechen Wars in the 1990s. Both these wars that grew out of attempts by Chechnya to break away from the Russian Federation. Fresh out of college, Babchenko was drafted into the army and sent to fight in the mountains of Chechnya as well as urban centers like Grozny. In a sense the book reads a little like All Quiet on the Wester Front. It is an extremely local experience of the war. He provides almost no larger context behind the wars or the progression of the wars. It is a day to day account of the hardship and suffering faced by Babchenko and his comrades, as well as the hardship and suffering they inflicted on the Chechens.

The book takes the form of short chapters that contain often stand-alone stories of Babchenko’s time as a soldier. It has the feel of a person setting there telling you a war story. There is no sense of chronology or passage of time. This gives the reader a feel for being there. You are there with Babchenko while he tries to find a Chechen sniper that is hiding somewhere in a building with him. Or scavenging for food, because the Russian army isn’t very good a resupplying their solders. Or getting beaten up by the older soldiers who prey on the younger soldiers.

This would be a good book for someone who loves stories. It would also be a good book for someone who wants to read about the day to day lives of soldiers. I’d recommend it to someone who’s read a lot of war memorials who wants something a little out of the ordinary as far as setting in concerned. As I mentioned above someone who liked All Quiet on the Western Front would enjoy the gritty detail of the story. However, anyone who’s looking to understand the larger story of the First and Second Chechen Wars should probably look elsewhere.

Leane Ellis

The Red Circle – Brandon Webb
Appeal Factors: Dramatic storytelling/Believable narrator/ Candid & gritty tone

The full title is The Red Circle: My Journey into the Elite Navy SEAL Sniper Corps and How I trained America’s Deadliest Marksmen which is a great summary of the content. This Navy SEAL memoir by the trainer of Lone Survivor’s Marcus Luttrell and American Sniper’s Chris Kyle traces his grueling years in Naval Special Operations through his combat tours in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, providing coverage of his distinguished work as a post-September 11 sniper instructor. Written with John David Mann. Preface by Marcus Luttrell. The theme that reverberates is excellence matters—no matter what you choose to do with your life. Slow to start but entertainingly written; lots of action & violence in middle and later parts.  Violence and language is graphic but fits the context. My sense of his mission for this book was to also share his comrades’ achievements while wrestling with what war has done to him personally and to those he has fought with side by side. You get what it is like to be in battle situations, as well as what it takes to train for the SEAL Sniper Corps.  Readalike for American Sniper/Lone Survivor as well as Mark Owen’s No Easy Day and Nicholas Irving’s The Reaper, Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead or Howard Wasdin’s SEAL Team Six.

Michelle Deschene

The Hunter Killers: The Extraordinary Story of the First Wild Weasels, the Band of Maverick Aviators Who Flew the Most Dangerous Missions of the Vietnam War – Dan Hampton
Appeal Factors: Storyline / Character / Tone

The Hunter Killers‘ prologue reads a bit like a combined manufacturer’s manual for a plethora of fighter aircraft, radar equipment and surface-to-air missiles. This pages-long deluge of technical details throws into stark relief Vietnam’s alliance with Russia and, in the face of new and developing weapons systems, the chink in America’s military armor. The prologue, drawing to a close, takes us into the sky with the first SAM launched against an American squadron of fighter jets in Vietnam; we see the last jet go down, and from that moment on, Captain Ross Fobair’s name is imprinted on our memories.

The first chapters switch gears to serve as a broad but salient introduction to the events that led up to the war, including background information on Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and on Lyndon Johnson’s decision to chip away at (and subsequently inflame) the escalating conflict in Vietnam. Hampton handily informs those of us with limited knowledge of this particular war, and in a manner reminiscent of an engaging, laid back lecture delivered by a favorite professor. The narrative becomes even more informed conversational when the perspective shifts focus to the servicemen who formed the Wild Weasels.

It needs to be pointed out that Hampton went forward with having The Hunter Killers published only after every surviving member of the original Wild Weasels had read a draft and provided feedback, and that determination to authentically capture their story shows. The dialogue, both spoken and internal, have undeniable urgency, and rings true. Hampton doesn’t once let the reader forget that the men fighting this war were real, made of flesh and blood, with big, bold personalities and courage that wouldn’t quit.

You really feel like you’re in the cockpit, owing, most likely, to Hampton’s personal experience, having flown combat missions in Iraq, during the Kosovo Conflict and first Gulf War.

Louise Goldstein

One Bullet Away – Nathaniel Fick
Appeal Factors: Rich narrative arc, well developed language

This moving memoir describes in great detail what it takes to be a Marine Officer.  Those interested in seeing what it takes to lead a Marine battalion effectively, will want to read this book. One learns about the incredible amount of concentration and preparedness needed to survive the ordeals of the Iraqui conflict.

Fick’s unflagging loyalty to his men, his ability to lead and to survive a gruesome and toll taking challenge are most impressive for readers of any persuasion.

Red flags:  violence, language, not for the faint of heart.

Eileen Barrett

A Rumor of War – Philip Caputo
Appeal Factors: non-fiction, suspense, action, graphic, detailed picture of war

Philip Caputo had no real political views on the Vietnam War, but as a young, bored, teen growing up in the mid-west he wanted to explore the world and find adventure.  As Caputo states, “war is always attractive to young men who know nothing about it” (xiv), and further fueled by President Kennedy’s challenge to ask what you can do for your country he enlisted in the Marines in 1960.

In March of 1965, now an infantry officer, he and his battalion were sent to Vietnam. They were the first U.S. combat unit.

At first, it didn’t seem like a war – nothing was happening. It fact, it was boring and with the heat and humidity it was oppressively boring.  Once the marches and movement of troops from place to place began, Caputo and his men found the action they were looking for. But after months of horrific conditions: slogs across muddy swamps, marches through bug-infested jungles, enduring the relentless sun and humidity, and dealing with an enemy Caputo wondered if we were creating, he began to question the wisdom of why we were there.

When this book was published in 1977 it was pivotal in shifting the views of American citizens. It sparked many anti-war protests and put demands on Washington pressuring the U.S. to get out of Vietnam.  This book is not for the faint of heart, but if you want an honest look at the realities of war this book is a should-read.  This is a classic Vietnam and war memoir.


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