Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review of "Where Men Win Glory"

Jon Krakauer's most recent book, published in 2009, is Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. Like Krakauer's other well-known books – namely, Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, and Under the Banner of Heaven – this book revolves around death. In 2004, Pat Tillman, a professional football player turned Army Ranger, was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Over the course of 416 pages, Krakauer not only tells the story of Tillman's life and death, but also the broader geo-political forces that overwhelmed him.

Pat Tillman was an incredibly strong, philosophical, athletic, articulate, and disciplined person who quit professional football after the 2001 season to serve his country. Deciding that it was the right thing to do, Tillman enlisted in the Army, turning down millions of dollars in the process. Tillman also left behind his beloved wife, with whom he enjoyed a fairytale marriage.

By itself, Krakauer's biography of Tillman is fascinating. However, Krakauer's book covers much more ground than that. It provides a recent history of Afghanistan, a survey of events leading up to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and an eye-opening exposé of the circumstances surrounding the rescue of Jessica Lynch. But most centrally and importantly, Krakauer's book reports how Tillman really died and the elaborate steps that were taken to cover it up. As is often the case, the cover-up became a disaster in its own right. "O what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."

This book is riveting from start to finish, with the exception of the recent history of Afghanistan. However, had I not read so many books on Afghanistan in the last few years, I may not have found myself daydreaming during that section. Because Where Men Win Glory is both a gripping biography and a sweeping historical narrative, I suspect that it will be taken seriously for years to come.


Anonymous said...

This book was a huge disappointment for me. Not because it's terrible but because I thought it was mediocre, not something I expect from Krakauer. The book drags on with lots of filler. All of the interesting aspects of Tillman, a truly intriguing individual, that Krakauer writes about is already years old and mentioned in other publications. Any new material he adds to the record is trivial.

Anyway, I felt this book fell way short of what we know Krakauer can do.

S Kay Murphy said...

Thanks for this review, Sam. I know how important it is for those of us who are readers to pass on recommendations--and they are critical to the author. I'll look forward to reading this; I'm a fan of Krakauer's other books, as are my students. I am pleased that he has chosen to honor Pat Tillman. What a life, what a tragedy....