British journalist Sam Kiley was the only writer who spent a full six month tour with UK armed forces in Afghanistan (April - October, 2008). While some of the material in this book has already been covered, such as in Patrick Bishop's 3 Para and Ground Truth books, never has it been so richly rendered as in Desperate Glory.
Some reviewers, it seems, have taken umbrage with the "flowery descriptions" of sunsets and landscapes in this book. If Kiley is to accurately represent the experiences of young people at war in a foreign land, then the environment in which they are doing this must be accurately rendered. The ever-present dust and the blistering heat are as much a part of these experiences as the lack of suitable equipment and the road-side bombs. Compared to Michael Herr's brilliant writing in the Vietnam classic Dispatches, where Herr presents war as some kind of psychedelic bad acid trip, Kiley's writing is quite muted.
Kiley must be congratulated on never placing himself centre stage, of never flattering himself on how dangerous his expedition was; this is self-evident. While not making himself a part of the story, though, Kiley doesn't quite achieve the superb level of writing that marks the best in this genre, such as Evan Wright's Generation Kill, or the aforementioned Dispatches. Desperate Glory is a much more workmanlike piece of reportage.
Sam Kiley has written in Desperate Glory a snapshot of British lives in Afghanistan and this book may well perhaps come to be regarded as a valuable account of what the UK was doing there, how little we achieved and at what cost in blood and treasure, both theirs and ours. This book gives all of us, the families and friends of those serving, politicians who sent our people there and the citizenry as a whole, a troubling account of this most bloody of fool's errands.