I was intrigued by this book, an accurate first hand account of the events surrounding Bin Laden's death was always going to be an interesting reveal. The press and government agencies seem incapable of not spinning a story to merit there own divergent goals. Offering a differing account from both the reported and official versions, No Easy Day has swiftly gained a notoriety that although inevitable is ultimately undeserved and that's a good thing. It's written in a very straight forward and uncompromising manner, the author gets his point across clearly and tries to leave as little as possible to the imagination regarding the facts of the mission, without revealing compromising details that would put the real life characters in future harms way. That's no easy task and so it's not surprising that much of the human side of the story, outside of the authors own emotions, is dealt with only briefly.
The book is written almost entirely from a first person point of view and the first half deals with Owen's early career and key points in his life on missions as a Navy Seal. This gives perspective that is necessary in my opinion and after all this is also the Autobiography of a Navy Seal. Having said that we should perhaps also be honest and admit that if it were not for the Bin Laden mission the book clearly wouldn't exist. As an autobiography than, it was always going to be a bit of a compromise because of that (in fact on the dust jacket of my edition the sub title The Autobiography of a Navy Seal is not even printed.) The prose is functional which again is no bad thing for this type of book. An awful lot of people are going to want to read this and to make it as accessible as possible to what will be a very broad audience, you wouldn't want it written in the style of James Joyce. Simplicity then rules the day and the pages fly past, the latter half of the book deals with the build up to the mission, the mission itself and the aftermath. All pretty straight forward and this is no surprise. The author clearly doesn't intend to leave any ambiguity over the facts of the mission as viewed from his perspective, which is as it turns out a pretty intimate view.
Having read it I now think that this book was necessary. 9/11 was one of the most critical events in the 21st century, so much has changed or been influenced by the events of that day the effects of which impinge on our lives daily and will do for decades to come, and the death of Bin Laden is intrinsically tied to this, it holds much significance in the psyche of many people around the world. There is now for the first time an indelible personal first hand record, and this is important because as the mythology that grows up around the mission itself and wider accounts that will come in the future develop, they will all inevitably be tempered by this one account, by virtue of its existence and the fact that this "eye witness" sequence of events is now public knowledge. The action is not as flamboyant as the media would have us believe and the events are not quite as divergent from the official story either, but the author made the right decision to write it. Washington has always emphasised that the resistance faced at Bin Laden's compound was instrumental in the nature of Bin Laden's death. This implies much and attempts to shift the burden of responsibility for the ultimate conclusion of the mission away from those calling the shots (quite literally.) This is the main area where the first hand account differs and it's an important area that justifies the books existence. When you read that Washington had originally considered an aerial bombardment to flatten the entire compound and had to be convinced to use ground forces instead, then the question of whether Bin Laden had quick access to a loaded gun or not, at the time that he was shot, becomes somewhat superfluous. Here the background text in the book is also useful, in giving context to the nature of such operations and the likely and not entirely unpredictable outcome. Putting highly trained soldiers in such a high pressure situation is not going to result in amiable negotiation of a peaceful surrender. The suggestion then is that Washington made a mistake in its "elaborate" portrayal of the events in an effort to appease all sides and quell the dissident opinion from those that were opposed to what was and cannot be dressed up as anything other than a determined and hostile act. When perhaps a more honest expression of the desire that drove the mission, ultimately would have been more sensible.
Owen is refreshingly candid about his emotion and motivation. The final chapters give us some insight into the personal effects of the aftermath of the mission and this is perhaps the books most interesting if albeit brief moment.
I only gave it 3 stars because it's difficult to rate any higher. It doesn't try to be anything more than a setting of the record straight. By necessity there is a lack of verbosity or embellishment. It is what it is and it succeeds in it's aim. I am sure that in the future better written books will come along that tell the story from many different perspectives and give much more insight into the machinations from various different agencies that led up to the mission over the preceding years. But that's not what this book was ever going to be. It is however a brief but interesting and perhaps necessary read.