Patrick Hennessey reports of his time in the British Army, with tours of duty to Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Falklands before resigning. It starts with the Sandhurst experience, and then goes into each deployment, with the lion share being dedicated to Afghanistan, where the author's real fighting took place.
The initial training in Sandhurst is probably also the only episode, where the 'reading' element is really present, with the author ruminating on Dixon's On The Psychology Of Military Incompetence (Pimlico)
(a book I would highly recommend) and how the training tends to always prepare the officers (and troops) for fighting the last war, not the current, or next one. While this section of the book is insightful, the author fails to translate how the training, which he felt was largely useless, transformed him into a competent fighter / officer, which he claims to have become as a result ('when the training kicked in') - On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
does a much better job here.
While the author's time in Bosnia seems to have been spent hankering for stories one could tell fawning ex-girlfriends (which did not really materialize), and Iraq was equally disappointing for the author for the lack of action, he finally seems to have gotten his fill of firefights in Afghanistan. This part of the book is fairly quick to read but not necessarily the best. Somehow the author left me cold here - the fire fights were hardly described, it was more about the author finally being satisfied at having participated in real combat and not having been found wanting.
The attitude that his unit was the one who practically singlehandedly managed the whole affair, with a bit of help from the Afghan National Army, may well upset other soldiers, who have served in the same conflict - the constant tirades against REMFs could well ruffle some feathers, too.
The Reading Club aspect is also more mentioned in the title than built upon in the book. We find out that he read a couple of pages of Ayn Rand, a 100 or so of Don Quixote
and some pulp.
In spite of the criticisms the book does show something important - namely the attitude of the current generation, who are fighting the wars. While one would hope for an officer corps more mature, the author's account at least provides an honest account. And reading that may well help explain some of the occurences happening in Afghanistan and Iraq.
This is not of the quality of Matterhorn
or The Hidden War: A True Story of War in Afghanistan
(if you want the same theatre of operations) and while I would not say the author is an outstanding combination of a soldier who can write (the many errors as noted by some other reviewers attest to that), the book does inspire reflection.
Overall a decent summer read, which will certainly go down better with late teens and twentysomethings, and may - as already noted, annoy or anger many (ex-) servicemen, who would feel attacked.