With "The Perfect Storm," Sebastain Junger crafted a harrowing and heartbreaking story of men in danger--cut off and reliant on one another for survival. It is the ultimate non-fiction story of man versus nature, and as we know, that's not always a fair fight. It is, quite literally, one of my favorite books. So it is with much excitement that I picked up Junger's "War," a document relating his personal experiences as a reporter while being embedded with American soldiers in Afghanistan. Junger has already enjoyed success on this topic in a series of articles as well as a documentary film "Restrepo" (an award winner at this year's Sundance). I thought if anyone could understand the hearts of men in conflict it would be Junger. And "War" does prove to be a fascinating and intimate look at how individuals come together to form a collective unit.
One of the pleasures of "War" is its surprisingly apolitical agenda. Anyone hoping that this book is a comprehensive examination of the American presence in Afghanistan will need to look elsewhere. Junger wants to keep things at a more personal level and "War" is really his homage to those on the front lines. Much like "The Perfect Storm," it is a study of camaraderie and brotherhood under extreme circumstances. Junger does an amazing job capturing the specifics of what it was like to be stationed in the Afghani conflict. From the battles to the boredom, this is an unflinching look at the realities of modern warfare. Along the way, Junger also studies the sociological and psychological influences present. It is the unusual and extraordinary bonding within the group that leads to altruism and, ultimately, heroism (although the men themselves never consider their acts heroic).
As much as I admired "War," however, there was an element that kept me distanced as well. Junger's intent to honor the soldiers he knew and lived with is evident--but, unfortunately, the men aren't really distinguished as individuals. In "The Perfect Storm," the power and majesty of the action is enhanced by the full-bodied and thoroughly three dimensional portraits of the men involved. That's how I wanted to get to know these soldiers as well. But aside from one or two instances, we might admire or be intrigued by what someone has said or done--but we never fully get to know them. It's what keeps "War" from being a truly great book, in my opinion. Still, Junger's "War" is a compelling look at male bonding. Told from an unusual and refreshing angle, "War" is a noteworthy look into a situation that many of us have only seen from afar. KGHarris, 5/10.