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4.7 out of 5 stars
Black Hearts: One platoon's descent into madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2010
Black Hearts is the most extraordinary work of nonfiction. Jim Frederick tells the story of the entire deployment of a group of soldiers in the triangle of death who suffered the most terrible losses and were under attack almost every day. They lived outside the wire in "the most dangerous place at the most dangerous time" in Iraq. Black Hearts is not just for those who like war books, it's a book for anyone who wants to read about characters, about human character, how it is tested, about how war really is (some passages are difficult to read, so raw and real), how humans interact, how they behave under the kind of pressure most of us will never have to suffer. This book is for anyone who wants to read a beautifully crafted tale, sensitively and fairly handled. You feel as if you were there, watching the soldiers the whole time, willing them to step back two inches, a step that would spare the insurgent a clean shot; urging leaders to choose this course of action, not the one that results in yet more losses, with little overall gain; urging those who ended up committing the worst crimes of the war to hold back, to dig deeper, find the good in their character, to spare the innocent Iraqis their lives, their brothers-in-arms the inevitable tainted-by-association. Black Hearts is about leadership, about friendship, about the extraordinary tests on the character of a person, why those who endure the same things cope, or don't. It's about why some people choose to behave the way they do. (The chapter on the rape of the girl and murder of her family by 4 soldiers --all now in jail in the US -- is extremely difficult to stomach.) There's nothing Hollywood -- though it would make the most incredible movie actually -- or sanitized about Black Hearts, so real are the characters and images conveyed. We need to know this is what war is without, thankfully, not debating the been-there-done-that pros and cons of going into this particular war. This is the best and most emotive book, not just war book but book, I have read in years. Some scenes made me weep openly. It has changed the way I think about men at war, about character, good and bad, right and wrong, how not every leader is a good one, not every soldier is a hero -- a point Frederick makes very well, -- mostly because soldiers and leaders are human, too. But it also makes you realize how an army needs to sort those who can lead from those who obviously cannot, that is those whose errors in judgment have catastrophic consequences, those whose orders decide whether people live or die and, for those that live, how they live, how they cope, how they work within the larger group, how they rebuild their lives outside the wire, inside, if they're lucky enough, and how they deal when they return home. This is stuff we need to know and think about. It would be an amazing book were it fiction. The fact it is not makes it all the more riveting and shocking. Frederick is an extremely talented writer. I absolutely recommend Black Hearts to all Amazon customers. (There are also more great reviews on Amazon.com and the New York Times called it "extraordinary" and "riveting", too.)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2010
Iraq has almost become a forgotten conflict in this day and age of 24 hour news channels as its too easy to ignore the life and death stories that seem to run on a constant loop and sadly become little more than 'background noise'. I fully appreciate that those with family and friends in the armed forces will no doubt take exception to that comment and I can assure you that no offence is intended but I do think that I speak for many people in the street.
Reading this book brought the whole situation back to the forefront of my mind and more importantly gave a valuable insight into just why the mighty American war machine is - on the whole - failing. Whilst the book sets out to investigate and comment upon a specific horrific war crime committed by a small group of American soldiers, and again I dont not want to underplay the seriousness of the crime in question, for me the incident almost became secondary to the broader topic addressed by the author. What comes across loud and clear is that due to the escalation in conflicts across the globe the services are facing a shortfall in personnel and are being forced to recruit men and women who quite frankly are clearly unsuitable for the role. This situation is compounded be the fact that the leadership and support provided to the armed forces is at best lacking, at worst downright none existant. While I can understand that modern warfare relies heavily on technological advancements the book for me at least hammered home that while billion dollar gadgets have their place they simply cannot and do not replace the need to have well trained, well equiped and well lead soldiers on the ground. I am getting very much into the realms of dangerous oversimplification here but I feel strongly that if only a fraction of the immense defence spending committed by the US was redirected into grass roots recruitemnt and training of high caliber professional soldiers then not only would crimes such as the rape and murder at the centre of this book be eliminated but it would also bring conflicts such as Iraq to a quicker end which ultimately must be everyones goal.
A well written and well researched book which increased my sympathy and understanding of those on all sides of the Iraq situation immeasurably. At the end of the book I was left with a genuine sense of pity for all of the soldiers featured and interviewed and an overriding feeling that the sitaution could have been easily avoided.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I have to say I dont normally read non fiction military books, but do find tv documentaries on the subject insightful, fascinating and gripping.
So I came to this book thinking ok I will give it a go, and I have to say I was gripped from page 1.
This story of soldiers from 101st Airborne(502nd Infantry regiment) aka The Black Heart Brigade is intense, and yes graphic.but what shines through are the personalities of these soldiers in one of the most dangerous areas, known as The Triangle of Death, and the daily pressures and duress they confronted on a daily basis.There to train Iraqi, s on defending themselves against the insurgents, but knowing that anyone of those they were there to help, could quite easily turn on them with a gun, body bomb,or know where IED, s were buried but say nothing or deny knowing anything at all, La La La(meaning No) to any questions put to them.
What also comes across is not only the external conflict, but the internal conflict within the ranks, the clear and defined and often conflicting orders these boys, men and women were often asked to do.
The story is built up around the events of the rape of a 14 year old girl, and slaughter of her family, the lead up to that event and the pressures put onto the soldiers before the event occured.
And while you can never forgive what happened to that poor innocent child and her family, you really can NEVER be expected to understand or contemplate what these guys went through.Would you react, behave any differently after seeing your pals being shot up and blown to bits?We all would like to think that we would not be capable of such violence and atrocity, but we all have that beast within, and it just takes a unique situation, a constant fear of wondering whether THIS day could be your last on Earth, for that cage door to be opened, and the beast within to be released.
A truly awesome, intense book that deserves, and SHOULD be read.
These guys were soldiers, ordinary men, put in a hell hole by their Government, and expected to do what they were ordered to do.
There are no winners or losers in war only dead, and more often than not, it boils down to religion.
Im a none believer and can't help feeling that if there is a god then why does he not intervene?
The price innocents have to pay for eternal salvation always seems to be too high a price.Children raped and abused to my mind is not a justification for a reward into heaven.
This story is about the fallibility of human nature, and yes, some of the people in this book have suspect characters that possibly should never have been allowed to be in the army or hold a gun, but again thats the flaw in American law also, THE RIGHT TO BARE ARMS.
Rightfully some of these soldiers are behind bars, but who are we, as outsiders, to judge?Would you act any differently in that situation?We can't say, because thankfully we will never Be in such a situation such as this.
Certainly the blame is not to be solely put on the footsoldiers, many of higher rank were/are, equally to blame.
A powerful powerful book that would make a fascinating movie IF done sympathetically and equally balanced.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
War is a type of madness.Iraq was no different . Jim Frederick has been there and this book is a series of postcards from it's heart. The story is simple. A bunch of young men, poorly led and brutalised by their surroundings, spiral into a murky world of fear and hate which eventually leads to a shocking event.
It is a tough gritty account of the whole build up and aftermath. Characters come in and out of the story and are expertly described in fine journalistic style. The subject matter might be heavy but it is a surprisingly easy read. Frederick is very competent handling this type of story and doesn't get in the way of the narrative.
Finally, to declare an interest , I don't like blood and guts heroic nature of combat type of books. I read this to try and understand what the Iraq conflict was all about from the ordinary soldier's perspective. From that viewpoint, whilst I am uncomfortable with a lot of the events portrayed , the author has done a fine job in telling a harrowing tale.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 October 2012
Unfortunately, I must start on a negative note.
This book is presented to the public by the publisher, certainly in its paperback form, as some sort of roller-coaster thriller which happens to be a true story. If you are, in fact, looking for some sort of first-hand true account of non-stop action I recommend Dan Mills' Sniper One. With the publisher using phrases on the cover such as 'descent into madness' and words like 'climax', 'intense' and 'fast-paced' the casual observer might even pick this book up believing it to be fiction, and if that is what they are looking for I recommend they watch Apocalypse Now or read Conrad's Heart of Darkness; better still do both.

Now, onto what this book is really about.
This is a detailed investigation of a single atrocity and the events and circumstances leading up to and surrounding the soldiers and battalion involved. It is presented in the very best of journalistic tradition - at times one can sense the author's struggle to not pass any personal judgement - and is exceptionally detailed, revealing and sympathetic. You can read other reviews for information regarding this event.
What I will add is that I believe this book to be essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the stresses and strains placed on the modern 'western' soldier, especially in the US forces where tours of duty are much too long and often enforced second or even third tours. Beyond that, it is equally useful reading for any student of psychology and even students of organizational theory and ledership. In fact, I would warn any reader who is not au fait with terms such as 'The Pygmalion Effect' that they ensure they have psychiatric reference sources available to them during reading.
With due deference to the appalling subject matter, especially to those directly involved on both sides and generally to anyone who esteems NATO's armed forces, this book is an exciting recounting of a company's deployment in the most extreme of circumstances, terifically well researched, edited and presented and deeply, deeply disturbing. Excellent.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2011
Black Hearts gives a chilling insight into how easily war destroys the souls of men. It reads with a pace that left my hands clammy and heart beating that bit quicker. Jim Frederick manages to conjure some of the oppressive tension that must have been felt by those soldiers seemingly abandoned to their fate in the remotest outpost of the American army, deep inside Iraq's hyper violent Triangle of Death.
In just a few hundred pages, he gives the reader an uncomfortable soldier's eye view of the glaring follies of the Iraq War; little preparation by the Allies for winning the peace, allowing the sectarian violence to explode, and enormous disconnection between those running the war and those fighting it.
We quickly learn how this story ends: the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl by gang of crazed, drink and drug-fueled American soldiers. But the journey to that shocking conclusion feels like watching a car crash in slow motion. You feel yourself being irrevocably drawn to the horrific endings, powerless to intervene to what is so obviously going to happen.
As this book paints the realities of how unfeeling, uncompromising nature of war, you find yourself unable to draw simple moral judgements of right and wrong - it's not a case of the soldiers were evil. Black Hearts wonderfully shows the far darker and morally blurred effects of war on those on the frontline.
A great book. A great piece of journalism.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2011
Until I read this book I was under the impression that US soldiers at war got it pretty easy. Us Brits slogged away with substandard equipment and shoddy infrastructure whilst the yanks cruised around en masse in Humvees wearing their Oakley sunglasses,showing off their superior force before retiring to their base resplendent with burger kings and starbucks.
This book put me straight. Boy, it put me straight.
From it's shocking opening, through a detailed and yet engaging and supremely informative background to the entire Iraqi conflict into the bulk of the story detailing the relentless, agonising grind of a tour of duty to the horrific climax this book is nothing short of stunning.
The characters are made real and the tension mounts like a vice as page on page you are invited to ride along with soldiers trapped in a spiral of violence and terror. The degradation that unfolds is at times almost comical - the soldiers go on a 'hearts and minds' mission to hand out candy to kids, a warning shot is fired at a car that speeds towards them and the resulting ricochet kills a child.Then at times the acts of violence become something from a horror film as violent and troubled men under colossal stress commit acts that are inhuman and inexcusable in any context.
War is Hell. If you want to taste that hell in unflinching detail then read this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 14 October 2010
Having read an excellent review of this book in The Week magazine I immediately bought a copy - it didn't disappoint. Thought-provoking from the outset and hard-hitting throughout, Black Hearts is the story of one Platoon's hellish tour of Iraq.

As a serving officer who has done a tour in Iraq, albeit in a different area, there are many aspects of this book relating to soldiers' states of mind that I can relate to. It highlights the need for strong leadership and reveals what happens when this leadership falters. Fascinating stuff.

Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 November 2011
This book is one of the best pieces of investigative journalism I have ever read. The account of what happened to one platoon in Iraq is essential reading for anyone to understand what went wrong with the American mission in that country. It's probably the best account of the actual day-to-day fighting during those terrible years that I have read. It is also truly shocking. I felt that the ordinary soldiers in Bravo Company were betrayed by their country and completely let down by their High Command and I could not believe that Colonel Kunk was allowed to behave the way he did-for me he was the villain of the piece (aside from the obvious criminals at the heart of the story). The US army came out of this really badly-I was appalled at how isolated and under-equipped they had allowed their combat units to become. I felt the soldiers had tried their best in appalling circumstances. Great writing though.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 December 2013
Not having been a serviceman ( just missed national service by age) I always find it interestng in books that test my perception of
military combat.

In our working life we all experience times when we believe that our superiors are lacking. Being American troops does not colour intial judgment and much that goes on within this story is understandable to begin with. However the fabric begins to wear thinner and thinner until a gaping hole appears through which young men and experienced officers lose there way and fall into the abyss.
It is difficult to try to imagine how someone can be driven to behave as people did in so many aspects within the story but as you read through it become unsuprising.
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