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on 4 January 2014
War Stories is Jeremy Bowen's explicitly honest account of becoming hooked on what he calls `the war drug' while working as a foreign correspondent for the BBC.

Bowen joined the BBC in 1984. His big break was covering the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 which provided the stepping stone to his first assignment in war-torn El-Salvador in 1989 where Bowen had his first hit of the war drug.

For the first time Bowen was close enough to the action to get killed. It was the first time he heard the whizz-snap sound of a bullet passing inches from his head. But he found it hard to realise the bullets and the dangers posed to him were real. After surviving his trial by fire Bowen claims the experience was exciting, as though he was staring in an action movie.

Bowen has covered conflicts in El-Salvador, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya and Lebanon. The majority of his coverage focuses on the human aspect of war, about how civilians who are caught up in conflict are affected and how war irreversibly changes lives.

But, reporting in this fashion took a heavy toll on his conscience and throughout the book Jeremy advocates a stark and clear message: For a journalist reporting from a war zone to have a good day somebody else must have a very bad day.

In Lebanon in 2000 the risks foreign correspondents face were brought to the fore. While doing a piece to camera Bowen's driver was killed when an Israeli tank blew up their car. Machine gun fire had Bowen pinned down and he was unable to reach his stricken friend.

After this, Bowen began to realise the lack of power he held over his own fate. The birth of Bowen's daughter meant he now had a greater responsibility to his family than to reporting. Being a father held precedence over furthering his career and he found solace in playing a role in his children's lives.

In the end, he says he had to choose. After all, war reporting is not an action movie. The explosions, the bullets and the deaths are all far too real.
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on 7 March 2013
I have admired Jeremy Bowen's television reports of warfare from El Salvador in 1969 to Lebanon in 2006 and his more recent reports particularly from the Middle East. His book is vivid, enthralling and thought provoking and as he admits in his memoirs that earlier in his journalistic career he was a war junkie when it came to reporting conflicts all over the world. He loved the thrill of flying off to war zones, dodging bullets and mixing with other war addicts who were equally hooked and all this really turned him on for many years. Bowen says his addiction changed on 23 May 2000, when his close friend and colleague, Abed Takkoush met with a violent death in war torn Beirut and when his first child was born he reassessed his life and decided to do something a little less hazardous.

Bowen's book reads like a novel at times, it is fast moving, funny in places and certainly a book you cannot put down once you have started reading it. It is candid, honest and self effacing and I strongly recommend it to you as a description of one man's role in reporting conflicts in the late twentieth century in Afghanistan, Chechnya, the Balkans and the Middle East.
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on 10 July 2007
Jeremy Bowen, like his journalistic traits, writes this excellent book that nobody would be able to put down. i really cannot recommend this enough. i bought this book at Gatwick Airport last week whilst on my way to a 4 day holiday. i finished it in 2..!

Bowen's writing skills are definetly well worked, and he shows his ability to take the reader on his enchanted journey with great descriptions of his experiences in Sarejevo, Lebanon, Jersualem etc etc.

My favourite chapter occurs whilst in Afghanistan..his description of engagements with the Afghan Mujahadeen during the 1980's is so vivid and interesting.

not everybody may like Bowen's book, but judging by the last two reviews, i think its fair to say this book is a must read for anybody interested in journalism, living life to the max, war, peace, politics, and Jeremy Bowen!

if anyone likes Jeremy's journalistic style as the BBC's Middle East editor, you almost feel the famous moustache of his everytime you turn a page! this book is as important a book for current affairs and international relations then any academic book.

i also recommend his book Six Days, which analysis the 1967 Arab Israeli War.
enjoy.
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on 14 August 2015
Vivid account of the esprit de corps among war correspondents (reminiscent in some ways of elite mountaineers, in particular their accounts of fatalism or insouciance in the face of death and their threnodies for colleagues death has taken). Facing danger to bear witness, to tell truth to power. That is how they see themselves. They are an elite, their calling Fun, Dangerous, Worthy of our admiration and gratitude. Bowen is very good in this part of his book. He does less well in trying to refute the charge that these correspondents do not, perhaps cannot, avoid the trap of furthering the agenda of at least some of the powers they aspire to tell truth to. Western journalists in particular seem unable to do other than further the agenda of the US and NATO, and appear stubbornly unaware of their role. In practice, they seek to do Good, yet all too often do harm.
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on 8 June 2008
I thought this book was excellent.
I was already interested in the coverage of news before reading it, having grown up with reading newspapers and watching TV news;I'm from a family with a journalistic background myself.
However I think this book would be great for anyone that is interested in the way things really are in this world; the recent history of wars in both the Middle East and in Europe,and in how vitally important it is that we see good news coverage of it.
Jeremy Bowen doesn't try to sanitise anything or pull his punches, and thank goodness for it; you get the human side of the conflicts he has covered.
Without news journalists and photographers prepared to put their lives on the line to cover whats really happening in the world, especially in areas of war and /or oppression (and many have lost their lives doing it),all we'd have would be hearsay and political spin.
I found this book to be a riveting read.
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on 3 April 2007
Like the previous reviewer I throughly enjoyed this read and he has described its contents perfectly. I have always liked Mr Bowens reporting especially from the Middle East and this book gives a great insight into how he started and rose to the top of his career. Very easy too read, it is a great insight into the process and progress of news reporting and a great insight into recent global conflicts with a birds eye view. Highly Recommended.
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on 4 August 2015
Most interesting, written by a professional with first hand experience at the sharp end.

The recently awarded DhD h.c. by a highly respected university was well deserved by this reporter. Congratulations
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on 17 June 2013
Excellent book very desritpive not only of war zones but his reaction and need for the excitiment of being under fire in the front line. Should be compulsory reading in schools.
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on 15 August 2010
The further I got into this book the more annoying it (and Bowen) became. Yes this book is a catharsis, and yes, a war correspondent is as susceptible to post traumatic stress as a combatant, and of course, a journalist has the words and resources to alleviate the complex mix of guilt and horror. The problem I had and have is the "knowingness". Bowen frequently makes reference to the journalist's dilemma of objective reporting versus humanity and compassion, but whenever he is honest enough to state that yes, perhaps a war correspondent is guilty of feeding an inner need as well as doing a job, before we the reader can digest the argument Bowen inevitably jumps in to let us know that actually it isn't his fault and no he didn't "actually" kill anyone, and this happens more than once. It is clear that danger is like a drug but Bowen doesn't acknowledges that there is a difference between his job and the poor infantryman (or civilian) who has no choice but to be there. Bowen feels guilt at having put his Lebanese friend into the place where he was then killed by Israeli tankfire but before we the reader can sympathise and perhaps excuse or forgve, Bowen himself jumps in to remind us "of course I didn't actually fire the gun.....(and so actually I am not guilty at all) etc etc").
Ultimately this becomes distasteful. Bowen did not go to several wars for the sake of humanity - he went because he became addicted to the thrill and excitement (yes and danger) of it. Readers can be glad that we have better news reporting because of journalists like Jeremy Bowen, but he was there because he loves it and could not stay away. In the end I found myself wanting him to shut up reminding me about how guilty he feels and I started wondering about the poor cameraman whose job is often more dangerous still, or the local driver who has to feed his family with the BBC's dollars and I wanted to remind him that the compulsion that drove him to go back time and again is his and his alone. Yes he is a brave man, braver than me, but my final reaction from this book is that while this may be a good insight into war reporting, Bowen needs to can the self pity and man up a bit.
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on 20 December 2010
The further I got into this book the more I realised how deeply and personally affected Jeremy Bowen was by the stories he was reporting. Unlike John Simpson, who invariably skips over civilian suffering in the countries he visits (concentrating mostly on the background politics, the action at hand, the BBC, or the shortage of fine wines in whichever hotel we have paid for him to stay in!), Bowen tells us about the people. About how they cope, how their lives have been changed by conflict and, even more surprisingly, how it makes Bowen feel.

That was an eye-opener for me after reading other war correspondents' books and wondering if they were all really as cold as they seemed to be on paper.

Bowen is a man wracked by a form of guilt at being a reporter observing the torment of others, but he is also, still, determined that reporters should try their damnedest (is that a word?) to get as much information as possible back to the British public, despite being censored and shadowed by foreign "minders", and despite what the BBC's editors think we *ought* to be seeing.

Interesting also to read of the pressure that was put on the BBC by the US and UK governments after Bowen insisted on reporting the true facts of a bunker of Iraqi civilians who were bombed and killed by the US. Scary to think it probably happens a lot, but glad to hear that the BBC stood their ground and supported Bowen at the time.

Highly recommended.
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