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The Secret Life of War: Journeys Through Modern Conflict Hardcover – 7 May 2009
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'astonishing, not least for its careful detail and his self-searching honesty. A superb piece of work' -- Esquire
'never less than compelling and at times brilliant... Beaumont's diligent style of journalism is in short supply these days'
The reporter and the photojournalist witness up close what no one else should see. Only those who have been there can comprehend.
The Secret Life of War is an awesome read, the best enquiry into killing and suffering I've encountered. A plea for resolution, a document of brutal honesty, the bare truth: in it beats the pulse of being there in the throes of modern conflict -- Tim Page
`Beaumont is fluid and elegant in his description of war and its symptoms' -- Evening Standard
`Beaumont writes beautifully and calmly, even when describing the fiercest and most emotive moments of war.' -- Observer
`Beaumont's book is on a different plane to the others [war literature by journalists] and will outlast many of them'
-- The Sunday Times
`Beaumont...reveal[s] his own psychological damage as he sets about dismantling the myths of war...laying out their...human cost'.
`Modern war is...about complexity and uncertainty, and in his accounts of his journeys through conflict, Beaumont certainly evokes this' -- Literary Review
`an intelligent, deeply perceptive work... Beaumont has slipped beneath the skin of contemporary warfare to examine what lies beneath' -- Times
'astonishing, not least for its careful detail and his self-searching honesty. A superb piece of work'See all Product description
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Peter Beaumont, the Observers foreign affairs editor, has produced a deeply emotional and unusual chronicle of his travels through the wars of the modern era. Unlike many journalistic accounts of the Iraq, Afghan and Israel-Palestine conflicts, Beaumont is less concerned with providing a narrative of what happened but rather attempts to personalize and inject emotional understanding as to the true nature of conflict itself.
The detachment felt between the citizens of the West and the wars that are fought in their name relies upon war reporters to provide a bridge of understanding. Beaumont realizes that this is a growing disconnect and that `we talk too often about war as an alien sphere, divorced from ordinary life'. In order for those in the safe and comfortable surroundings of peacetime to understand the enormity of war, Beaumont attempts to provide the missing texture of `how conflict smells feels and tastes'. To do so the author opens up his personal responses to what he experiences and becomes an honest filter of the `alien' events themselves.
Beaumont goes back to his younger self's experience with heroin as a means of committing himself to a far more subjective narrative than the accounts of many of his fellow reporters. As well as elegant descriptions of the horrors of war; the suicide bomber's victims shoe, the smell of a gunfight, Beaumont adopts a more detailed examination of the science of conflict. Speaking to military psychologists and making mathematical connections between people and the acts of war. Yet the reality of conflict always appears to trump the cold theory that underpins it; the author admits that he is not a neutral actor in the violence that surrounds him and is even driven by an `unhealthy fascination'. Examining a history of permissive killing is put into context by an interview with a US solider in Iraq who admits that he is `so far out of my bubble'.
Steadily the story shows how corrupting conflict can be for those who commit themselves to describe and report it. The book goes further and deeper into understanding violence than newspapers can ever go. Beaumont admits that he has been unable to write what he wants as `it is still regarded as bad form to describe the reality of the everyday horror of conflict'.
The censoring of war's reality is the secret that Beaumont attempts to disclose. It sometimes feels as if this is his last attempt to do so, as he moves from conflict to conflict explaining the routine of survival and how his life has become `parcelled out' into `passages of being afraid'. As Iraq descends into an uncontrollable and terrifying chaos, Beaumont starts keeping weapons in his bedroom. He later realizes that he has crossed into a new phase of understanding his role within events. His time covering wars was `grinding slowly to an end', he had become `compromised by fear... corrupted by what conflict means'. His observer status had been comprehensively challenged and he admitted that he'd `lost the ability to document the hurt of war honestly'.
`The Secret Life of War' is not simply a visceral narration of the nature of modern war, it is a deeply personal and moving account of the human sacrifice that is volunteered by those who choose to cover such conflicts. Underpinning the entire work is a sense of dark melancholy, as if the author has accepted the reality that to some degree he is far too deep to ever turn back. Beaumont's recent return to Gaza is perhaps proof that his unearthing of the secrets of war shows no sign of coming to an end.
This book should be a read for those wishing deeper insights into any urban problem areas, rough neighborhood issues and teenage violence and crime.
The wars described erase barriers, control mechanisms and civil opportunities. That is specific to wars. But what happens after the barriers are dow, regardless if the reason is war, hopeless poverty or any other reason, is something that has to to with what happens in the human mind. And these effects are, as Beaumont hints at, are universal.
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