Despite being a pacifist who doesn't really get why anyone would want to be a soldier, I am interested in war and books about war. I have read some great books on the subject (some that come to mind include `Despatches' by Michael Kerr, `Stalingrad' by Antony Beevor, even `Bravo Two Zero' is a rip-roaring read that gave me some helpful insights). I am sorry to report that - despite the gushing praise all over the cover of this book - that, in comparison this book is pretty dull.
In essence, a man - whose grandfathers were, on one side of the family a pacifist, and on the other a soldier - decides to join the army as a graduate trainee officer. After a very predictable description of his training that I've seen, and read about, many times before, he is finally rewarded with the chance to engage in some real fighting in Afghanistan. The book does pick up a bit at this point, but it is still pretty turgid. I was particularly frustrated by the army jargon that peppers every page (although there is a glossary for those that can be bothered).
Sadly, if very predictably, colleagues get injured and killed, although, despite this, the author repeatedly comes back to his love of skirmishes, action, fighting, call it what you will, and how this is what he loves about being a soldier. This seemed to be the heart of the book. Yet I came away not really sure what it was that appealed to such an apparently intelligent person. Is he just an adrenaline junkie who needs a regular fix of danger? He acknowledges the effect of his being a soldier on his family but doesn't go on to explore this. This is my main complaint - the lack of reflection on what he has experienced.
The book offered me some insights. For example, how the modern British soldier creates films of their war exploits and, after editing the footage, adds a suitable rock or rap soundtrack. The author acknowledges how current British soldiers are now part of the MTV generation. I was also interested in the way the anti-Taliban soldiers influenced their British allies through their more laissez-faire approach.
Ultimately though, this book is less a "War Is Hell" tome, and more "War Is Fun" that frequently bored me and offered me very few new insights. The book is partly redeemed by some of the sections on Afghanistan but I thought, overall, it was a missed opportunity.