10 years of the Iraq War: 10 great books

March 19, 2013

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Like all wars, this one has produced a library of great books. If not solace, they offer at least a measure of wisdom for those of us who have the responsibility of remembering and understanding what happened.

Here’s 10 of the best in fiction and nonfiction, several by current or former writers for The Washington Post. The descriptions come from our previously published reviews:

The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, by George Packer (2005). How could the strongest power in modern history, going to war against a much lesser opponent at a time and place of its own choosing, find itself stuck a few years later, hemorrhaging blood and treasure amid increasing chaos? Americans will be debating the answer for decades, and as they do, they are unlikely to find a better guide than this book.

Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War, by Anthony Shadid (2005). The late Anthony Shadid gave us — perhaps for the first time — a clear understanding of how the Iraqi people reacted to the American invasion and occupation of their country.

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer, by Nathaniel Fick (2005). A former Marine Corps Capt. provides a running account of unintended consequences, of shots fired and regretted.

Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas Ricks (2006). With devastating detail, Ricks documents how U.S. generals misunderstood the problems they faced in Iraq and shows how poorly prepared the Army was for the unanticipated danger of a postwar Sunni rebellion.

Imperial Life In The Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (2006). This extraordinary book is full of jaw-dropping tales of the ways Paul Bremer and his Coalition Provisional Authority poured fuel into the lethal cauldron that is Iraq.

The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family, by Martha Raddatz (2007). This tale of an ambushed American platoon might well be the “Black Hawk Down” of the Iraq War.

The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins (2008). Filkins’s singular skill in this book rests in showing how war shatters lives and how some people manage to survive amid fear, violence, intrigue and chaos.

The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel (2009). Finkel follows the 15 months’ deployment of the Second Battalion, Sixteenth Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army. The deaths are tragic, but the injuries are most harrowing.

Billy Lynn
Ben Fountain’s debut novel won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.

The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers (2012). In this poetic novel written after the author served as an Army machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afarin, Powers moves gracefully between spare, factual descriptions of the soldiers’ work to simple, hard-won reflections on the meaning of war.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain (2012). In this razor-sharp, darkly comic novel — a worthy neighbor to “Catch-22” on the bookshelf of war fiction — the focus has shifted from bureaucracy to publicity, reflecting corresponding shifts in our culture.

Ten is an arbitrary number, of course. Please leave additional suggestions below in the comments section.

On Twitter @RonCharles

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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