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What It Is Like to Go to War
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What It Is Like to Go to War

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  2,498 ratings  ·  508 reviews

Karl Marlantes' 2010 debut Matterhorn was a Discover Great New Writers selection and a Barnes & Noble fiction bestseller. Now this former Marine Corps officer and Rhodes Scholar follows up that Vietnam war novel with an awe-striking nonfiction book about the experience of combat and its often traumatic aftermath. Drawing deeply on his own combat experiences, he describ

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ebook, 272 pages
Published August 30th 2011 by Atlantic Monthly Press
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Mike
Nov 27, 2011 Mike rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in military history and psychology
Recommended to Mike by: Jake Reiss, Owner, The Alabama Booksmith
I am of the age where I could very well have been a veteran of the Vietnam War. Or, I could have died there. But I was spared that, first by student deferments and then the timeliness of the Paris Peace Talks. However, I know and have known many men who fought there. On the surface, they seem fine. Their silence about their experiences is uniform. Yet, I know one man who cannot stand to be touched. He has an exaggerated startle response at the slightest contact. And a good lady friend had a leng ...more
K. Elizabeth
This wasn't an easy read. But then, nothing about war is easy, much less the psychological and spiritual effects of war on our combat vets. This was as thought provoking, challenging, and emotionally draining as any solid book about war should be.

A few caveats to add context to my review of the book:

1) I won this book through Good Reads.
2) I am a civilian.
3) I am a US citizen.
4) I am an opponent of the vast majority of wars that we have participated in.
5) I am a counselor; the counseling p
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Larry Bassett
After the warrior returns home from the initiation of combat, he becomes a member of “The Club” of combat veterans. It has always been a club with its own secrets and its own and societally-imposed rules of silence. Traditionally, it has been a club tied in with the mystery of gender because being a warrior was tied in with manhood. This ancient mystery combined with the silence forms an intriguing and powerful combination for attracting future members, particularly boys. You don’t join this cl
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Susan
The author of the popular Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War has turned his talents to writing a nonfiction book about his experiences in Vietnam, how present-day warriors are not trained to emotionally and spiritually deal with the jobs they physically must do, what we've done wrong, what we need to do better. He looks at the history of war and warriors in ancient cultures and mythology, and how the wars we fight are changing every day. He has advice for warriors, those who are serving now, ...more
Tim
So, if a lifelong pacifist liberal says a book about how to train our soldiers is a "must read," it must be full of peacenik bullshit aimed at undermining the military, right? Believe me, though, when I say that's not the case with Karl Marlantes' What It Is Like to Go to War . Marlantes brings experience and knowledge to bear on something about which I know little to nothing. Yet I find the book so profound that I do call it a "must read," an appellation that rarely passes my lips.

The list of
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Kathryn
"Matterhorn" was certainly a notable book, so I had to enter the giveaway for this one! Marlantes as usual did not disappoint, and the subject matter of his book is one that everyone should be deeply concerned about, especially with the high suicide rate for out returning soldiers.

Marlantes provides a riveting account of what it is like to be sent to war and points out how ill-prepared our young men are. Previous generations spent years preparing warriors. Modern Americans should and could do mo
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Ryan
I read Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried in July and decided to chase it with Karl Marlantes' What It Is Like To Go To War.

Marlantes can write descriptively and honestly. I particularly recall one scene during boot camp when he swatted a mosquito. His drill sergeant took him to a slough and had him stand naked in a swarm of mosquitoes. I also enjoyed his description of how becoming a marine changes how he thought about danger and his abilities. These scenes were descriptive and I found them
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Terri
Probably go so far as to say there was some over intellectualising going on here, but that aside, this book gave me many a valuable moment as it unlocks much of Matterhorn. The Marlantes fiction/memoir.
Marlantes reveals in this non fiction book what you no doubt already suspected, that much of his fiction was based on truth and at times, danced very close to being an exact blow by blow of events.

Many who know me on Goodreads, know that I lay my heart on the table in my review of Karl Marlantes
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Doug
Karl Marlantes and I share a good bit in common as regards the subject matter of this book. We both entered the service as Privates in 1964 ( he a Marine, me the Army), we both were commissioned as Lieutenants through OCS, and we were both rifle platoon leaders and interim company commanders in Vietnam in 1966. I am somewhat conflicted in commenting on this book. I read it principally because I read Matterhorn and and felt that it was the only Vietnam novel that I have encountered that was worth ...more
Jessica Buike
What It is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes was a book that I won through Goodreads, and I was looking forward to reading it. My husband is an Army vet who spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on the Korea DMZ. I thought that perhaps the book would touch on war experiences of multiple soldiers and provide insight on how the war affects soldiers.

However, I found that I just couldn't get through this book. It read very slow with lofty psychological language (and I even have my BA in P
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Lauraadriana
This book gave me an entirely different perspective about war and what the men and women who fight them really experience.

I have deep respect and empathy for the young men and women from all over the world who make incredible sacrifices sometimes sacrificing their own lives to fight wars, our wars.

Karl Marlantes a Vietam War veteran, a Marine very eloquently and with amazing depth explores just how little preparation young warriors receive in terms of how their minds and their spirits will heal
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Jaclyn Day
Vietnam veteran Karl Marlantes wrote this haunting nonfiction book about the realities and after effects of combat, in the context of both historical conflict and modern-day war.

I had put this on my to-read list after reading a review of the book that earmarked it as one of the best insights into the modern-day warrior mind that the reviewer had ever read. Although I can’t say I’ve read every book in this genre in order to make that comparison myself, I can say that this book—and Marlantes’ pers
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Ben Kane
I'm a sucker for books about war, or the effect that war has on people. Until I saw this book, I had never heard of Karl Marlantes. I mentioned this on Twitter soon after starting it, and was deluged with people recommending that I read his book, Matterhorn - called by many 'the best novel written about Vietnam'. Reel back to when I picked up What It Is Like To Go To War. I was hooked within a page. Good enough reason to buy, so I bought it, and read it all in about 24 hours.

This is a great piec
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Timothy Bazzett
As one of tens of thousands of readers who read and marveled at Karl Marlantes' best-selling novel of the Vietnam war, MATTERHORN, and wondered either privately or publicly how he managed to write such a viscerally real, honest and gut-wrenching fictional account of that war, here is our answer. Or at least Marlantes' attempt to answer that question. Because this "follow-up" book, WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR, reads like a cross between a psychological and sociological inquiry into the hell that ...more
Jackie
I've met Karl Marlantes a couple of times now, and each time I've been deeply impressed with his intense intelligence, his ability to tell a story, and his bravery to talk so very honestly about war, what he did in it, what he got out of it, and what he wishes were different, then and now. This book is very much like having a long conversation (albeit with footnotes) with the man himself. He opens up about everything which requires a depth of bravery that far surpasses that of a traditional warr ...more
Michael Beggs
Quite possibly the best book written about the subject, at least the best I've ever read. I admit that as a contemporary of Marlantes, I had more than a passing interest in the subject, as a combat veteran Marine Corps officer myself. If I ever wanted to take the easy way out to try to explain my post-war self to my children, I'd simply hand them this book.

Marlantes gives not only a "this is the way it is" narrative, but also a rather in depth philosophical look at the way American boys are (or
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Sarah
This was an interesting companion to Matterhorn, Marlantes' novel about Vietnam. Here Marlantes further examines the preparation and repercussions of serving in combat. Pulling from his own experiences and historical references Marlantes offers suggestions for the military to better prepare soldiers - before and after. I found Matterhorn to also be well written but had more of an emotional punch. I would recommend this to contemporary memoir readers and those interested in combat and impacts of ...more
Dan
If this doesn't describe what it's like to go to war I am pretty sure nothing will. Not only is it a dark rumination, a book of atonement, it is also a book of ideas of how we can help our military deal with the psychological toll that war takes on our nation's youth. I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into Matterhorn, but first I'm going to need a short break from these themes.
Chris
What an amazing book! It's part memoir, confession, ethics workshop, psychology, mythology tutorial, and war story. While Dave Grossman's much touted On Killing gets into the psychology of killing, Marlantes' book delves into the soul of the matter. It's heartfelt, raw, prescriptive, and wise. It doesn't have the "I told you so" admonition nor does it have the "I'm old and wise now, so listen up" aura about it. But it's compelling reading. Marlantes sounds like a real jerk as a young man: seeker ...more
Carole
I received What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes as a Good Reads First-Reads Giveaway

I was so pleased when I heard I had won this book. It took me a few days to read but that was because I needed time to let each bit I had read sink in. Some parts were harder than others but only because my heart ached for the soldiers. In my life I have heard stories from teachers, family and friends who honorably served in different branches of the military, however nothing compares to the sheer hones
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Roxanne
I was a Goodreads First Reads winner of this book and I was fortunate to have this book land in my possession.

First, I appreciate that the author is writing about something he knows first hand about. (I get upset when people write or talk about something they have never experienced.) I felt Marlantes' experience was explained appropriately and held my attention without being over the top in bloody details.

Second, I want to thank all veterans who have served our country in the past and pre-thank
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Philip Virta
I appreciate Mr. Marlantes' book and how it puts the human experience of war in context. Everyone should have to read this book and get a better understanding of what we ask our soldiers to do, to commit to. Perhaps then there would be a bit more compassion and support for soldiers at home, in the field, and those just returning. For someone who has, thankfully and especially thanks to soldiers like Mr. Marlantes, never had to go to war, I appreciate the perspective he provides. His book offers ...more
Joe
I was a huge fan of Marlantes' MATTERHORN, which is one of the Great War Novels, up there with NAKED AND THE DEAD, THE THINGS THEY CARRIED (which is, I know, a collection of stories), CATCH 22 and SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE. I admired this work of non-fiction from Marlantes and found a lot of interesting and often powerful insights into what it means to be a soldier. Most of the book is an outstanding meditation on not just war but what it's like to be a human being. The aspect of it that kept it from ...more
Jessica
This book was tough to read, but phenomenal. I myself am a civilian, but I grew up in a military family (my father was in the Air Force) and I currently work with veterans as part of a legal clinic at my law school that represents veterans in attempting to get benefits, discharge upgrades, etc. My main client through the clinic is a Vietnam War veteran who has suffered from severe PTSD since his time in combat, and I've been on a mission to read everything I can about Vietnam, war, the military, ...more
Eduardo Santiago
Apr 05, 2015 Eduardo Santiago rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone. Seriously.
Shelves: required-reading
We in the US have so many taboos. Combined with uninformed strong opinions, we think we’re talking about sex or drugs or freedom but we’re not: we’re just spouting garbage. Karl Marlantes wants to do away with ignorance about war. He does so with the perspective of a Vietnam combat veteran who, over much time and pain, with much introspection and luck, has emerged a sensei. He teaches us the personal and social costs of war, deeply and more viscerally than I ever imagined possible. And honestly! ...more
Nathaniel
Karl Marlantes' "What It is Like to Go to War" hit me so hard within just the few minutes of listening, that I immediately wondered why I hadn't heard of this book before. As it turns out, I had. Sort of. The year before "What It is Like to Go to War" was published (2011), Marlantes' published the award-winning, much-reviewed, best-selling novel Matterhorn, which I had heard something about. (You can read an NYT review of that book here.)

Many of the events depicted in "Matterhorn" are identical
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Leah
What It is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes is, at the very least, an admirable undertaking worthy of consideration: it is a slim volume with the nigh impossible mission of exploring the warrior experience, particularly in relationship to modern American conflict. Marlantes weaves his personal wartime experiences with the over-arching ethical themes present in contemporary battle: while he saw combat during the Vietnam war, he also addresses universal elements of war in a broader philosophica ...more
Alex Ristea
Fantastic idea, poor execution.

Karl Marlantes has the experience of a combat veteran, but simply doesn't have the writing chops to pull off a good book. Honestly, I learned infinitely more about war and its effects on people by reading Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes.

Also, the book was littered with too much religious and spiritual mumbo jumbo that detracted heavily from the rest of the prose.
Readnponder
Last summer I read the novel "Matterhorn" and it made a deep impression on me. So did this second book by Karl Marlantes. It is non-fiction and half the length of "Matterhorn." The first sobering moment was the realization that much of "Matterhorn" was true. No longer could I comfort myself by saying "it's just a story." As Marlantes writes about his real-life experiences, the reader will recognize scenes from "Matterhorn." For example, the Canadian soldier "Vancouver" was a real person. When th ...more
Agnes Mack
When I was notified that I'd be receiving What It is Like to Go to War through the Goodreads First Reads program, I really wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. A book about combat? Well now, that certainly doesn't sound appealing. Luckily, Mr. Marlantes quickly put my concerns to rest.

My main fear was that this book would glorify war and combat but, though it does discuss some very ugly truths, I didn't feel that it was glorifying anything. Yes, the author saw plenty of combat in Viet
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A graduate of Yale University and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Karl Marlantes served as a Marine in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals. He is the author of Matterhorn, which won the William E. Colby Award given by the Pritzker Military Library, the Center For Fiction's Flaherty-Dunna ...more
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Matterhorn

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“We all have shit on our shoes. We've just got to realize it so we don't track it into the house.” 11 likes
“We mistakenly assume that bodily survival has a higher precedence than ego survival. This is simply not generally true. Ego will happily destroy the body for its own sake. Look at overweight executives headed for heart attacks on the way to getting their pictures in Fortune or anorexic models suffering slow starvation on their way to getting their pictures in Vogue. Protecting ego is the general case.” 9 likes
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