Nov 23, 09
Read in November, 2009
I'm still recovering from reading the scene of Tillman's death, which moved me to tears. I didn't know much about Tillman before this book, but I was interested in it because I love Krakauer's writing, I'm interested in the history of the US and Afghanistan, and I wanted to learn more about Tillman beyond the shallow coverage in the media.
Krakauer's political views are hardly disguised in the book, but he is such a thorough researcher that his indictments of the Bush administration/Army's cover up of Tillman's death are hard to argue with. He uses testimony from the investigations, interviews with soliders who were there at Tillman's death, previously sealed documents on the incident, Tillman's journals, and a complex portrait of the Army chain of command procedures that contributed greatly to Tillman's death. Yes, there is a political purpose to this book, but the facts Krakauer has uncovered are rock solid.
The book is a blend of biography, history, and political commentary that works seamlessly to create a shattering story. It made me feel ill to read about the callousness with which Tillman's family was treated following his death--the lies about how he died were sanctioned at the highest levels of military command and White House leadership. The most sickening moment that stood out to me was that a good friend of Tillman's, a Navy SEAL, unknowingly delivers an entirely fabricated story of the way Tillman died while he gives a eulogy at Tillman's memorial service.
I don't have many complaints about the book--the only thing that bothered me somewhat was the uber positive slant on Tillman's character. I don't doubt that he was a brave man who gave up a very comfortable life out of a sense of duty, and that he was a caring and thoughtful family member and friend. These qualities are evident in his journal entries and interviews with Tillman's family, friends, and NFL and army comrades. But he certainly had a darker side, as evidenced by his assault on a fellow high school student and his reckless behavior (which he considered a way to challenge his limits) such as leaping from cliffs to catch onto trees or cliff diving into dangerous waters. These aspects are given cursory coverage, but I think Tillman would have wanted the full story of himself told. He seemed to recognize his own demons and not shy away from discussing them, so I wish Krakauer had done so a bit more thoroughly.