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Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War

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"Destined to become a classic of war reporting, this is a brilliant account of the longest sustained firefight involving American troops since the Vietnam War. On October 3, 1993, about a hundred U.S. soldiers were dropped by helicopter into a teeming market in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia, to abduct two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord. The action was supposed to take an hour. Instead, they spent a long and terrible night fighting thousands of armed Somalis. By morning, eighteen Americans were dead, and more than seventy badly injured. Mark Bowden's gripping narrative is one of the most exciting accounts of modern war ever written--a riveting story that captures the heroism, courage and brutality of battle."

486 pages, Paperback

First published February 10, 1999

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About the author

Mark Bowden

73 books1,350 followers
Mark Robert Bowden (born July 17, 1951) is an American writer who is currently a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, and a 1973 graduate of Loyola College in Maryland, Bowden was a staff writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer from 1979-2003, and has won numerous awards. He has written for Men's Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, Sports Illustrated, and Rolling Stone over the years, and as a result of his book, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, Bowden's received international recognition. The book has been made into a 2001 movie, and was directed by Ridley Scott. He currently lives in Oxford, Pennsylvania.

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Profile Image for Matt.
899 reviews28k followers
January 28, 2023
“[T]here was an explosion overhead. [Specialist John] Waddell looked up to see a Black Hawk twisting oddly as it flew.

‘Hey, that bird’s going down!’ shouted one of the men across the street.

[Specialist Shawn] Nelson screamed, ‘A bird’s been hit! A bird’s been hit!’

Nelson had seen the whole thing. He had seen the flash of the RPG launcher and had followed the smoke trail of the grenade as it rose up at the tail of Black Hawk Super Six One, which was directly overhead.

They all heard the thunderclap. The tail boom of the bird cracked in the flash and its rotor stopped spinning with a horrible grinding sound, followed by a coughing chug-chug-chug. The chopper kept moving forward but shuddered and started to spin. First slowly, then picking up speed…”

- Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War


“The Minstrel-Boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death you’ll find him;
His father’s sword he has girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him.
‘Land of song!’ said the warrior-bard,
‘Tho all the world betrays thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!”

- Thomas Moore, The Minstrel Boy

Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down is the best book about war I have ever read. It attempts, with great success, to get as close to the experience of battle that is possible with the mere written word. To acknowledge that this is still light-years away from the actuality of a real firefight is not to slight Bowden in the least. He has mined the psyches of dozens of participants to create a chaotic mosaic of sounds, smells, and images, and to trace the reactions of men – many extremely young – pushed to the limits. No other book, nonfiction or novel, has ever captured combat quite this way.

Black Hawk Down tells the story of the Battle of Mogadishu (Bowden refers to it as the Battle of the Black Sea), fought on October 3-4, 1993. The battle began as a snatch-and-grab mission, meant to capture two top lieutenants of the Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid, who was disrupting United Nations efforts to end a famine caused by Somalia’s civil war. The plan called for Special Forces operators from the top-secret, elite-of-elite Delta Force, with U.S. Rangers providing security, to drop into Aidid’s neighborhood in broad daylight, quickly detain their targets, and get out. Speed was essential, for the raid would be taking place near the Bakara Market, a gathering place of Aidid’s Habr Gidr clan.

The mission – of course – was supposed to take one hour.

Things went wrong from the start. A Ranger missed his fast-rope and fell from his helicopter, suffering severe injuries. The soldiers started taking fire from a heavily-armed populace. Then a Black Hawk helicopter was downed by a rocket propelled grenade. Hewing to the ethos that no man would be left behind, a combat search and rescue team dropped onto the crash site. Rangers and Delta also made their way to the downed helicopter, drawn like a magnet. In the warren-like streets of Mogadishu, receiving directions that arrived woefully short of real-time, men became disoriented, lost. A convoy of Humvees, rapidly filling with wounded, drove around in circles, unable to find the Black Hawk.

With things spiraling, a second helicopter went down. No troops were available to help, so two Delta snipers volunteered to form a perimeter by themselves. Later, their families received the Medals of Honor they had earned. Night fell on approximately 100 American soldiers, trapped in a hostile city, surrounded by thousands of AK-47 wielding foes.

Later, bodies would be dragged through streets, and the president would withdraw the troops, and the Somalis would celebrate “the Day of the Ranger.” Where everyone saw defeat, indignity, and shame, however, Mark Bowden saw an epic clash of arms.

***

Books of this type often frontload a lot of information. There is a chapter or two setting the geopolitical context, and perhaps another chapter introducing us to all the men we will be following in battle.

Bowden does not do this. The first page, the first line – “At liftoff, Matt Eversman said a Hail Mary” – puts us in a chopper seat along with the assault force, roaring like Valkyries towards the Olympic Hotel. Only later, in scenes that cut away from the intense action, does Bowden explain how the Rangers and Delta got to this place. Only later, does he give the backstories of the men. It is a remarkably effective structure. At the cost of a little initial confusion, Bowden is able to modulate tempo and rhythm, and give the reader what the soldiers involved were denied: a break in the nonstop fighting.

The battle scenes contained in Black Hawk Down equal anything you can read, anywhere else. The novelistic detail is testament to Bowden’s probing research, which consisted mainly of in-depth interviews with the participants.

[Sergeant First Class Paul] Howe popped an earplug and listened…The voices were speaking Somali. They must have been half deaf like everybody else from all the explosions, and didn’t realize how loud they were talking…As three Somalis rounded the corner, one of the D-boys from across the street shone a white light on the first in line. His eyes looked wide as a racoon’s startled in a garbage can. With his rifle resting on a doorjamb, Howe placed his tritium sight post on the second man and began shooting on full automatic, sweeping his fire in a smooth motion over the third man. All three Somalis went down hard. Two of the men struggled to their feet and dragged the third man up and around the corner. Howe and the other operators let them go. They didn’t want to expose their firing positions with more muzzle flashes. Howe was disgusted again with this 5.56 ammo. When he put people down he wanted them to stay down…


This isn’t warfare as depicted in a typical history book, viewed from thirty-thousand feet, the blood and noise and violence muted, replaced with cold statistics and tactical conclusions. This is warfare filtered through the eyes of warriors.

***

I have a good friend from high school who went to Notre Dame. I still have the email from him when he told me he was joining ROTC. This was in August 1999. By the time he graduated, the world – especially for those wearing a uniform – had changed. He went to flight school, SERE training, and off to Iraq, where he flew combat missions in an attack helicopter. When his eight years ended, he rejoined civilian life, the same person – as far as I could tell – he’d always been.

Some years ago, we hiked the Three Sisters in the Cascades along with some other guys. He hung back with me as I dawdled in the rear. I started telling him about a book, Karl Marlantes’s What It Is Like To Go To War. He just laughed at the title. You can’t answer that question, he said. Then he walked up the trail without another word.

One of the difficulties of conveying combat stems from the endlessly unique perceptions of those who experience it. Bowden recognizes this, and gives us a number of different voices. There are men who are scared, and find it hard to function; there are men who, in the thick of the fighting, kill noncombatants; there are men who feel guilty; there are men who are cool and professional, dropping their enemies with brisk, emotionless efficiency; there are men like Specialist Nelson, who describe a kind of super-awareness, an intense experience of existing only in this single moment, a state he likened to being “inside the tube of a big wave” while surfing.

***

In 1943, a Life photojournalist named George Strock took a picture of three dead Americans on the beach of Buna-Gona. No faces are visible; no blood. The most striking image is of a man partially submerged in sand. It became the first photo of deceased Americans released to the public during the war. The power of such pictures cannot be understated when you are dealing with a democracy at war.

In 1993, the world watched as cable news endlessly replayed the bodies of Americans being hauled through the streets by jubilant Somalis. Soon thereafter, the White House ended the mission. It was an act of looking away.

I thought of the dead at Buna-Gona as I read Black Hawk Down. Bowden is unflinching in his depictions of the violence, the wounds, the death all around. He graphically recounts the final moments of men such as Jamie Smith, whose suffered a nicked artery which retreated up into his pelvis. Despite the desperate efforts of a Delta medic, Smith slowly bled to death. The understandable tendency is to avert your eyes, to give privacy to the dying. Bowden – who met with Smith’s father – does not blink.

***

You cannot separate war and politics. That is especially true when – as here – there is not massive popular support for the military action in question. For long stretches of Black Hawk Down, the narrative is stripped to its essentials, barely acknowledging, much less answering, questions such as Why are we here? and What are we doing?

Ultimately, in the epilogue, Bowden gets around to these thorny issues. Based on the quality of what comes before, I shouldn’t have been surprised that he brings a deft touch to the controversial decisions to insert Task Force Ranger in the first place, and later to pull them out. Bowden allows his subjects to have their say, which often involves them teeing off on the Clinton administration. He gives voice to Jamie Smith’s father, whose white-hot anger brings to mind that of Cindy Sheehan who, a decade after Smith’s death, would turn the loss of her son in Sadr City into a sustained antiwar movement.

Bowden also intervenes, however, to ensure that facts don’t get lost in emotion. He discusses, in a methodical manner, the process of the decision-making, not simply whether the decisions were right in hindsight. In doing so, he operates from the premise – lacking today – that Americans, regardless of their political party, typically don’t act with the intent of getting their fellow Americans killed in foreign cities.

***

Black Hawk Down defies easy labels. It is definitely not an antiwar book. There is too much virtue on display: sacrifice; loyalty; heroism. More than that, Bowden does not neglect the kinetic allure of warfare. It is hard not to be thrilled by the hyper-competence of the Delta operators, masters of a lethal form of art.

With that said, Black Hawk Down is definitely not a prowar book, either. It is too realistic, too honest in its depiction of consequences. You can’t read about the agonizing deaths, the blood and viscera and brain matter, and then turn around and say: Gee, war seems great.

Black Hawk Down does not take a moral stance on war; it tries to distill it.

It also has a lot in common with the epitaphs of Simonides of Ceos.

It has been twenty-one years since Black Hawk Down was first published. Nonetheless, it is difficult to think of a better book, before or since, on the near-incommunicable fact of battle. In the afterword, Bowden speaks movingly of his intent to honor the men he met, and the families of those men who died. He thought, at the time, that the Battle of Mogadishu might be forgotten, an epic to rival Thermopylae lost in the wake of a nose-punched country rushing to forget the incident ever occurred.

That has not happened. Now, it will never happen. Bowden has assured their place in the annals of men at arms.

Achilles had Homer to sing his song.

Task Force Ranger had Mark Bowden and Black Hawk Down.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,284 reviews119k followers
April 13, 2017
The book describes, from the ground up, a US attack on the part of Mogadishu controlled by Somali military commander Mohamed Aidid, after Aidid had attacked a UN peacekeeping force. They had intended to grab some of his lieutenants (it is unclear to me if they intended to grab Aidid) himself, an attempt to de-fang a local warlord who had been a thorn in the side re the attempt to establish a government in Somalia.

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Image from BBC

There was a lack of appreciation for the theater conditions and many men were injured or killed. The descriptions match in print what the film Private Ryan showed on-screen re the bloodiness and horror of actual combat. Scattered throughout the book are tidbits that add up to form a vivid image. Bowden describes not only the perspective of the American combatants, but of some of the Somali participants as well. He informs us that the Italians were providing information to the locals re the American movements He also lets us know something of the complexity of the problem in Somalia, not a simple situation in which a freedom loving people is being subjugated by an evil warlord, but one in which there are many warring factions, each as nasty as the others. Most people do not want the kind of peace America envisaged. This has obvious lessons for the Balkans, where ethnic hatred has been a participation sport for centuries,and many other areas in which ancient tensions bubble beneath the surface.

The book details how the Americans were unprepared for some of the enemy tactics, like using Rocket-propelled-grenades (RPG's) to attack helicopters, a trick the Afghanistan fighters taught them. The battle descriptions show how the locals try to take advantage of American sensibilities by hiding behind women and children hoping the Yanks would not shoot them. And it also shows how some devout Moslems were offended by the barbarism of their countrymen.

It would have helped to have a map of Somalia, of Mogadishu, particularly a street map to provide some bearings. Versions later than the one I read have maps, so that is not a live concern. It would also have helped to have section headings to help one keep track of the various groups Bowden follows, as his descriptions darted from group to group.

There are lessons here re the politics of "small engagements," that seem to speak volumes to contemporary warfare, and to the physical tactics as well. Things are not so simple

This book made the Times top ten list.

The Ridley Scott-directed film that was made of this book is magnificent.

Published - February 10, 1999

Review posted - April 7, 2017
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,847 reviews16.3k followers
February 25, 2019
Impressive.

Another example of where the film is not even close to how good the book is, this narrative is gripping and very powerful.

I had an Army friend who was there in Mogadishu at the time and said that the book was good journalism whereas the film was ridiculous. From my perspective, the Captain Steele from the book was Colonel Steele, commander of the 101st Airborne Rakkasans between 2004 and 2006, while I was in Iraq. Professional tough guy, former University of Georgia bulldog under Vince Dooley.

This is, of course, a journalistic novel by Mark Bowden about the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. Gritty, intense and yet, I think, objective, Bowden’s prose is vibrant and descriptive. Bowden avoids sensationalism while still capturing the ugliness of an operation gone very wrong and the human costs associated on both sides.

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Profile Image for Persephone's Pomegranate.
26 reviews96 followers
January 17, 2023
wz
And the armada launched, lifting off from the shabby airport by the sea into an embracing blue vista of sky and Indian Ocean. They eased out across a littered strip of white sand and moved low and fast over running breakers that formed faint crests parallel to the shore. In close formation they banked and flew down the coastline southwest. From each bird the booted legs of the eager soldiers dangled from the benches and open doors.

Unrolling toward a hazy desert horizon, Mogadishu in mid-afternoon sun was so bright it was as if the aperture on the world's lens was stuck one click wide. From a distance the ancient port city had an auburn hue, with its streets of ocher sand and its rooftops of Spanish tile and rusted tin.

The only tall structures still standing after years of civil war were the ornate white towers of mosques-Islam being the only thing all Somalis held sacred. There were many scrub trees, the tallest just over the low rooftops, and between them high stone walls with pale traces of yellow and pink and gray, fading remnants of pre-civil war civility. Set there along the coast, framed to the west by desert and the east by gleaming teal ocean, it might have been some sleepy Mediterranean resort.

As the helicopter force swept in over it, gliding back in from the ocean and then banking right and sprinting northeast along the city's western edge, Mogadishu spread beneath them in its awful reality, a catastrophe, the world capital of things-gone-completely-to-hell It was as if the city had been ravaged by some fatal urban disease.


Black Hawk Down, or the time Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jamie Lannister, Lucius Malfoy, Legolas, Bane, Hector of Troy, FBI agent Alexander Mahone, Phil Dunphy, Tig Trager, criminal profiler Will Graham, Ari Gold, Sam Shepard, and Michael Myers' nephew went to war together.

It only took me five rewatches to figure this out.

I love the movie, but the book is even better. This was my third re-read. That's how good it is. I am a pacifist who enjoys reading about military history. I like things that scare me a little.

Reading this book felt like I was in the heat of battle. I could visualize each scene with alarming clarity. The author did an outstanding job with this book.

Black Hawk helicopters were flown by the elite pilots of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, also known as the Night Stalkers. Ground forces included the 75th Ranger Regiment and Delta Force, a.k.a CAG, a.k.a The Unit - USA's top special mission unit. 3rd Battalion, DEVGRU Navy Seals and 10th Mountain Division were also part of the mission.

All in all, this was a shitshow that should never have happened. I felt for both sides involved. Many lives were needlessly lost. That's politics for you.

Two Delta Force operators, Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. (Randy's dad refused to shake Clinton's hand during the ceremony). Michael Durant, the downed Black Hawk pilot, was released after being held captive for eleven days. The battle has left scars on many soldiers, both physical and mental. The city of Mogadishu and its people were in utter disarray.

The Battle of Mogadishu is remembered as a tragedy by some and a triumph by others. It depends on whom you ask. In my opinion, no one won. There were no winners in this tragic mess.

Thrilling, fascinating, and emotional with a touch of humor, Black Hawk Down, or Day of the Rangers as some call it, is a modern masterpiece. It felt like I was watching a Mad Max movie rather than reading a non-fiction book. It's true what they say. Real life is stranger than fiction.

Do the cries of the dead soldiers and civilians still echo through the city walls? War is hell.

Many of the young Americans who fought in the Battle of Mogadishu are civilians again. They are beginning families and careers, no different outwardly from the millions of other twenty-something members of their generation. They are creatures of pop culture who grew up singing along with Sesame Street shuttling to day care, and navigating today's hyper adolescence through the pitfalls of drugs and unsafe sex. Their experience of battle, unlike that of any other generation of American soldiers, was colored by a lifetime of watching the vivid gore of Hollywood action movies. In my interviews with those who were in the thick of the battle, they remarked again and again how much they felt like they were in a movie, and had to remind themselves that this horror, the blood, the deaths, was real.

They describe feeling weirdly out of place, as though they did not belong here, fighting feelings of disbelief, anger, and ill-defined betrayal, this cannot be real. Many wear black metal bracelets inscribed with the names of their friends who died, as if to remind themselves daily that it was real. To look at them today, few show any outward sign that one day not too long ago they risked their lives in an ancient African city, killed for their country, took a bullet, or saw their best friend shot dead. They returned to a country that didn't care or remember. Their fight was neither triumph nor defeat; it just didn't matter. It's as though their firefight was a bizarre two-day adventure, like some extreme Outward Bound experience where things got out of hand and same of the guys got killed.

I wrote this book for them.
Profile Image for Tara.
347 reviews19 followers
March 7, 2018
Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War gives readers an impressively comprehensive look at the deplorably mismanaged U.S. military raid in Mogadishu, Somalia on 3 October 1993. 99 American troops, a force comprised predominately of Army Rangers and Delta Force operators, descended on the Bakara Market in order to capture two of Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s valued lieutenants. Aidid, a former Somali general, was head of the formidable Habr Gidr clan, then in control of the city. To the U.S., as well as various other nations, Aidid was nothing more than a brutal warlord, a man effectively responsible for starving much of the population to death in his merciless bid for power.

This “snatch-and-grab” mission, expected to take less than an hour, resulted in the ferocious 15-hour Battle of Mogadishu, the “longest sustained firefight involving American troops since the Vietnam War.” The soldiers fought off thousands of armed Somalis, confronted by one unanticipated snafu after another, including (but certainly not limited to) the well-coordinated RPG attacks that successfully took down multiple U.S. military helicopters. Over the course of the fighting, 18 American troops and an indeterminate number of Somali citizens were killed. Estimates for Somali fatalities vary widely depending on the source, and range from hundreds to possibly even thousands of people.

Bowden presented this engrossing story to readers in what initially felt like a dizzyingly chaotic manner, rapidly shifting back and forth between numerous different eyewitness perspectives. Although you do hear from a fair few Somali teenagers, civilians, and even Habr Gidr clansmen, you primarily witness the event through the eyes of the Rangers, Delta soldiers and helicopter pilots. From ranking officers to lowly privates, dozens of their personal stories were included.

Heightening this sense of disorienting fragmentation, the author frequently interrupted the main narrative to discuss what was, by and large, rather essential background information. During these recurrent asides, readers are apprised of the sociopolitical climate in Somalia, America’s involvement in the region, the backstories of many of the soldiers, what Ranger training entails, the task force’s procedures, tactics, and weapons specifications, and much, much more. As the story proceeded, these often indispensable details were inserted piecemeal, in a fractured, at times seemingly haphazard fashion.

So basically, in addition to the aforementioned ever-shifting POV of the narrative, readers must also contend with a slew of overwhelming, though immensely illuminating, tangents. At first, I found all this jarring and distracting; whenever the action was put on hold, I felt irritated and impatient, eager to get back to the story and find out what happened next. However, I got used to this approach—and even grew to appreciate it—relatively quickly. While it appeared blurry and bewildering at first, what emerged over time was an assiduously detailed, essentially kaleidoscopic study, replete with a wealth of fascinating, significant facts. To give one example of the kind of details I’m talking about, here’s a helpful tidbit concerning the rifle and ammunition that were used by many of the men:
“His weapon was the most sophisticated infantry rifle in the world, a customized CAR-15, and he was shooting the army’s new 5.56 mm green-tip round. The green tip had a tungsten carbide penetrator at the tip, and would punch holes in metal, but that very penetrating power meant his rounds were passing right through his targets. […] The bullet made a small, clean hole, and unless it happened to hit the heart or spine, it wasn’t enough to stop a man in his tracks. Howe felt like he had to hit a guy five or six times just to get his attention. They used to kid Randy Shughart because he shunned the modern rifle and ammunition and carried a Vietnam era M-14, which shot a 7.62 round without the penetrating qualities of the new green tip. It occurred to Howe as he saw those Sammies keep on running that Randy was the smartest soldier in the unit. His rifle may have been heavier and comparatively awkward and delivered a mean recoil, but it damn sure knocked a man down with one bullet, and in combat, one shot was often all you got. You shoot a guy, you want to see him go down; you don’t want to be guessing for the next five hours whether you hit him, or whether he’s still waiting for you in the weeds.”


Overall, even though the author had no military experience or expertise, he really did his homework for this book, and it showed. And, as he pointed out in the epilogue, the battle is an important case study, both in terms of Special Forces missions specifically, and also with respect to American foreign policy in general. Bowden’s in-depth, meticulous depiction was on the whole both absorbing and informative and, as such, was well worth reading.
Profile Image for Supratim.
231 reviews446 followers
November 17, 2018
I am giving the book a rating of 4.5!

I have played the computer game, watched the movie at least a couple of times, and finally got the chance to read the book. Trust me, the book is so much better. This is not just a booklover speaking – the movie was really good, but the book does a much better job of bringing out the human elements, insights into the Somali perspective and the aftermath of the mission.

The African nation of Somalia had been ravaged by civil war and a famine had broken out. The United Nations had intervened and peacekeeping troops had been deployed to ensure a secure environment to carry out humanitarian operations. There were quite a few Somali factions and very powerful among them was the war lord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the head of the Habr Gidr clan.

The book tells the story of the American mission to capture some Habr Gidr clan members in city of Mogadishu. US Army Rangers and the elite Delta Force operatives were sent for this “grab and snatch” operation– which was thought to be pretty simple and expected to be finished within one hour. But, the unthinkable happened. Two Black Hawk Helicopters were shot down by RPGs and the situation escalated into the “longest sustained firefight involving American troops since the Vietnam War.”

The American soldiers found themselves fighting with thousands of armed Somalis, trapped in a city where everyone is potential threat. Reinforcements and rescue were late, and the Americans had to survive on their own. America lost eighteen of her soldiers while the Somali death toll was in hundreds.

The book is a non-fiction account of a military operation, yet it reads like a war fiction. The writing is so engrossing that I felt I was transported to Somalia and witnessing the events. The author wrote a gripping account and did not try to sensationalize it. In between describing the fighting, the author would provide the back stories of the US soldiers, the political climate of Somalia, and the experiences of a few Somalis. The narration keeps shifting back and forth between the experiences of many characters. What I liked best was the inclusion of the Somali perspective, some insights into why the Americans were the enemy to so many Somalis, what was the aftermath of this mission.

I appreciate the honesty and sincerity of the author – he has unequivocally acknowledged that he is no expert on military matters. Yet, this book is in the curriculum of army schools, and the author had been invited to talk in military seminars. It shows what good a job he has done in writing this book.

I understand that this book is not meant for everybody. It shows war and violence in its naked ruthlessness. The blood that had been split was real, and the people who died were real. If you like reading military non-fiction books, then I would strongly urge you to give this one a try.
Profile Image for Pramod Nair.
232 reviews193 followers
June 30, 2015
If 'Black Hawk Down' was a war novel, it would definitely have a place among the very best of that genre. Written with such intensity, this military history volume by journalist Mark Bowden, brilliantly captures every minute moments from one of the longest modern day infantry engagements.

When American soldiers were dropped by helicopter into the Bakara market right in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia on October 3 1993 for a supposedly easy in and out abduction mission they had no idea that they were going to be part of one of the most terrible, long and sustained close-combat firefights since Vietnam war.

The mission was straightforward; abduct two top brass lieutenants of the self-proclaimed president-to-be Mohamed Farrah Aidid from a building in Bakara Market. After careful planning and recon the mission was given to a joint group of soldiers consisting of the U.S. Army Rangers from Bravo Company, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta and Air Force men and helicopters from 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. But the dynamics of engagement changed right from the start of the mission as the fluidity and unpredictability of battlefield took over and blew away best-laid operational plans; resulting in a mission which was thought of as a cake-walk turn horribly wrong with two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters shot down and the troops pinned down with heavy armed resistance from Somali militiamen loyal to Aidid.

A mission, that was believed to be over in a couple hours turned into a long and bloody night battle right in the middle of an urban market teeming with thousands of armed Somalis and civilians. The trapped raiding party finally had to be rescued by a relief convoy made up of elements from Task Force 2–14 Infantry and 10th Mountain Division, accompanied by Malaysian and Pakistani U.N. forces. When the battle was over the causalities among the Somalis where over 2000 with a lot of civilians among them and of the initial raiding force 18 American soldiers were dead, with more than 70 badly injured and one of the Black Hawk pilots captured by Aidid’s men. Of the rescue forces one Pakistani soldier and one Malaysian soldier got killed in the action.

The fallout from this engagement was far reaching as this 'incident' forced the Clinton administration to totally withdraw American troops from Somalia. The book by Bowden is a result of inspecting and studying mountains of official reports, investigation snapshots and even transcripts of communications between combat troops and conducting hundreds of exhaustive interviews with the participants from both side; this adds to the level of detailing that is placed into the narrative and it's authenticity.

Black Hawk Down tells the realistic tale of this modern day infantry combat with such vigor and brutally shocking honesty. It also will give the reader insights into the local & international politics surrounding the events, which led to the engagement at Bakara Market and how a supposed peacekeeping mission by UN in Somalia escalated into an armed conflict.

If you have already seen the 'Black Hawk Down' movie, even then give this book a try and you will be amazed with the power of written words; as Bowden captures each and every moment of the engagement - happening in both air and ground - with such vividness. For me the book made a lot more powerful impact than the movie.
Profile Image for Joni.
144 reviews1 follower
January 13, 2012
Okay, first of all, I am not usually the person that likes "war" type books. But, I have wanted to read this book for awhile. I remember when this actually happened, but being a freshman in high school, I had bigger things going on... Throughout this book, I kept asking myself "who are these guys??" It amazes me what wonderful guys are serving my country. I had to giggle when a group of men were holed up in a shack with many of the Somalians closing in on them, blood was seeping everywhere from everyone. Stebbins who's foot has a golf ball size piece of metal in it is given a pain killer and a gun to protect out the window. Medic says "Here's a gun, you can guard this window." "okay" says Stebbins. "But as your health care professional, I feel I should warn you that narcotics and fire arms don't mix." I did cry & get choked up throughout this book, either because of what was going on at the time and or hearing first hand accounts. Then at the end, when the author is talking about how people quickly forgot what had happend there and brushed it under the carpet with a new and more exciting news cycle, "This book is written for them." I actual cried. Their bravery and selflessness of our military is outstanding, and I can't tell you how proud I am of each and everyone of them.
Profile Image for Igor Ljubuncic.
Author 17 books236 followers
October 2, 2017
First an apology. I've accidentally reviewed this book with two stars two years ago. Not sure why. I got confused. Anyway, I've done unjustice to a really excellent work of history and military biography, and now it is time to correct this.

So please disregard any comments and thoughts on my behalf before Oct 2, 2017.

Now, the actual review:

A fantastic book.

Spectacular narrative, lots of personal touches, and we learn about the soldiers who fought, their fears and frustrations, their ideas and ideology, their creed, their friends, how they felt through the battle. Situations go from ridiculous (jacking escapades including parachute harnesses and walking the dawg) to introspective (how Delta Force soldiers felt about the situation, and how Howe hated everything, from Capt Steer to his armor-piercing ammunition to the casual attitude of the Rangers toward the general situations) to dreadful (the deaths of Smith and Pella and Joyce). The combat feels dirty and exhausting, as it should be. The situation is hectic and chaotic. The officers are obstinate and confused. The soldiers are happy, mad or frightened.

It is also a thousand times better than the movie. After all, the movie is a Hollywood production, so it must cater to the masses. Drama but not too much drama as to deject and depress the audience. The cinematic spin actually takes away from some of the heroism and deep personal dilemmas that the Rangers and Delta Force operatives fighting in Mogadishu faced that day.

The book also shows us the other side of this coin - not just the raw battle. The Somali perspective, the thoughts and the anguish of the families and the widows back in the US, the political fiasco behind the involvement, Mike Durrant's ordeal in captivity. It's not just gung-ho shooting and blasting heavy guns.

All in all, this is one of the more pleasing combat narratives I've read. It's sad, poignant, impressive, silly, and most importantly, extremely well written. You enjoy the story, and you care for the protagonists, politics and all that nonsense notwithstanding. A soldiers' tale.

Highly recommended.

Igor
Profile Image for 'Aussie Rick'.
420 reviews208 followers
November 17, 2010
This is one of those great books that you can't put down; it reads like a novel, a fast paced narrative that can sometimes make you forget that it's a true life drama where real people die. I enjoyed reading this book and it's nice to see an honest appraisal of a stuffed-up mission, which was no fault of the men on the ground.

This is a well presented account of the men of the US Army Rangers and Delta Force troops involved in a mission to capture a pair of high-ranking deputies to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. In the end a number of their MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters had been shot down and they were surrounded in a hostile city on the verge of being overrun. This is the sort of book that all soldiers and politicians should read for different reasons. Well done to the author and the men involved!
Profile Image for Mike.
199 reviews22 followers
March 1, 2008
The movie is a gore-fest, but the book chronicles all the background intricacies that you can't find in a movie (of course). One highlight for me: When I finished reading the book, my son, who was in Iraq at the time, told me he had met one of the men who survived this incident. However, he also told me he met this man as he was being flown out for a cancer checkup. This man who had escaped this brutal attack had cancer two years later. After surviving that, he went on to go back into the Army and was a leader in the early days of the Iraq Occupation. One sad note: He was killed when the Medivac helicopter taking him to his cancer checkup in Baghdad was shot down in November 2003. My son was the last person to see him alive on the ground...he helped to load him into the helicopter. This book will always be a memorial to him.
Profile Image for Dave Cullen.
Author 6 books60.4k followers
April 20, 2010
Expertly done in so many ways.

The chief drawback: so many of the characters were interchangeable, it became very hard to keep them straight each time we returned to one.
Profile Image for David Lucero.
Author 4 books187 followers
June 21, 2017
Hard-hitting and gut-busting!

I read this immediately after watching the movie and was impressed how much the film followed the book. The author received interviews from soldiers first-hand, and the details Bowden includes in his book are incredible. Like the movie, your eyes will be glued to the pages in this book.

US soldiers are assigned to arrest and bring to justice a Somali warlord who has been stealing food shipped by the United Nations to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths by starvation. Although American troops are well-equipped, the Somali gunmen are too, having paid for first-rate weapons through the black market. When 2 Blackhawk helicopters are shot down during a raid to arrest the warlord and his cronies, the Americans face incredible odds battling through streets in hopes of reaching the crash sites to rescue their brethren and return to safe lines.

This battle marked the first time a commanding general was able to lead his troops with on-time visual reports thanks to helicopters equipped with cameras. One would have thought it to be an in-and-out mission. Through a freak accident, the Somalis are able to shoot down Blackhawks with RPG rockets (not a simple thing to do considering one could be killed by the force of the blast). Bowden writes detailed information on troop morale, tactics, the dangers they faced, and the impossible odds that nearly cost us much more than the lives lost. Although the Somalis died by the thousands in this battle, it was not viewed as a victory for American forces. This book is a true tale of modern warfare.
Profile Image for Edwin Priest.
558 reviews35 followers
February 26, 2019
In 1993, a small force of US Rangers and ultra-elite Delta force soldiers staged a lightening raid in the center of Mogadishu, Somalia. The purpose was to capture several higher-up Somali warlords who were reeking havoc on the local populace in their bids for power. The raid, as we all know, did not go well, and the task force ended up getting pinned down in a fierce gunfight with the local populace, losing two helicopters, 18 soldiers and requiring a huge multi-national operation to rescue them.

Bowden does exactly what he sets out to do in this book, to create a detailed and accurate historical account of this conflict. Clearly a lot of research went into this book. Bowden describes on an intimately personal level the minute by minute stories of the soldiers in this conflict, the mistakes, the second guessing and of course, the heroism. And in doing this, Bowden truly nails the horror and chaos of this mission gone awry, giving the reader a powerful sense of what it is like to be in the middle of it all, making decisions on inadequate information, scared and ultimately just trying to survive.

But Bowden digs deeper. He paints us a picture of the culture and mores of the military, especially these uber-special forces, with their hubris and swaggering bravado. He shows us how this culture either served, or failed to serve, the individuals in this battle. He looks into the justifications and internal survival strategies that soldiers need to do what they do. Yes, these men are generally all upstanding representatives of all that American stands for. But Bowden shows how some of this shiny American code of ethics can flake off as soldiers struggle to stay alive. As is true in any war, the enemy will get sterotyped, marginalized and dehumanized. The Somalis are the Skinnies, the Sammies. They are in the soldiers minds dirty, immoral and contemptible, a viewpoint which ultimately makes it easier for them to do what they have to do.

In the sense of an historical and personal chronicle of a “modern” war-time conflict then, this book is outstanding. Bowden also tries to give us an overview of the bigger political perspective in which these events took place and, especially in the epilogue, of the political aftermath that followed. Sometimes though, I feel that Bowden loses sight of the elitism and attitudes that created this whole Mogadishu shit-storm in the first place. The “peacekeeping” UN mission was in many ways anything but, and the Somalis resented the Rangers, with all of their arrogance and disrespect. And conversely, the US establishment never really did try to understand the deeper social and political issues going on at the time in Somalia.

Yes, this is a detailed, gritty and powerful story of heroism and courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Bowden, justifiably, glorifies the soldiers and the US mission and purpose. But in doing so, he pays little attention to the elitist attitudes and actions of these "peacekeepers" that ultimately caused this conflict. 3-1/2 stars.
Profile Image for reading is my hustle.
1,459 reviews279 followers
March 3, 2009
Gripping read and detailed account of the 1993 horrific operation in Mogadishu that resulted in American soldiers dead and wounded. Before reading this book, the only memory or information I had about the event were the images of two American soldiers being dragged through the streets by the Somalians- courtesy of CNN.

This is a story about bravery, honor, and camaraderie- all of which are borne out of utter chaos. Everything that can go wrong during this operation does: two Black Hawk helicopters go down, people are dying, soldiers are going in the wrong direction, and supplies are scarce. The information about the Army Rangers and D-Boys is mind boggling. The next time I hear that our "elite forces" will be sent into battle, I will be hard pressed to forget that though highly skilled and trained, they are probably not much older that nineteen, twenty, or twenty one.

This book made me a nervous wreck while reading it- I could literally feel the panic. Also, I was constantly scrambling to find the diagrams and sort out where the various convoys and soldiers were located. I found I could not read it fast enough and was grateful for the snappy and easy to follow dialogue.

Well done Mark Bowden!!
Profile Image for Jur.
176 reviews5 followers
August 28, 2019
The book provides an in depth account of the U.S. (not U.N.) operation to capture two main partners of General Aidid, leader of the Habr Gidr, the clan dominating Somalia at the time.

Last weekend I also watched the movie (directed by Ridley Scott) and there's a couple of disconcerting differences, the main being that the movie strips out most of the uncomfortable parts of the book. That is the very strong criticism on the leadership (although Bowden often uses the Delta Force participants to voice it) and the Somali side of the experience. And I think these two points are the most significant in the book, and they explain a lot about what went wrong.

And that leads to the question the movie doesn't ask: wasn't this a stupid plan in the first place? Jumping in the midst of the town would always result in considerable collateral damage and civilian deaths. ‘The Day of the Rangers’ pushed many Somalis, friends of Aidid or not, into active hostility towards the U.S. troops.

As Bowden points out, the fact that the situation in Somalia didn´t change after Aidid´s death says enough about the misjudgement of the U.S. to pick that particular fight, and of their misjudgement of conflict in failed states in general: “In the end, the Battle of the Black Sea is another lesson in the limits of what force can accomplish.”

The Americans had also badly underestimated their opponents’ capabilities and willingness to take them on. And in my reading of the book, the people in charge of the operation were paralysed by the unforeseen events and overwhelming information.

Again, the movie reduces Bowden's multilayered story to two dimensions.


Sure, it is easy for me to criticise these points from my armchair, but these elements have come back during many humanitarian operations:

1. elite western troops with an inflated sense of their power, which translated into underestimation of their opponents and disdain for the civilian population. Derogatory nicknames, prostitution rings, firelighters with jam handed to children, it´s all happened.

2. irregular opponents who adopt to asymmetrical warfare and counter Western technological superiority by using terrain, subterfuge, or hiding among the population. It´s not always within the Geneva Convention, but civil war is a different beast than conventional conflict and U.N. troops should be take their opponents seriously.

3. In a tight corner the elite troops are unwilling to take casualties to do what is necessary to fulfill their primary mission: protect civilians. Belgians in Rwanda, Dutch in Srebrenica. Or they just blast away the opposition by massive firepower, regardless of the collateral damage, as in Mogadishu. This also harms the primary mission. Both forms of fuck up also undermine the trust of people in the ability and the will of the international community to protect them. What´s not to say that this provided a hotbed for anti-Western sentiments that the radical islamist have fed on since?

Full review

The page of the Crisis in Binni megagame

My review of Linda Polman´s The Crisis Caravan, about humanitarian intervention






Profile Image for Bonnie E..
159 reviews22 followers
January 22, 2012
An intense and incredible story of a 1993 mission by the US Army Rangers and other forces in Somalia. Hands down, this is one of the best books I have ever read. The portrait of each of the main characters is solidly drawn, and you really care about what happens to each of these men. Unlike many books about war or battles, this one gives a real sense of the terrors of close combat and guerilla warfare, and the courage of the soldiers who were faced with battling under extreme circumstances. It's a true story which makes it all the more compelling. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for David.
Author 17 books333 followers
March 8, 2017
I haven't yet seen the film (it's in my Netflix queue) but this book is probably one of the best war memoirs written by someone who wasn't a soldier and wasn't there.

Mark Bowden is a journalist who took an interest in the disastrous 1993 mission to capture the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. A well-practiced mission executed by the elite Army Rangers and the even more elite Delta Force (the "D-boys" as the Rangers called them), they went into the heart of Mogadishu expecting to do a snatch-n-grab. Instead, one of the Black Hawk helicopters is brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade, and in the chaos that follows, the Rangers and D-boys are trapped in Mogadishu surrounded by hundreds of angry locals, the "combatants" and "non-combatants" essentially indistinguishable, and forced to hold them off with superior firepower overnight, until they are finally rescued in the morning by the 10th Mountain Division, a regular Army unit.

Bowden, who interviewed as many of the survivors as he could find, including the super-secretive Delta Force troops (who, once he was able to find them, were surprisingly willing to tell him details of what happened), also went to Somalia and interviewed as many Somalis as he could find who were there, getting both sides of the story. From this, he constructed a narrative that, as he tells it, has the realism of a documentary but the drama of a novel. And his narrative is dramatic and harrowing and puts you there, in the air and then on the ground, as the Army unit takes casualties, guns down women and children (who are shooting at them or acting as spotters for snipers), while donkeys and doves casually stroll unscathed through the firefight. He covers the entire action in detail from the planning to the aftermath. And he goes into the politics that led to the mission in the first place, and casts his own verdict about whether or not blame was apportioned fairly afterward. (He takes particular issue with what he calls unfair and inaccurate criticisms by David Hackworth, a retired Army colonel and military writer and journalist whom I used to read regularly.)

This was an excellent read, and really captures the feel, the camaraderie, and the no-BS sheer terror experienced even by hardened vets when exposed to combat, especially when a mission goes sideways. It does not whitewash the horrors and intractability of Somalia, how the US went in with good intentions and the Rangers were initially well-received by the populace, but soon became seen as murderers and terrorists. Sound familiar?
Profile Image for Bob Mayer.
Author 151 books48k followers
April 6, 2013
Reasonably accurate. Having served with some of the participants, it's inevitable some things would be left out. But by giving both sides, Bowden does a good job of showing the fog of war.

Violating one of Rogers Rules of Rangering is pretty amazing for Rangers and Delta to do, but they did. Same plan over and over-- eventually they will catch on.
Profile Image for Monica.
573 reviews611 followers
October 2, 2014
Bowden absolutely nails the chaos and fear and confusion of battle. This book is riveting in its detail of the "fog of war". Not a book about foreign policy, but about what the implementation of the policy entails. America is the greatest nation that ever existed, with distinct and huge technological and military advantage; however it is not invincible. What essentially amounted to a well armed gang, was able to penetrate that military might. We grossely underestimated the Somali people's will and capability and it cost lives. In my view the American military was triumphant against incredible odds, but ultimately the political establishment did not have the stomach for any further losses. This certainly was a lesson learned in light of today's environment. We are far more reluctant to commit our troops to battle or peacekeeping, relying instead on indescriminant bombing, and dissident forces to fight the battles (not necessarily a criticism).

Bowden does not concentrate on the rationale, nor does he pass judgement on its viability, he concentrates on the men who fought that day. This in itself is laudable, since most journalists would have given in to their own personal biases. Though told primarily from an American point of view (as it should be), it was amazing that he was able to get interviews with Somali fighters, and other foreign nationals present at the time. A very horrifying yet refreshing look at the results of what is happening in the world outside of our immediate view. One hundred and fifty soldiers went to war against a city with a population of a million people and the sleeping giant still slept. Until this book was written, this battle was not even a footnote in American history. America is impacting other countries in ways that people had not ever considered. Bowden makes that strikingly clear. What is also becoming clear as time passes, is that skirmishes such as this one impact foreign policy far more than people think.
Profile Image for Booknblues.
1,073 reviews8 followers
September 9, 2016
Black Hawk Down
By Mark Bowden
4 stars
pp. 486

I am not one to shy away from difficult subjects, but Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down is one of the most disturbing books which I have read in recent years and it is disturbing on so many levels, the loss of life, the senselessness, the clash of cultures, the fact that the necessary time was not taken to learn the essentials lessons from this, but instead a rush to put the past and Somalia behind us.

Black Hawk Down is an account of a battle fought on October 23, 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia and as Bowden says "it was one of the most one sided battles in American history." The Rangers and Delta fighters were up against unbelievable odds. As Bowden states the loss of life for Somalis was catastrophic . "Conservative counts numbered five hundred dead among more than a thousand casualties."

Bowden's intention was to create a book which read like a work of fiction, but was the true chronological story of the events of the day. He interviewed many of the survivors and he took the time to find out about individual personalities of those involved, so he was able to give the book a very personal feel. Bowden also took the time to explain the interplay and relationships between various forces as The Rangers and the Delta Force so the unschooled reader could understand. Noteworthy as well is his interviews with Somalis describing both their actions that day and their attitudes.

Once I picked up this book I could not put it down. I became very involved in the lives of the people fighting and I felt a deep sadness for their losses. There were so many individual stories which took hold of me. My one wish was that Bowden had included a list of people and the beginning of the book which I could refer to.

I would recommend to any one who enjoys war stories with the caution that it is also deeply troubling.
Profile Image for Steve.
903 reviews132 followers
May 30, 2015
I realize it's silly to review a best-selling book that's been made into a movie and repackaged and reprinted multiple times, but that's never stopped me before, so...

As a military (and military history) reader, I offer no rational excuse for not having read this book long ago (nor can I explain why I never saw the movie). I remember reacting poorly to one or more book reviews I read at the time, but, still, I should have read it.... On the other hand, there was a certain kismet in that, without intending to do so, I started the book on a (business) trip to Africa and, indeed, read it while flying over (and working in) the state(s) that surround Somalia. Having worked (albeit briefly) in a number of African states, it's both sad and informative to read about another step in Somalia's modern-era civil war and descent into its current, depressing, all-too-often seemingly hopelessly chaotic state (although, increasingly, Somalia is enjoying some amount of reconstruction and is now optimistically described as a progressing, evolving "fragile state").

For non-military readers, the most important thing to know is that the author succeeds in presenting a detailed, harrowing non-fiction account of a dramatic military confrontation that reads like best-selling, airport bookstore fiction. The author did his homework, he interviewed many of the participants, and his access to a wealth of raw data (including video and tape from the battle) leads to a uniquely precise and orderly account of an otherwise chaotic series of events. But, while this is history, the story (and, ultimately, the action) drives the train.

Granted, I shouldn't be surprised on that score, to the extent that I really enjoyed the author's football (NFL history) book, The Best Game Ever, and, indeed, I consider it one of the better sports books I've read. Accordingly, I applaud the author's ability to ply his art across highly divergent genres, and I expect I'll end up reading more of his work.

For similar reasons, I strongly recommend taking the time to read the author's 2010 afterword - and, in retrospect - I could see it serving equally well, if not better, as a forward or preface. The author makes clear (what should have been obvious to any reader) that the art of this book is the author's presentation and empowerment of the soldiers' (and the participants') voices, rather than his own. The author plays no role in the story, and he remains invisible throughout the telling. He contrasts his approach - with help from critics (and/or what some might call literary snobs) - from generations of authors who determined that black humor, cynicism, and, implicitly, condescension and disrespect for the military (generally) and soldiers (individually and collectively) was the gold standard of war reporting. I applaud the author for his consistent and disciplined respect for those who serve, with all of their human failings, fears, and, well, humanity.

Nonetheless, or, maybe, ultimately, the story (not the book) is immensely frustrating, as it graphically, painstakingly, and painfully, presents a brief anecdote of the fog of war, how political and leadership decisions impact the lives of soldiers, their families and, of course, people, communities, and states abroad ... and, of course, the next generation. For better or worse, in the new Millennium, Iraq and Afghanistan have generated a wealth of similar "new journalistic" accounts of urban warfare, small unit actions, and the actual experience of soldiers (rather than dispassionate high-level reconstruction of grand battles). War is messy, and the costs are high, and this book is a poignant reminder of both. In any event, I'd add this volume to a growing shelf of books that I'd love to see high school students exposed to before they truly enter adulthood, vote, consider military service, attend college, or form their initial (yet hard to change/inform) opinions about the nation's role in the world.

There are a lot of players in the drama, and Bowden provides an extensive index (for that and other reasons). As an oft-academic reader, I'd personally have preferred Bowden's fulsome end notes as footnotes. In many cases, Bowden expands at length on specific events and recollections. Had these commentaries been at the bottom of the page when I was reading the relevant passage, I expect I would have spent significantly more time with them.

Bowden's hard work paid off on this one. I expect this one will stay on bookshelves for years to come....
Profile Image for Lisa (Harmonybites).
1,834 reviews324 followers
January 22, 2012
Bowden's book is every bit as riveting as the film based upon it, every bit as harrowing and visceral. It takes us minute by minute through the terrible battle on the streets of Mogadishu in Somalia on October 3, 1993. The American mission to capture two of clan warlord Aidid's top people was supposed to "take an hour" and at first seemed like it would be completed within minutes of their taking off from base. But then a black hawk helicopter went down, then another, and "ninety-nine American soldiers [were] surrounded and trapped" overnight and fighting for their lives. These were elite soldiers. The Rangers were volunteers thrice over--they had to choose the army, then the airborne, then the Rangers. And the Delta Force soldiers were the elite of the elite. They were what the Rangers aspired to be. They were backed by observation helicopters, on ground intelligence, spy planes and satellites. Their average age was only 19.

The account of the warfare is detailed and spools before your inner eye as vividly as any film--it reads like a novel. In his Afterward Bowden writes about how he tried to efface himself from the story, that he tried to "get out of its way." I greatly appreciated that--I think in another book I read recently, Blood Diamonds, the author was too much in the story. This story was seemless and felt authentic--what came through was the voices and humanity and courage of the soldiers. It was hard to read at times--Bowden doesn't pull any punches in graphically relating what bullets and shrapnel does to vulnerable flesh and bone. But you do feel like he gives you the most vivid account of modern warfare possible without going into combat yourself.

I not only learned about the combatants from both sides, but why the mission was almost inevitably doomed to failure. In that regard the Somali perspectives were invaluable. Not simply because they humanized "the enemy" but because of their explanation of how the initially welcomed American intervention soured for them. As one Somali put it, the Americans "were trying to take down a clan--the most ancient and efficient social organization known to man." And the experience in Somali haunted US Foreign Policy to at least the events of 9/11. As one US State Department Official put it, "Somalia was the experience that taught us that people in these places bear much of the responsibility for things being the way they are. The hatred and the killing continue because they want it to--or they don't want peace enough to stop it." As a result, for better or worse America didn't get involved in Rwanda or Zaire's bloody civil conflicts. As a result of that firefight in Mogadishu, 18 American soldiers lost their lives, and 73 were wounded. The toll on the Somali side was horrific. "Conservative counts numbered five hundred dead among more than a thousand casualties." Even more sobering? It's twenty years later, and Somalia is still a "failed state" in the midst of war. And after that battle in Mogadishu, no one in the international community cares to come between them killing each other.

A gripping and unforgettable book.
Profile Image for Amanda.
29 reviews10 followers
April 22, 2019
War is hell. Anyone with delusions of it being glorious or anything other than hell needs only to read a few chapters of Black Hawk Down to have those fantasies shattered to smithereens.
I am not exactly sure how to review this book. After all, it is a presentation of real events so I do not think it fair or appropriate to complain about it being dry, depressing, or long since the author is telling it the way it happened.
Mark Bowden definitely did his homework before writing this book. It is packed with information and detail. He presents the events of that awful battle in October from all sides, including several Somalis. I appreciated his attention to detail and neutrality. Some of his descriptions are so vivid, you almost feel like you are there.
I suppose the main reason I struggled to finish reading Black Hawk Down was because I didn't do my homework. I was expecting it to be more of a story, and less of a play-by-play and 486 pages was a bit stressful for me. Also, there were so many participants, I found it difficult to keep track of them all. Every time I started to get to know one, the "story" jumped to another and wouldn't return for another 50 or so pages.
That said, I am glad I read this book. It was very informative, I learned a lot about what goes on at the scene of a battle and behind the scenes as well. It was very well researched. Because of that, despite not being able to say that I really "liked" the book, I think it deserves 4 stars.
Profile Image for Michael C.
1 review
October 27, 2008
Black Hawk Down
Black Hawk Down is a nonfiction novel written by Mark Bowden. When he decided to write this book, the government wouldn’t give him any information, but when he attended one of the soldiers funerals, he found that many soldiers were glad to tell their story to someone. By compiling their memories and suffering, he wrote this amazing novel. This is the story of 100 marines against an enemy of over a million. When a simple kidnapping mission goes badly, the men are stuck out in a foreign city for over twelve hours. Other books he has written include Road Work, The Best Game Ever, and Guests of Ayatollah.
This book was the most vivid war narrative I have ever read. By actually talking to soldiers that were in the battle, their emotions and characteristics paint a perfect picture in your mind. I loved how the author gives background info on each soldier, so you were much more sympathetic about their situation. The specific details about the city (Somalia), weaponry and gear, helped you to visualize the entire battle. It was a fast paced book that was difficult to put down, for fear that you may miss something in the battle. For instance, when the soldiers are trapped overnight in a foreign city, he describes how every gunshot, sound and shadow changed their outlook on life and the military. Some decided that this was what they lived for, and others decided that they wanted to see their wife and children.
Though it was extremely enjoyable, Black Hawk Down was an extremely confusing book with too many characters. I felt that the background information on the characters was enjoyable, but he gave too much on too many people. He often talked about 5-10 people, and then returned to the battle. Not only do you have to remember all the characters you just learned, but the ones from before also. When he resumed talking about the battle, it was difficult to remember who was who. I often had to reread passages from past pages to remember who each man was, and what his job was. I probably would have focused more on a few central characters, in order to make the book a little less confusing.
Besides this one weakness, the book was a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish. It combined great characterization with unbelievable detail to create the ultimate non-fiction war novel. Any reader that enjoys fast paced, exhilarating, historic military battles and intense books would be extremely fond of this book.
Profile Image for Michael Gerald.
378 reviews45 followers
March 24, 2021
In 2001, the movie Black Hawk Down was critically hailed as one of the greatest war films of all time. Its depiction of the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3-4, 1993 was based on the book of the same title, published in 1999.

Somalia evokes two images: famine and a failed state. The collapse of the Somali state after years of war with neighboring Ethiopia and among rival clans exacerbated famine and made it man-made.

The UN moved to intervene and provide humanitarian assistance and, with the the lead of the US, tried to neutralize the warlords are destroying Somalia.

But as the book reveals, the good intentions of the US to halt the violence and warlordism in Somalia was viewed by many Somalis as interference in their sovereignty. It did not help that US forces often went through Mogadishu, the capital, as if they owned the place and displaying an almost racist contempt for the Somali people in general with their use of derogatory remarks such as "Skinnies" and "Sammies" to describe the Somalis.

The book also reveals details that were not in the movie or were modified for dramatic purposes. In the movie, two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down; there were actually four Black Hawks that were shot down by Somali RPGs: two crashed on the streets of Mogadishu, while two others were still able to fly and crash landed on the Mogadishu airport that served as the US headquarters. Also, Sergeant Matt Eversmann (portrayed by Josh Harnett) was not in the building where the Rangers and Delta Force made their stand, but was already back at the base!

Bowden did a an excellent job, given his lack of a military background, in reconstructing the events of the battle through official transcripts, video and audio records, and interviews with the survivors, both American and Somali. Several American survivors and officials have expressed satisfaction with Bowden's narrative that he was often invited as a speaker in many military seminars and conferences.

In conclusion, the greatest contribution of Black Hawk Down is helping to dispel the myth of US benevolence and military superiority.
Profile Image for Kym Robinson.
Author 5 books19 followers
March 30, 2014
I was one of those who read this book after they had seen the film. I found the movie to be refreshing in its depiction of action and events, despite only knowing about those events through mini documentaries or magazine articles.

It was not until I read this book that I was able to get a greater picture of the men involved, what 'went down' and the atmosphere surrounding the 'Mog' in the early 1990s.

This is a very easy book to read as far as writing goes, Bowden is skillful in his ability to depict history with the flow and descriptions one often finds in best selling novels. The contents however is heavy and tragic. I think that it is important for people to appreciate that however skillfully written or made such depictions are that it is with the weight of reality that we should appreciate that it is not suppose to be mere entertainment.
Retelling of such events is not for blood thirsty arm chair experts to meander over such violent episodes in our history with a degree of fascination at the expense of those who lived it. Simply because they retrospectively have a morbid obsession with war and human loss.

Instead books like this on such martial events should be an as honest telling of history as possible with the humanity captured as Bowden has so that some of us may appreciate that while this happened yesterday, we should not hope to relive it tomorrow simply because of an appathetic lack of empathy exists amongst the public greater or more specifically lacking in the upper echelons of leader ship. And from this episode in military history one should take home that throwing well trained and elite men into a quagmire that was Somalia is both futile and wasteful on so many levels.

This is a well written book with a modern tale of heroism told in a sincere and skilled manner.

85 %
Profile Image for Matt.
Author 1 book9 followers
January 12, 2014
This account of the infamous battle in Mogadishu, Somalia benefits both from the story being so compelling, and from Bowden's structuring style. Bowden interviewed everyone he could get ahold of, both in the US and Somalia, before writing the book- then compared stories and asked for clarification wherever there were discrepancies. Because of this, you get the story from many different perspectives, shifting between them as it unfolds, and the honesty of it serves to illustrate the many complications that arise when the world's strongest army ends up engaging mobs of armed and angry people in a third world country. What looks good on paper ends up making no sense at all in reality, and quickly descends into a confusing,troubling bloodbath for everyone involved. (The afterword in this edition contains some of the most interesting material)
505 reviews1 follower
February 6, 2009
Utterly fascinating. If there ever was a way to capture the soldier's experience with words, Bowden has done it. His portrayal reads like a movie, seamlessly incorporating background information along with the minute-by-minute description of the mission, narrating the action as if you were there yourself, hearing the bullets zip by your ear, while really diving into the warrior's mentality: their thoughts on their lack of action, finally gearing up, beginning the fight, suffering through an ambush, dodging RPGs, watching their friend suffer an immediately mortal wound, fighting through desperation and hopelessness, feeling pinned down, trapped, and abandoned, and ultimately reflecting afterward. From the first seven-page chapter I was hooked, gripping the pages like I did the armchair when I watched the movie, but tighter this time.

The shocking and disturbing scenes are mixed right in with the touching and bravery-filled heroics. We see a Somali laying in the road, shooting at the Americans, while surrounding himself with women sitting on his back and children at each side. A donkey marches back and forth across the bullet-riddled alley, multiple times, like it's invincible. Two Delta Snipers volunteer to go in to guard a Blawk Hawk wreckage by themselves, knowing they alone will try holding off a wild crowd. A crazed Somali woman runs out into the street, over and over, before the soldiers realize she's pointing out their positions and are forced to drop her. A soldier contemplates his first kill. An 80-year old man wanders into the middle of the battle just to see what all the fuss is about. A private darts across a firing lane three times for IV fluids in an attempt to save the life of a critically wounded buddy. Women and children fill the roads so that the Somalis can shoot from the assemblies, knowing that the Rangers will think twice about shooting towards innocents. And then the Somalis say how angry they are over their dead women and children?

We even get a couple accounts from different Somalis involved in the fight, where they were, why they were fighting, what they were thinking, and how they fit it with Aidid's militia or just how they reacted as a normal clansmen who hated the American's brutal tactics. I certainly didn't expect to get any Somali perspective, but I'm glad that we do.

It's interesting to read this now, as we watch yet another modern example of the limits of American Military Might right before our eyes. It's hard to believe, just as the soldiers in Mog felt, that with all our technology, all our military capabilities, all the training and equipment our soldiers get, that such a mission could be so troubled. Yet the lessons are so paralleled: what can you accomplish without cooperation on the ground? Can you bring help to those that don't want it? What started as a liberating, honest, helpful mission was met with such massive resistance from all sides, such anger at the American way, that the men who were trying to feed the country and bring a warlord to justice ended up as corpses dragged through the dirt steets as villagers cheered.

What can be said? It's Africa? Don't interfere with someone else's civil war? Don't try to police the world? Don't try to help feed the starving? What's the lesson here?

People wondered why no one stepped in with the situation in Rwanda. There have been demonstrations recently concerning Darfur. What do we do? Does America have a moral obligation to help the oppressed? Have we lost our credibility in that department? Would it be welcomed or viewed as bullying other nations, policing the world, or would it be sticking up for human rights? (I just this week finished teaching Night by Elie Weisel to my class of seniors and have been discussing the same issues. We are all shocked at what happened to the Jews, but do we try to prevent another Holocaust? How long do we wait until we do step in? How high was the death total in Rwanda and we did nothing? What's the total in Darfur up to?) Do we even understand the tribal and/or clan makeup of the area? Would we know what we are getting into? It's not encouraging to see the way the Sunni/Shite uprising caught Washington so off guard. What would happen if we went back into Africa?

Regardless, Bowden makes no real effort to interject his thoughts on the lessons we should learn. His portrayal is focused solely on "capturing in words the experience of combat through the eyes and emotions of the soldiers involved, blending their urgent, human perspective with a military and political overview of their predicament," (his words from his Afterword) and he's amazing at it. Every word does exactly that. For a true account of life on the battlefield, piercing, poignant, and full of emotion as well as heart-pulsing drama, there really couldn't be a better portrayal.

(I think my next book will be a satire on love, something a tad lighter... my blood pressure needs a break...)
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