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American War

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3.82  ·  Rating details ·  21,165 ratings  ·  3,266 reviews
An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows t
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Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Published April 4th 2017 by Knopf
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Mark While climate change provides a backdrop for the story and the banning of petroleum fuel provides the trigger for Southern secession, the core of the…moreWhile climate change provides a backdrop for the story and the banning of petroleum fuel provides the trigger for Southern secession, the core of the story deals with the effects of long-term civil war on a populace and how those effects make it possible to recruit individuals to what we call "terrorist acts."

In addition, individuals on all sides of the war use the war as a reason to initiate inhumane acts. That is, there is no "right" side in the conflict; all are equally guilty of horrific acts.

It would be possible to take this story and change the names, geography, and causes to anywhere in the world and it would be just as real. Look at any of the countries currently suffering a civil war - Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan to name a few - or look at our own Civil War and you could see this story.

The thing that makes this book "Literature" is it's style, excellent narrative flow, and strong characters. For that alone it is worth the read.(less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Jan Part of what makes this book so riveting is that it combines the author's knowledge of what modern war looks like (refugee camps, terrorist…morePart of what makes this book so riveting is that it combines the author's knowledge of what modern war looks like (refugee camps, terrorist recruitment, psychological trauma, germ warfare, drone attacks, daily loss and uncertainty) with intimate experience of current American issues and attitudes. It busts you out of any "it couldn't happen here" comfort. Maybe it hasn't happened here YET, but this is a book like Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale -- most of the stuff in it has happened (or is happening) somewhere in the world, including the torture of prisoners. It's much more than Palestine, and the novel is very plausible in portraying how all these factors might play out given American society and history. (less)

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Michael Finocchiaro
I struggle on this one between 3 and 4 stars. On one hand, it is action-packed and a pretty horrifying dystopian novel. On the other, my suspension of disbelief was severely challenged by the timeline and the realignment of world power (don't worry - no spoilers). The protagonist, Sarat is an interesting and tragic figure, but she was hard to have sympathy for at times. Some of her actions were predictable, not to say almost caricatural while her actions do seem realistically driven by her suffe ...more
Jilly
Nov 25, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
My reasons for disliking this book are complicated. My main feelings about it is that it's a hacky piece of work that is trying very hard to be politically profound, but failing in execution.

First, let's talk about why it fails (in my eyes) as a dystopian novel. And, no, I don't mean its lack of a teenager falling in love with a rebel boy or the fact that they don't seem to all be dressed as emo soldiers (although there are plenty of soldiers).


See? This is how it's done.

There are two ways to go
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Diane S ☔
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A second civil war, a war over fossil fuel banned in the North but in the Southern states they still have plenty of resources and once again do not want to be dictated by those in the government. Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, South Carolina secede from the Union. It is the late 2000's, climate change has already changed the map, coastal cities wiped out, west and South, Louisianan lowlands gone, a plague is released resulting in South Carolina being quarantined, walled in, residents not allo ...more
Philip
3.5ish stars

This is not your typical dystopia. I feel like that word, dystopia, has developed something of a negative connotation in literature recently because of the inundation of books, especially YA ones, that fit into the sub-genre. American War is science fiction in the same way that The Road or The Handmaid's Tale are science fiction, which is to say, more speculative than science. And while this book may not be on the same level as those two, it's really not that far from it.

The author
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Snotchocheez
Apr 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars

I can't quite gush effusively for Omar El Akkad's American War, but not since The Handmaid's Tale has a dystopian novel spoken to me so loud and clear. (The thinly veiled "Fuck you, Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions" message was probably integral to my enjoyment.)

Pretty simple concept: imagining the United States, circa the late 21st century in the midst of a second Civil War, thanks in no small part to global warming (Florida is gone gone gone) and the polemical divide between"Blues" and
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Holly
May 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2017-reads
I didn't understand the point of this. Something huge is missing in this novel. There is a hole in the center. Omar El Akkad tells a story of a new American Civil War taking place around the year 2075. To paint this setting he borrows heavily from the American Civil War of 1862-1865 and he replicates and augments the Old South's long-abiding sense of injustice - the Lost Cause and lost way of life, loyalty to family and one's people before all else, "real" Southern values, etc. But we know what ...more
Bryan Alexander
"Everyone fights an American war." (306)
Do you know the experience of diving into a book expecting one certain thing, only to realize part-way through that the thing is actually about another subject? You assume X, but get Y?

That's how I read Omar El Akkad's recent novel American War. Everything I read described a near-future novel about a second Civil War, with the north and south tearing at each other once again. And the book does fulfill that promise. We follow a Louisiana family as members e
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Ron Charles
When you wade into the ever-agitated waters of social media, you realize just how quickly the currents of infectious bile are flowing. Follow the tributaries of today’s political combat a few decades into the future and you might arrive at something as terrifying as Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, “American War.” Across these scarred pages rages the clash that many of us are anxiously speculating about in the Trump era: a nation riven by irreconcilable ideologies, alienated by entrenched suspicions ...more
Bradley
This is a novel that hearkens back to the great days of serious and very dark future history, the kind that used be common in SF before it got taken over with fluffy (if dark) YA that is usually a lot more simple and caricature than serious.

So now we're back to the good and serious SF, no light tones here, and we fast forward to a history of America where its dominance in the world has sunk with a lot of its land, where ecological changes have turned the deserts into blasted lands, where politic
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Ioana
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Come here," she said.
I shook my head. "I'm scared."
"Good," she said. "Now you have something you can kill."

Fear. The ultimate driver of hate, bigotry, conflict, ultimately: of war. The emotion that pervades so much of our current geopolitical situation: the fear of our neighbor, of their religion, of their skin, of their seemingly foreign customs and traditions. Fear: perhaps the only emotion hardwired into the human condition, the underlying evolutionary mechanism that keeps us alive and perp
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Michael Ferro
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Omar El Akkad's AMERICAN WAR is an often-chilling and devastatingly visceral peek into our country's future should we not find a peaceful way to resolve our political differences. Of particular interest in this novel for me was the defined sense of realism, despite being submerged in *obvious* dystopia; the new American Civil War feels incredibly real, the dejected southerners trained to become self-sacrificing martyrs are believable, and Akkad brings the horrors and desperations of an America f ...more
Book of the Month
American Horror Story
By Judge Maris Kreizman

Fair warning: American War is not a beach read. Not only because the novel is not fluffy and light, but also because it’s set in a near-future dystopia in which global warming has submerged the majority of America’s current coastlines. Spring Break forever? Not likely.

I hate to use the word “timely” nowadays, especially because I have a habit of making everything from Gilmore Girls to Fifty Shades of Grey about contemporary American politics. But if yo
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Brenda
Jun 23, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 9-dnf
I’m giving up on this book at a little more than half way through. The premise of a dystopian world during and after a second American Civil War was interesting, and I was curious about the two maps shown before the Prologue. Set in the future beginning in 2074, the story centers on the Chestnut family and specifically on young Sara T, known as Sarat. The descriptions of their life and the environment in which they survived were mostly depressing, and the pace was slow in some places. The book w ...more
Rachel
It's hard to say where exactly Omar El Akkad went wrong with American War, because on the surface, this appears to be such a well-constructed novel. El Akkad ties in the story of our protagonist, Sarat, with his imagined vision of a second American Civil War in a way that's comprehensive and undeniably steeped with tragedy. The world building in this novel is immense, with various news articles scattered like historical set pieces throughout the narrative. But when you look closer, there are too ...more
Helene Jeppesen
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5/5 stars.
This book was really good and really scary, and it came as a surprise to me how much I liked it. Not because I had heard bad things about it beforehand, but because I had a feeling that this book was either going to be too dark and sinister for my taste, or it would be just the right amount of dark and sinister as well as give me an interesting insight into what America could look like less than 100 years from now.
Basically, this book takes place in America in the 2070s-2090s, and
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Celeste
Sep 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dystopian, literary
Full review now posted!

Sometimes, a book hits you at exactly the wrong moment. In my case, that’s exactly what happened with American War. My lack of love for this book is definitely a case of “it’s not you; it’s me,” and that is in large part due to the timing.

This was a very good book objectively. It was beautifully written, well-researched, poignant, and plausible. But subjectively, I couldn’t get far enough past the sadness that said plausibility invoked within me to enjoy anything about the
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Rincey
Jun 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, poc-author
Absolutely brutal.

Watch my full review: https://youtu.be/Y_HVqmangdI
Scott
Dec 03, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
Could the United States tear itself apart in another bloody Civil War? Could the catalyst for such a conflict could be a threat to the god-given liberty of red state Americans to drive gas-guzzling pickups - the inalienable constitutional right to bear Chevrolets?

Omar El Akkad thinks so, and based on this scenario he has produced American War - a fictional history of the second American Civil War to come.

American War is an interesting blend of ideas. It's part future history, like Robert Charle
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Susie Wang
Nov 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: standalone
I wish I could give this book 10 stars out of five. I'd wished I could give it 10 stars from the prologue alone, and it got better and better.
Like I said in my updates, this book feels like more like a prophecy instead of a novel given what happened recently. I feel like the author truly knows war, and he understands the grudges some stubborn people seem to hold all their lives. Also he grasps the most horrifying thing about the war, that it destroys every single person's belief no matter what t
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Greg
Jul 22, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, life-is-shit
I was torn between three and four stars here. I was torn the same way with the small press book Ruin Season, when I read it last week. That one I went up to four and this one I went down to three. In so many ways this is probably a better novel, but since it's published by Random House, and it has lots of other reviews / ratings, I don't feel like I should be boosting up my rating to help the book out, or at least not feel like as much of an asshole.

I thought the book was quite good. The premise
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Book Riot Community
How does this sound: this book is like if Jesamyn Ward wrote The Road. Still need convincing? American War is the story of the second American Civil War, a war that breaks out in 2074 over the use of oil. Now, the North and South are once more divided, Texas has become a part of Mexico again, and China is the the most powerful nation in the world. Sarat is a young girl in Louisiana when the war begins, but when her father is killed, she and her family are moved to a camp for displaced persons. T ...more
Trish
Gave up, folks. This doesn't mean it's a bad book. It means I just couldn't...it's a mix of YA, sci fi, dystopian, looking at the U.S. after an event that destroyed part of it. There is constant war between the North and the South. It was interesting to see what someone else thought were our nation's weak points and our strengths. There is just so much going on in real life right now that is more gripping than any fiction. I am sure readership of fiction has gone down: someone will come up with ...more
Sharon
Apr 27, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
One has to wonder how much author Omar El Akkad's career in journalism compelled him to pen this cautionary tale set during the all-too-believable future civil war between America's North and South.

The setting (an ecologically exhausted world fraught with political instability) was not groundbreaking territory for a dystopian novel, but El Akkad's focus on the ugliness of war and the ambiguity of "the cause" was one of the more realistic I've read.

Strengths: Whether you agree or disagree with t
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Carlos
Aug 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a 2.75 or 2.50 stars book for me mostly. First of all I never understood the plot of the book and then I realized is because there is none . The book goes back and forward and tells you how the story is going to end from the beginning and then it takes you forward, then backward and forward again, we never connected with the main character and her plight because the book doesn't explore the circumstances that made the world the characters live possible , and you also never get a cohesiv ...more
Andrew Campbell
They should subtitle this book IT COULD HAPPEN HERE!!, emblazoned in big red letters on a sash wrapped and affixed with a blood-red seal. The author can regale MSNBC and NPR with his Nostradamus vision while book clubs queue at signings, clutching their pearls in one hand and cupping lattes in the other.

(My first thought, on picking up the book, was Why has no one written this yet? It will be a bestseller and have its rights optioned, posthaste.)

The author has no doubt witnessed and can testify
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♥ Sandi ❣
4 stars
An all to possible, and probable, second civil war breaks out - it is 2074. With climate changes in full effect, the Mississippi River becomes the Mississippi Sea. Most of the south eastern coast line is now underwater. Louisiana is just a morsel of what it was. Oil is outlawed, drones become bombers in the sky and the southeastern states have seceded from the north. Camp Patience is divided into regions resembling the forgotten states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia a
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Brandon
The United States of fifty years from now is a vastly different place - physically, not just politically.  Climate change has ravaged the country with coastal cities becoming lost to the sea.  They even packed up and moved the capital inland from Washington, D.C. to Columbus, Ohio.

A train derailment and subsequent oil spill have forced the hand of the government in banning fossil fuel use across America.  It’s the final straw that breaks the camel's back following decades of environmental abuse.
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Jessica
I liked this book, set in the future after a second Civil War has torn the country apart again, but I didn't love it. Maybe I just need to let my feelings stew for a bit.
Alice Lippart
Really interesting, but has some gaps in both world building and character development.
Lauren
Once I realized that this near-future dystopia could actually be read as an allegory for the recent past / present Middle East, it flowed better for me.

El Akkad had a great concept here, and I am glad I read it - it is a 3.5 stars for me. I look forward to more work by this author.

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Read for Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge "A debut novel"
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Omar was born in Cairo, Egypt and grew up in Doha, Qatar until he moved to Canada with his family. He is an award-winning journalist and author who has traveled around the world to cover many of the most important news stories of the last decade. His reporting includes dispatches from the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, the military trials at Guantànamo Bay, the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt and th
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“You fight the war with guns, you fight the peace with stories.” 41 likes
“It seemed sensible to crave safety, to crave shelter from the bombs and the Birds and the daily depravity of war. But somewhere deep in her mind an idea had begun to fester-perhaps the longing for safety was itself just another kind of violence-a violence of cowardice, silence, submission. What was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else's home?” 27 likes
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