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Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  436 ratings  ·  66 reviews
From a decorated Marine war veteran and National Book Award finalist, an astonishing reckoning with the nature of combat and the human cost of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.

"War hath determined us..." - John Milton, Paradise Lost

Toward the beginning of Places and Names, Elliot Ackerman sits in a refugee camp in southern Turkey, across the table from a man named
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 11th 2019 by Penguin Press (first published June 1st 2019)
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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Diane S ☔
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lor-2019, 5000-2019
If there is one thing I've learned by reading history, watching the news, reading the paper, it is that we are never told the whole story. Ackerman, who served five tours in Afghanistan and other hot spots, makes this even more apparent in this book. We are shown on the television only as much as is needed to sway the public to the opinion our government wants us to have. Things are never so clear cut not one sided as they are made out to be. It is hard to gain understanding for countries and cu ...more
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
Certainly there can be no better person to write a book about his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan than Elliot Ackerman. This author has been decorated with many of our country's highest honors after serving five tours of duty in places most of us have read about but never really knew. Jan and I discovered in this book a world that held no answers but just a desire to know if the wars fought really in the end have meaning for those lost, and for those who returned all of whom were scarred in ...more
Feb 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"But winning battles was never the US military’s problem. The problem was always what came after, the rebuilding."

This was an interesting book and it certainly offered a look at places and situations to which I would ordinarily have little to no access. I appreciate the author's experience and insight as a soldier and journalist, yet I also felt the book was somewhat disjointed. Maybe, as it is essentially a collection, it is normal that some stories spoke to me more than others. I liked that he
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Ackerman joined the Marine Corps in 1998 because having grown up beyond American shores he appreciated the values of what it means to be an American and wanted to give something back. He also wanted to know that what he did ‘mattered’. And then 9/11 happened!

Ackerman was in the thick of the fighting in Fallujah, including a firefight from Hell that lasted 12 incredible hours. The lieutenant commander was awarded the Silver Star for his leadership in that engagement. He served five tours of duty
The author, a highly decorated Marine turned reporter, has a long list of accomplishments. A quick google search outlined his many awards and honors, both military and literary. Very impressive.

It is from his viewpoint as both soldier and journalist that he tries to make sense of a war that “left a wake of destruction, forcing (us) to craft new lives from the ruins”. A war where the paradox is that the greatest achievements are tied to the greatest failures, where victory is tied to defeat. A
Roman Clodia
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Memoir, essay collection, journalism, geopolitical analysis, personal reckoning and closure after combat?: this collection is all these things. What links the pieces are Ackerman's probing intelligence, emotional honesty and the authenticity of his experiences. The decades of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, now Syria have left their impact on the American psyche (it's no coincidence that Vietnam keeps being mentioned) and have also thrown up authors who have taken their combat experiences and turned t ...more
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an honest review in exchange for the copy provided by the publisher.

Phew ... it was a long, painful, and necessary read.
Places and Names is an ideal name for this book as it reflects its mosaic nature. Some might argue that such nature would only make reading difficult, and the book can be unreadable, and the answer is - yes and no at the same time.

Somehow, even though it does not contribute to the evenness of the narrative, it also underlines that there could not be a narrative as it
Deborah Stevens
Jul 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oh my.

I adored this short yet weighty accounting of the author’s dealings with war. Ackerman was drawn to become a Marine during the post- 9/11 period, then deployed multiple times to Iraq, then went to Syria as a civilian to see that conflict for himself. This book is long on descriptions of his interactions with the people he encountered, and the newspaper type accounts of dates, places, events serve the human story.

Throughout he seems to “love the questions” more than answer them, and to “li
Dec 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The First Gulf War, the Second Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan, the rise of ISIS, the fall of ISIS—how are all of these related, what were their outcomes, and what lessons can be drawn?

While these questions will employ a generation of historians, former Marine, erstwhile journalist, and writer Elliot Ackerman’s book Places and Names is a good place to learn about these names.

As a journalist Ackerman meets up with a man who at one fight fought at almost the same time and in almost the same place
Nov 29, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 disappointing stars.

Ackerman employs a spare writing style when sharing his own wartime experiences and it gave me the feeling I was an unwelcome intruder. Although he effectively described the pull of returning to war zones for (some) former military members the book itself felt more self-indulgent than revelatory.

I wouldn't have been so disappointed if the author hadn't written so well about everyone other than himself. Historic passages were first rate. The lack of openness made the book
Jonathan Tennis
Aug 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoy reading veteran authors but had somehow not read any of Ackerman's work in the past. That changed when my book club picked "Waiting for Eden". After that I finished his other books. Though none of his material is considered light and fluffy feel good sh*t of Hallmark, he tells one helluva story.

My favorite like from this memoir in essays was this one (page numbers approximate as I was reading an Advance Copy) - “I wear a black steel bracelet on my wrist. It’s got Dan’s name on it, and t
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book spoke to me. I have a son currently weighing whether to enter military service. I now better appreciate the weightiness of such a decision for an 18 year old kid. I have read too many books on war. This one is in a class all its own. Only participants in events can truly empathize with one another; good books get non-participants as close to the reality of things as is possible. When I closed this book, I left it haunted by Ackerman's words. I needed them. ...more
Daniel Ford
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Author Thomas E. Ricks described Elliot Ackerman’s voice as “too close for comfort,” and author Phil Klay said the author “brings a novelist’s skill with language” and “a reporter’s eye for detail.” I can’t put it any more succinctly than that. It felt at times like Ackerman was across from me at a bar, telling me his story about war and returning (both home and overseas). In so many subtle ways, he paints such a visceral tableau that you’re transported to a border crossing in Syria or sweating ...more
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting and informative collection of pieces that delve into his experiences at war with the Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq, both as combatant and advisor, as well as on his later journalistic career in the region. Some heartbreaking insights into some of the losses he experienced. Some of the reporting pertinent to Trump's removal of US forces from Syrian and the betrayal of our Kurdish allies. I think it would be a good book for young officers to read and add to their bookshelf. I like ...more
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Nothing Ackerman has written equals Waiting for Eden...a profound meditation on life and death, especially getting to death. This book is, essentially, the non-fiction version of Dark at the Crossing. He is a talented writer.
Joe Harrison
Apr 19, 2020 rated it liked it
The author is without a doubt a good writer but this book feels half finished and lacking real depth. Biography & Memoir
It’s hard to square the picture of the mild-faced writer looking out from the back flap of his book with the knowledge that this same man served five combat tours over eight years in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the process earning a Silver Star, a Bronze Star for Valor, and a Purple Heart.

But Elliot Ackerman’s PLACES AND NAMES quickly dispels that feeling of cognitive dissonance. In its 18 loosely connected pieces, the battle-tested ex-Marine reveals his skills as a journalist and memoirist, as he
James Beggarly
Feb 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book starts with talk of confusion and there was plenty of confusion as the author spent eight years as a Marine fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan and further confusion as he goes back to this area as a journalist. But the stories he tells of his time as a soldier and now covering continuing conflicts in Syria and Iraq are clear eyed and unsentimental, even if the author is still too close to his memories to see what it all means. That will take years to become clearer, but this book at ...more
Tami Vogel
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Initially I was somewhat disappointed because I thought most of the content was going to be about his relationship with a former al-Qaeda member. But this is my fault. I don't like reading too much about a book before picking it up so I just skimmed through the early press on it:

American guy discovers he and former al-Qaeda member have been in the same cities/locations by simply drawing maps and pointing to spots? I'm intrigued. Tell me more.

Well, the book definitely told me more, almost more th
I thought Elliot Ackerman's book Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning would be an excellent choice for rounding out my knowledge of Syria, but I can't say that this is true. Rather it addresses the very 21st century issue of war in the Middle East and specifically the effects on the participants:

"Along the periphery of Syria’s civil war, I often meet veterans of the last decade’s wars, wanderers amidst the Arab Spring’s upheaval. Places like Tahrir, Aleppo, Tunis, and Taksim posse
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
One would hardly expect from this book's dull title that it would be a gripping memoir about Middle East violence and miscalculations. Ackerman writes about the senselessness of Afghanistan and his tour of duty there as a Marine officer; about the ironies of Middle East conflict mission paradoxes and about how in one instance he felt like he was playing a John Wayne trope. Clearly the Middle East had a strange hold on him as he returned following discharge as a journalist to places where he'd fo ...more
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Maybe 2.5*'s. This is a book by a former Marine who served 5 tours in Afghanistan & Iraq. He is a decorated veteran who displayed great courage in the 2nd Battle of Fallujah and was awarded the Silver Star for bravery. The book centers around 2 former adversaries and their journeys around Syria & Iraq. Visiting the places he fought was a trip down memory lane. I don't quite understand the need to return. My family members who fought and served in Iraq and Afghanistan don't want anything to do wi ...more
Kevin M.
Apr 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-non-fiction
Elliot Ackerman returns to parts of the Middle East that are still undergoing tremendous turmoil in order to assess the current situation and provide perspectives on how U.S. foreign policy and the decision to go to war in Iraq still affects the region in a myriad of ways. He also went there to return to one of the bloodiest battlegrounds where U.S. Marines and soldiers had fought in decades, Fallujah. He does so to seek out those places where his fellow Marines gave their lives. I found his wri ...more
Luke Johnson
Aug 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
This memoir from Elliot Ackerman, decorated veteran of the post 9/11 Middle East wars, is a very jumpy recollection. I keep forgetting that I'm not really a fan of memoirs as they don't really build to a climax more often than not. If there is a point Ackerman is trying to make I didnt really get it. There's no thesis statement, no arguement. Instead, the reader does get some rather harrowing details of servicemen dying and the house to house fighting during the battle of Fallujah.

Nothing but re
Colleen Benelli
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
I had no intention of reading this book. I thought it would be a good gift for my husband. Not only have I read it, I've been recommending it to everyone I know. Why? Elliot Ackerman writes about his journey back to the Middle East to try to understand what happened there. He is a decorated war hero who has the courage to question the wars he fought in and the wars we continue to fight. In reading his story I've come to understand my own responsibility to follow our country's foreign policy. If ...more
Mar 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
I appreciated the author’s honest assessment about his lack of closure over the meaning of the tactical victory and sacrifices in the Battle of Fallujah against the backdrop of the strategic losses in the broader narrative of the war(s) in Iraq. The author provides excellent descriptions and explanations of the paradoxes of combat. And the book has something for every officer: for the new officer who wants to make a difference, the slightly older officer with more ties that bind on the home fron ...more
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Places and Names is another spectacular piece of writing from Elliot Ackerman. I felt like I was watching a silent war movie, with his words as the subtitles. I could almost feel the grit of the dust on my skin as Mr. Ackerman took me through his days as a Marine and later, as a civilian returning to the war zone. Both thoughtful and thought provoking, you will want to settle in with your favorite beverage for this page-turning memoir that will stay with you long after you have finished reading.
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
About the most up-to-date book about the war in the Middle East. Ackerman writes about his experiences as a US soldier in Iraq, which leads to his work as a reporter in the aftermath that became ISIS and Syria. Very well written but disturbing as hell since it reads so honest. The end, though, leaves me incomplete. I wish there were a little more to make it the great book it almost is. Well worth reading, though, even if no one else gets that these wars are stupid and hopeless and devastating to ...more
Brett W
Feb 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
All throughout the book I kept thinking about how good it was - journeying with the author to various locations in Iraq (15 years had passed since he served as a lieutenant in the Marines), having coffee with strangers and discovering they were insurgents he very well could have met as combatants - then came the last chapter, which provided a richer contextualization of his experiences and a greater appreciation for what he had done, both as a service member and as a man seeking closure with his ...more
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Insightful book written by a marine (now journalist) who had 5 tours of duty in the middle east during the Iraq War. Ackerman goes back and re-visits the sites of several battles he fought in Iraq and Syria in the early 2000's and interviews a variety of people. His thoughts and insights are fascinating as are those of the "locals." Note to future readers: Read the last chapter first - it will help you understand the whole book a little better! ...more
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Elliot Ackerman served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and is the recipient of the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart. A former White House Fellow, his essays and fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Ecotone, among others. He currently lives in Istanbul and writes on the Syrian Civil War

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