Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War

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Overview

Black Hawk Down is Mark Bowden's account of the longest sustained firefight involving American troops since the Vietnam War. On October 3, 1993, about a hundred elite U.S. soldiers were dropped by helicopters into the teeming market in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. Their mission was to abduct two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord and return to base. It was supposed to take an hour. Instead they found themselves pinned down through a long and terrible night fighting against thousands of heavily armed Somalis....
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Overview

Black Hawk Down is Mark Bowden's account of the longest sustained firefight involving American troops since the Vietnam War. On October 3, 1993, about a hundred elite U.S. soldiers were dropped by helicopters into the teeming market in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. Their mission was to abduct two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord and return to base. It was supposed to take an hour. Instead they found themselves pinned down through a long and terrible night fighting against thousands of heavily armed Somalis. The following morning, eighteen Americans were dead and more than seventy badly injured.

1999 National Book Award nominee for Nonfiction.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Mark Bowden gives the reader an intense "You Are There" look at the October 1993 attempt by a U.S. Special Forces team to abduct two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord in Mogadishu, Somalia -- and shows how the mission turned into a bloodbath that would cost the lives of 18 American soldiers. Ultimately, the incident would lead to the infamous video footage of a soldier's body being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Bowden is careful to present both sides of the conflict, giving the reader all the information they need to fully understand the day's tragic events.
Bob Shacochis
...A descendent of books like The Killer Angels, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the battle of Gettysburg, and We Were Soldiers Once...and Young, a best-selling eyewitness account of the Vietnam-era battle of Ia Drang; like those two, Black Hawk Down ranks among the best books ever written about infantry combat.
New York Observer
Mark Schone

One reason movies about war are so hot right now is that few American males have had to face the real thing. For a man who's never braved enemy fire, who's never been "tested," The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan can seem like parables of character. Would I, the ticket buyer wonders, be willing to die for a nameless hill or an unknown soldier?

But the blood in these filmed battles is spilled for a larger cause, by men of every station. In real time, long after the last Good War, the dying hasn't stopped; now, though, it's done by blue-collar volunteers in morally muddy police actions. Never has the murk been more obscure than it was in Somalia on Oct. 3, 1993, when, in the American military's nastiest firefight since Vietnam, 19 soldiers died in the name of little more than one another. An incident that began with two downed helicopters ended with American casualties being dragged through the streets and American policymakers scrambling for the exit.

Black Hawk Down re-creates, with exacting detail, the gory confusion of that day, when questions of heroism were far from cinematic. Mark Bowden's work ethic inspired him to track down 50 veterans of the conflict and bring back Mogadishu whole. He conveys the sound and the feel of killing — of what it's like to watch your bullets splash through a stranger and of the claustrophobic panic you feel when the strangers you are shooting at begin to close in. He established such trust with his subjects that they told him about everything from the banal ("It felt like a movie") to the brutal (trying to plug a spurting artery with an index finger) to the embarrassing (masturbation in combat). We're reminded that these are young men with excess animal energy that surfaces in both violence and sex, that the flip side of valor is an evil carnal thrill. "That was the secret core of all the hoo-ah ... esprit," Bowden writes. "Permission ... to break the biggest social taboo of all. You killed people."

Mogadishu has already inspired several books and documentaries, with another set for CNN in April. Spy planes and surveillance cameras made it one of history's best-documented battles. Bowden's rendering, however, is the most accurate and extensive, because in addition to first-person accounts he wrangled access to confidential Army action logs. He also moves beyond Soldier of Fortune-style bravado, interviewing dozens of enemy combatants so that we can learn why a thousand angry Somalis threw themselves into the high-tech maw of the Army Rangers, sacrificing their lives just to teach the U.S. government a lesson. Sometimes the book bogs down in this conscientious detail — Bowden wants us to know where every man was at every minute. So much data and so many different dramas and casts are braided into this one engagement that the account becomes confusing; more maps and recaps might've helped keep it straight.

This is the sort of crowded time line that Web sites were invented for. In fact, the Rangers have used Bowden's original Philadelphia Inquirer articles as the core of their own Mogadishu cyber-memorial, linking the text to maps and bios in a shorter, tighter version of events. But if Bowden had also opted for simplicity, imposing a dramatic arc on confusion and paring away supporting characters, he'd have left some men's last hours unremembered. In other words, if he'd made his peerless record of this forgotten war more like a Web site, he'd have been making it more like a war movie. And that will happen soon enough anyway, because Jerry Bruckheimer has already bought the rights to the book.
Salon

Steven Komarow
[Bowden's] details are amazing. Readers will swear he was there, everywhere, watching as bullets tore through flesh. In the novelistic style adopted by some journalists, Bowden weaves a seamless tale, acknowledging gaps and shortcomings only in his notes at the end. USA Today
Jonathan Yardley
A vivid, immediate and unsparing narrative that is filled with blood and noise.... It bears comparison to S.L.A. Marshall's classic account of a battle in Korea, Pork Chop Hill.
Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
This is military writing at its breathless best. Bowden (Bringing the Heat) has used his journalistic skills to find and interview key participants on both sides of the October 1993 raid into the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia, a raid that quickly became the most intensive close combat Americans have engaged in since the Vietnam War. But Bowden's gripping narrative of the fighting is only a framework for an examination of the internal dynamics of America's elite forces and a critique of the philosophy of sending such high-tech units into combat with minimal support. He sees the Mogadishu engagement as a portent of a disturbing future. The soldiers' mission was to seize two lieutenants of a powerful Somali warlord. Despite all their preparation and training, the mission unraveled and they found themselves fighting ad hoc battles in ad hoc groups. Eschewing the post facto rationalization that characterizes so much military journalism, Bowden presents snapshots of the chaos at the heart of combat. On page after page, in vignette after vignette, he reminds us that war is about breaking things and killing people. In Mogadishu that day, there was no room for elaborate rules of engagement. In the end, it was a task force of unglamorous "straight-leg" infantry that saved the trapped raiders. Did the U.S. err by creating elite forces that are too small to sustain the attrition of modern combat? That's one of the key questions Bowden raises in a gripping account of combat that merits thoughtful reading by anyone concerned with the future course of the country's military strategy and its relationship to foreign policy.
Library Journal
Black Hawk Down is more than a well-crafted action thriller. Ninety-nine elite fighting men, trapped in a hostile city, are running out of ammunition and medical supplies as night falls. A rescue helicopter crashes, and an armored column loses its way. But this is not fiction; the people are real, and Bowden takes pains to show how a peaceful food-for-starving-Africans mission led to U.S. involvement in the battle of Mogadishu and how it extricated itself. This original work is virtually the sole source on the battle; it has won awards and was made into a movie. One caveat: this accurate portrayal of war contains a lot of gore. Narrator Alan Sklar's dramatization of this gripping tale is compelling. Recommended for all collections.DJames L. Dudley, Westhampton, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Michael Maren
Amazing...One of the most intense, visceral reading experiences imaginable....The individual stories are woven together in such a compelling and expert fashion, the narrative flows so seamlessly, that it's hard to imagine that this is not fiction.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Matthew Heimer
This story of a U.S. military mission gone awry belongs in an elite category: nonfiction that you can't put down....[A] page-turner.
Brill's Content
William Finnegan
What [the book's] demotic, you-are-there prose lacks in literary finesse...it makes up for in pure narrative drive....Bowden has performed an important service by picking out and meticulously dramatizing such a turning point in recent history. Until [the book] came along, this strange and terrible battle was in danger of being forgotten.
The New York Times Book Review
Scott Taylor
A fast-paced factual account that reads like a non-fiction thriller....Black Hawk Down is an engrossing read, a well-told tale of modern combat.
The Globe and Mail Toronto
Benjamin F. Schemmer
I did not 'read' Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down...I devoured it...[It is] honest journalism and understated drama that probably describes the most likely future of war.
Strategic Review
Don Murray
I can't remember having read such good reporting of a combat engagement....Journalistic writing at its best.
Boston Globe
Sean D. Naylor
...[S]uperb....painstakingly recreates each moment of the battle...The book is full of examples of extraordinary heroism in the face of almost overwhelming odds....[A] riveting description of what might be called the first battle of the 21st century...
Washington Monthly
Tom Walker
The quintessential story of men in combat...If Black Hawk Down were fiction, we'd rank it up there with the best war novels, The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, or The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien....Bowden captures the essence of combat — the sights and sounds, the terror and the determination, the sheer will to survive. It's an intense and impressive work.
The Denver Post
Jim Haner
One of the finest combat reconstructions in the annals of warfare...The result of Bowden's efforts is a detailed after-action report that stands in a league with Shelby Foote's stirring Civil War diary Shiloh — rare in its completeness, compassion and reverence for the valor of young men cast into extraordinary circumstances.
The Baltimore Sun
Jonathan Yardley
A vivid, immediate and unsparing narrative that is filled with blood and noise.... It bears comparison to S.L.A. Marshall's classic account of a battle in Korea, Pork Chop Hill.
Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802144737
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/13/2010
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 46,363
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Bowden
Mark Bowden is the award-winning author of Bringing the Heat and Doctor Dealer. He has been a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer for nineteen years. He also writes for Men's Journal, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, Rolling Stone, Parade, and other magazines.
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Table of Contents

The Assault 1
Black Hawk Down 69
Overrun 133
The Alamo 199
N.S.D.Q. 259
Afterword 351
Sources 357
Acknowledgments 381
Index 383
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First Chapter

Chapter One


At liftoff, Matt Eversmann said a Hail Mary. He was curled into a seat between two helicopter crew chiefs, the knees of his long legs up to his shoulders. Before him, jammed on both sides of the Black Hawk helicopter, was his "chalk," twelve young men in flak vests over tan desert camouflage fatigues.

    He knew their faces so well they were like brothers. The older guys on this crew, like Eversmann, a staff sergeant with five years in at age twenty-six, had lived and trained together for years. Some had come up together through basic training, jump school, and Ranger school. They had traveled the world, to Korea, Thailand, Central America ... they knew each other better than most brothers did. They'd been drunk together, gotten into fights, slept on forest floors, jumped out of airplanes, climbed mountains, shot down foaming rivers with their hearts in their throats, baked and frozen and starved together, passed countless bored hours, teased one another endlessly about girlfriends or lack of same, driven out in the middle of the night from Fort Benning to retrieve each other from some diner or strip club out on Victory Drive after getting drunk and falling asleep or pissing off some barkeep. Through all those things, they had been training for a moment like this. It was the first time the lanky sergeant had been put in charge, and he was nervous about it.

    Pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death, amen.

    It was midafternoon, October 3, 1993. Eversmann's Chalk Four was part of a force of U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force operators who were about to drop in uninvited on a gathering of Habr Gidr clan leaders in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. This ragged clan, led by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, had picked a fight with the United States of America, and it was, without a doubt, going down. Today's targets were two of Aidid's lieutenants. They would be arrested and imprisoned with a growing number of the belligerent clan's bosses on an island off the southern Somali coast city of Kismayo. Chalk Four's piece of this snatch-and-grab was simple. Each of the four Ranger chalks had a corner of the block around the target house. Eversmann's would rope down to the northwest corner and set up a blocking position. With Rangers on all four corners, no one would enter the zone where Delta was working, and no one would leave.

    They had done this dozens of times without difficulty, in practice and on the task force's six previous missions. The pattern was clear in Eversmann's mind. He knew which way to move when he hit the ground, where his soldiers would be. Those out of the left side of the bird would assemble on the left side of the street. Those out of the right side would assemble right. Then they would peel off in both directions, with the medics and the youngest guys in the middle. Private First Class Todd Blackburn was the baby on Eversmann's bird, a kid fresh out of Florida high school who had not yet even been to Ranger school. He'd need watching. Sergeant Scott Galentine was older but also inexperienced here in Mog. He was a replacement, just in from Benning. The burden of responsibility for these young Rangers weighed heavily on Eversmann. This time out they were his.

    As chalk leader, he was handed headphones when he took his front seat. They were bulky and had a mouthpiece and were connected by a long black cord to a plug on the ceiling. He took his helmet off and settled the phones over his ears.

    One of the crew chiefs tapped his shoulder.

    "Matt, be sure you remember to take those off before you leave," he said, pointing to the cord.

    Then they had stewed on the hot tarmac for what seemed an hour, breathing the pungent diesel fumes and oozing sweat under their body armor and gear, fingering their weapons anxiously, every man figuring this mission would probably be scratched before they got off the ground. That's how it usually went. There were twenty false alarms for every real mission. Back when they'd arrived in Mog five weeks earlier, they were so flush with excitement that cheers went up from Black Hawk to Black Hawk every time they boarded the birds. Now spin-ups like this were routine and usually amounted to nothing.

    Waiting for the code word for launch, which today was "Irene," they were a formidable sum of men and machines. There were four of the amazing AH-6 Little Birds, two-seat bubble-front attack helicopters that could fly just about anywhere. The Little Birds were loaded with rockets this time, a first. Two would make the initial sweep over the target and two more would help with rear security. There were four MH-6 Little Birds with benches mounted on both sides for delivering the spearhead of the assault force, Delta's C Squadron, one of three operational elements in the army's top secret commando unit. Following this strike force were eight of the elongated troop-carrying Black Hawks: two carrying Delta assaulters and their ground command, four for delivering the Rangers (Company B, 3rd Battalion of the army's 75th Infantry, the Ranger Regiment out of Fort Benning, Georgia), one carrying a crack CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) team, and one to fly the two mission commanders — Lieutenant Colonel Tom Matthews, who was coordinating the pilots of the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky); and Delta Lieutenant Colonel Gary Harrell, who had responsibility for the men on the ground. The ground convoy, which was lined up and idling out by the front gate, consisted of nine wide-body Humvees and three five-ton trucks. The trucks would be used to haul the prisoners and assault forces out. The Humvees were filled with Rangers, Delta operators, and four members of SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) Team Six, part of the navy's special forces branch. Counting the three surveillance birds and the spy plane high overhead, there were nineteen aircraft, twelve vehicles, and about 160 men. It was an eager armada on a taut rope.

    There were signs this one would go. The commander of Task Force Ranger, Major General William F. Garrison, had come out to see them off. He had never done that before. A tall, slender, gray-haired man in desert fatigues with half an unlit cigar jutting from the corner of his mouth, Garrison had walked from chopper to chopper and then stooped down by each Humvee.

    "Be careful," he said in his Texas drawl.

    Then he'd move on to the next man.

    "Good luck."

    Then the next.

    "Be careful."

    The swell of all those revving engines made the earth tremble and their pulses race. It was stirring to be part of it, the cocked fist of America's military might. Woe to whatever stood in their way. Bristling with grenades and ammo, gripping the steel of their automatic weapons, their hearts pounding under their flak vests, they waited with a heady mix of hope and dread. They ran through last-minute mental checklists, saying prayers, triple-checking weapons, rehearsing their precise tactical choreography, performing little rituals ... whatever it was that prepared them for battle. They all knew this mission might get hairy. It was an audacious daylight thrust into the "Black Sea," the very heart of Habr Gidr territory in central Mogadishu and warlord Aidid's stronghold. Their target was a three-story house of whitewashed stone with a flat roof, a modern modular home in one of the city's few remaining clusters of intact large buildings, surrounded by blocks and blocks of tin-roofed dwellings of muddy stone. Hundreds of thousands of clan members lived in this labyrinth of irregular dirt streets and cactus-lined paths. There were no decent maps. Pure Indian country.

    The men had watched the rockets being loaded on the AH-6s. Garrison hadn't done that on any of their earlier missions. It meant they were expecting trouble. The men had girded themselves with extra ammo, stuffing magazines and grenades into every available pocket and pouch of their load-bearing harnesses, leaving behind canteens, bayonets, night-vision goggles, and any other gear they felt would be deadweight on a fast daylight raid. The prospect of getting into a scrape didn't worry them. Not at all. They welcomed it. They were predators, heavy metal avengers, unstoppable, invincible. The feeling was, after six weeks of diddling around they were finally going in to kick some serious Somali ass.

    It was 3:32 P.M. when the chalk leader inside the lead Black Hawk, Super Six Four, heard over the intercom the soft voice of the pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Durant, clearly pleased.

    Durant announced, "Fuckin' Irene."

    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 midafternoon 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 Somalia 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. The few paved avenues were crumbling and littered with mountains of trash, debris, and the rusted hulks of burned-out vehicles. Those walls and buildings that had not been reduced to heaps of gray rubble were pockmarked with bullet scars. Telephone poles leaned at ominous angles like voodoo totems topped by stiff sprays of dreadlocks — the stubs of their severed wires (long since stripped for sale on the thriving black market). Public spaces displayed the hulking stone platforms that once held statuary from the heroic old days of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, the national memory stripped bare not out of revolutionary fervor, but to sell the bronze and copper for scrap. The few proud old government and university buildings that still stood were inhabited now by refugees. Everything of value had been looted, right down to metal window frames, doorknobs, and hinges. At night, campfires glowed from third- and fourth-story windows of the old Polytechnic Institute. Every open space was clotted with the dense makeshift villages of the disinherited, round stick huts covered with layers of rags and shacks made of scavenged scraps of wood and patches of rusted tin. From above they looked like an advanced stage of some festering urban rot.

    In his bird, Super Six Seven, Eversmann rehearsed the plan in his mind. By the time they reached the street, the D-boys would already be taking down the target house, rounding up Somali prisoners and shooting anyone foolish enough to fight back. Word was there were two big boys in this house, men whom the task force had identified as "Tier One Personalities," Aidid's top men. As the D-boys did their work and the Rangers kept the curious at bay, the ground convoy of trucks and Humvees would roll in through the city, right up to the target house. The prisoners would be herded into the trucks. The assault team and blocking force would jump in behind them and they would all drive back to finish out a nice Sunday afternoon on the beach. It would take about an hour.

    To make room for the Rangers in the Black Hawks, the seats in back had been removed. The men who were not in the doorways were squatting on ammo cans or seated on the flak-proof Kevlar panels laid out on the floor. They all wore desert camouflage fatigues, with Kevlar vests and helmets and about fifty pounds of equipment and ammo strapped to their load-bearing harnesses, which fit on over the vests. All had goggles and thick leather gloves. Those layers of gear made even the slightest of them look bulky, robotic, and intimidating. Stripped down to their dirt-brown T-shirts and shorts, which is how they spent most of their time in the hangar, most looked like the pimply teenagers they were (average age nineteen). They were immensely proud of their Ranger status. It spared them most of the numbing noncombat-related routine that drove many an army enlistee nuts. The Rangers trained for war full-time. They were fitter, faster, and first — "Rangers lead the way!" was their motto. Each had volunteered at least three times to get where they were, for the army, for airborne, and for the Rangers. They were the cream, the most highly motivated young soldiers of their generation, selected to fit the army's ideal — they were all male and, revealingly, nearly all white (there were only two blacks among the 140-man company). Some were professional soldiers, like Lieutenant Larry Perino, a 1990 West Point graduate. Some were overachievers in search of a different challenge, like Specialist John Waddell on Chalk Two, who had enlisted after finishing high school in Natchez, Mississippi, with a 4.0 GPA. Some were daredevils in search of a physical challenge. Others were self-improvers, young men who had found themselves adrift after high school, or in trouble with drugs, booze, the law, or all three. They were harder-edged than most young men of their generation who, on this Sunday in early autumn, were weeks into their fall college semester. Most of these Rangers had been kicked around some, had tasted failure. But there were no goof-offs. Every man had worked to be here, probably harder than he'd ever worked in his life. Those with troubled pasts had taken harsh measure of themselves. Beneath their best hard-ass act, most were achingly earnest, patriotic, and idealistic. They had literally taken the army up on its offer to "Be All You Can Be."

    They held themselves to a higher standard than normal soldiers. With their buff bodies, distinct crew cuts — sides and back of the head completely shaved — and their grunted Hoo-ah greeting, they saw themselves as the army at its gung ho best. Many, if they could make it, aspired to join Special Forces, maybe even get picked to try out for Delta, the hale, secret supersoldiers now leading this force in. Only the very best of them would be invited to try out, and only one of every ten invited would make it through selection. In this ancient male hierarchy, the Rangers were a few steps up the ladder, but the D-boys owned the uppermost rung.

    Rangers knew the surest path to that height was combat experience. So far, Mog had been mostly a tease. War was always about to happen. About to happen. Even the missions, exciting as they'd been, had fallen short. The Somalis — whom they called "Skinnies" or "Sammies" — had taken a few wild shots at them, enough to get the Rangers' blood up and unleash a hellish torrent of return fire, but nothing that qualified as a genuine balls-out firefight.

    Which is what they wanted. All of these guys. If there were any hesitant thoughts, they were buttoned tight. A lot of these men had started as afraid of war as anyone, but the fear had been drummed out. Especially in Ranger training. About a fourth of those who volunteered washed out, enough so that those who emerged with their Ranger tab at the end were riding the headiest wave of accomplishment in their young lives. The weak had been weeded out. The strong had stepped up. Then came weeks, months, years of constant training. The Hoo-ahs couldn't wait to go to war. They were an all-star football team that had endured bruising, exhausting, dangerous practice sessions twelve hours a day, seven days a week — for years — without ever getting to play a game.

    They yearned for battle. They passed around the dog-eared paperback memoirs of soldiers from past conflicts, many written by former Rangers, and savored the affectionate, comradely tone of their stories, feeling bad for the poor suckers who bought it or got crippled or maimed but identifying with the righteous men who survived the experience whole. They studied the old photos, which were the same from every war, young men looking dirty and tired, half dressed in army combat fatigues, dogtags hanging around their skinny necks, posing with arms draped over each other's shoulders in exotic lands. They could see themselves in those snapshots, surrounded by their buddies, fighting their war. It was THE test, the only one that counted.

    Sergeant Mike Goodale had tried to explain this to his mother one time, on leave in Illinois. His mom was a nurse, incredulous at his bravado.

    "Why would anybody want to go to war?" she asked.

    Goodale told her it would be like, as a nurse, after all her training, never getting the chance to work in a hospital. It would be like that.

    "You want to find out if you can really do the job," he explained.

    Like those guys in books. They'd been tested and proven. It was another generation of Rangers' turn now. Their turn.

    It didn't matter that none of the men in these helicopters knew enough to write a high school paper about Somalia. They took the army's line without hesitation. Warlords had so ravaged the nation battling among themselves that their people were starving to death. When the world sent food, the evil warlords hoarded it and killed those who tried to stop them. So the civilized world had decided to lower the hammer, invite the baddest boys on the planet over to clean things up. 'Nuff said. Little the Rangers had seen since arriving at the end of August had altered that perception. Mogadishu was like the postapocalyptic world of Mel Gibson's Mad Max movies, a world ruled by roving gangs of armed thugs. They were here to rout the worst of the warlords and restore sanity and civilization.

    Eversmann had always just enjoyed being a Ranger. He wasn't sure how he felt about being in charge, even if it was just temporary. He'd won the distinction by default. His platoon sergeant had been summoned home by an illness in his family, and then the guy who replaced him had keeled over with an epileptic seizure. He, too, had been sent home. Eversmann was the senior man in line. He accepted the task hesitantly. That morning at Mass in the mess he'd prayed about it.

    Airborne now at last, Eversmann swelled with energy and pride as he looked out over the full armada. It was a state-of-the-art military force. Already circling high above the target was the slickest intelligence support America had to offer, including satellites, a high-flying P3 Orion spy plane, and three OH-58 observation helicopters, which looked like the bubble-front Little Bird choppers with a five-foot bulbous polyp growing out of the top. The observation birds were equipped with video cameras and radio equipment that would relay the action live to General Garrison and the other senior officers in the Joint Operations Center (JOC) back at the beach. Moviemakers and popular authors might strain to imagine the peak capabilities of the U.S. military, but here was the real thing about to strike. It was a well-oiled, fully equipped, late-twentieth-century fighting machine. America's best were going to war, and Sergeant Matt Eversmann was among them.

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Interviews & Essays

Before the live bn.com chat, Mark Bowden agreed to answer some of our questions.

Q:  Did you face much or any resistance to telling the truth while researching this book and tracking down 50 veterans of this conflict? Also, what was the biggest surprise about modern American military philosophy that you encountered while writing Black Hawk Down?

A:  Truthfulness was not a problem. Access was difficult at first, but once I'd tracked down my first dozen or so Rangers (initially through the help of Jim Smith, whose Ranger son, Jamie, died in the fight), it was like the dam burst. The Army would not allow interviews with Delta Force operators but did set up my interview with Black Hawk pilot Mike Durant and other members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which was extremely helpful. The soldiers themselves were extraordinarily candid and seemed grateful for the chance to tell their story in detail.

There were so many things I didn't know about the military before I started writing this that it's hard to answer the second question. I think the thing that most surprised me was the professionalism and overall quality of the soldiers. These were very impressive young men, absolutely committed to their service and trying very hard to live up to admirable ideals. I was also surprised to learn how busy these elite soldiers are, how many missions they are called upon to perform around the world during a peacetime period.

Q:  How were you able to gain access to confidential Army action logs?

A:  The official Army records, documents, video, and audiotapes were shared with me by military officers who were determined that the story of what happened in Mogadishu be told accurately. There has been much misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding this very important incident, and I think they saw Black Hawk Down as a chance to get the real story out. I was impressed by the fact that no one who provided me with official information placed any conditions on me. In every instance, I was told, "We're not worried about what you write; we just want you to know the truth."

Q:  Are you at all surprised that two of the movies up for Best Picture at the Oscars are war movies? Also, do either "Saving Private Ryan" or "The Thin Red Line" get your vote for best picture?

A:  I am surprised that war movies seem to have made a comeback. It was not something I foresaw. I have read that one reason we are seeing a sudden resurgence in interest in war is that so few young Americans have ever experienced it, so perhaps I was drawn to write about the Battle of Mogadishu for some of the same reasons Steven Spielberg and Terrence Malick were drawn to World War II. My goal when I set out to write Black Hawk Down was to capture the experience of combat through the eyes of foot soldiers. I wanted to write about both sides of a fight with more energy, realism, and depth than I had ever seen attempted. I was finished with the book when I saw "Saving Private Ryan" for the first time, and I was struck by how similar a feel the wrenching beach-landing scene had to the chapters in my book where the lost convoy is wandering through Mogadishu streets getting cut to ribbons. It didn't surprise me. As I wrote in the epilogue to Black Hawk Down, the story of combat is timeless. It is about the same things whether in Troy or Gettysburg, Normandy or the Ia Drang. I liked both films for different reasons, but "Saving Private Ryan" had more emotional resonance for me and is, I think, the more powerful.

Q:  Please recommend three books that you've read and enjoyed recently.

A:  Three recent books I enjoyed very much are The Great Bridge by David McCullough, Purple America by Rick Moody, and Our Guys by Bernard Lefkowitz.

Q:  This is a very broad question, but generally speaking, what sort of future do you foresee for the United States Armed Forces?

A:  The U.S. Armed Forces are at a crossroads. The end of the cold war has completely changed the role of America in the world, and I think Black Hawk Down illustrates the dangers of proceeding with a poorly defined one. Our military today is experiencing serious manpower shortages at the same time our leaders keep finding new ways to employ it. Over the next ten years I hope we will better adapt the military to cope with unconventional threats worldwide, and we will do a better job of clearly defining when, where, and how that force will be applied. These are very hard questions to answer, and I have heard no one in politics clearly articulate a policy. One of the lessons of Black Hawk Down is that we need leadership that rigorously thinks through the consequences before any military intervention. Either the mission is worth American lives or it is not.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 280 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2006

    Awesome Book!

    This book made me fully realize why soldiers actually suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. As a teen, I lived through the Vietnam era and lost a few friends there, but never really understood the fears they went through. I've never read a more comprehensive book explaining details of war. Including these soldiers' lives and family stories made it heart-wrenching and so real. Absolutely the best-written book I've ever read!

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2011

    A Great Book on Modern War

    As a frequent gamer of historical military-based video games, I was initially drawn to Black Hawk Down, by Mark Bowden. Moreover, because of the book's association with modern warfare and weaponry on which some of my games are based, I felt an immediate connection with the subject matter.
    What I especially found intriguing was the thorough description of the mission. I appreciated the inclusion of maps of the area and locations of buildings and units. Even though the story frequently switched its focus from one situation to the next (which I did not enjoy) the maps did make the account of the mission a lot less confusing. I also enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the combat, making the intensity and perspective more believable. Overall, the accounts from a first-person perspective were equally matched with intricate detail that only a soldier in the field could even attempt to recount.
    As mentioned earlier, the downside in recounting each of the battle conflicts was the obvious skipping around between the different fight scenes which definitely made the mission harder to follow. Also, the account could be difficult to understand especially if the reader did not have a background in military lingo, terminology, weapons, and vehicles prior to their reading. On the other hand, being a story about modern war, one should have some knowledge before attempting to read a military genre in the first place.
    I would recommend this book to any high school student interested in history or modern warfare. The book, while explicit about the soldiers' insecurities and bloody casualties, could be enlightening about the United States involvement in foreign countries in which we don't always fully understand their internal conflicts. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that most high school students are awed by the United States military's training and readiness, but this account presents the other side of the coin whereby even a rag-tag team of rebels can find weakness and cause havoc and casualties in a military setting.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2005

    Elite American soldiers in harrowing modern street combat

    Having seen the movie, I decided to read the book. And it is much more detailed and provides a lot more background info than the movie had time for. With close to 100 American Rangers and Delta Force soldiers involved in the early hours of combat, the book does a surprisingly good job of covering each fighting group's experiences. Unlike the movie, it also provides background info on and perspective of some of the Somalian fighters engaged. Essentially, the American contigent of Delta and Rangers was given the White House-initiated mission of capturing the de facto ruler of Mogadishu (Mog) and former Somali general, Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Over the preceding two months in Mog, this team (led by Gen. Garrison) had completed five other snatch and grab missions. They managed to capture some of Aidid's key lieutenants, but always missed collaring Aidid himself. On this, their sixth, mission things went badly wrong. I have a very strong suspicion that Garrison's team fell into a monstrous ambush orchestrated by Aidid. I'll leave it to the other reviewers to describe the frantic and relentless combat that the Delta/Ranger team had to face. This team had a nearly impossible mission recklessly dictated by policians ignorant of the extremely adverse odds in Mog. The team's ability to extract itself from a potential overwhelming disaster confirms the strength of their moral and mental discipline. Also vindicated is the use of their body armor and ceramic plates. Less reassuring was the political leadership, unit discipline, and inter-Allied coordination. With over 12 years of hindsight, it is hard to imagine why the US ever placed troops in Mog in the first place. (Read the Weinberger Doctrine that should have been followed.) I highly recommend the book. Mark Bowden, the author, did an outstanding job in capturing the personalities, the frenetic combat, and the unremitting danger this brave, elite team faced. (After reading the book, I am truly in awe of the Delta Force operators.)

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 21, 2012

    No man left behind

    This is a story of the heroic acts of valor that take place in Mogadishu Somalia in the year 1993. The mission was to be short and only take hours get in get out. The men of the special operations forces Army Rangers and Delta force snipers did not see the fight that was about to unfold. Their mission was to go into Bekara Market and Capture war lords that were murdering millions of Somalia’s. The war lords were captured and brought back to base. Then things took a drastic turn when a Black hawk helicopter took fire and plummeted to the ground right in the middle of Bekara Market on of the most hostile environments in the world at the time. This is the start to the 18 hour battle of courage and the special operations motto no man left behind.
    Black Hawk Down starts off a little dry because it spends a good 5 chapters giving you an introduction to why we are in Somalia to begin with. But after that Mark Bowden jumps right into action. The story is a fantastic well rounded book with moments that will make you laugh, cry, and want to fight alongside the brave men. The story shows actions that men made in order to save the lives of their fellow brothers in arms that will inspire you. It is a book that will not be easy to put down. Mark Bowden did a great job pulling me into the book you really develop emaciations for the soldiers. This caused me to want to keep reading in order to know there fate. I found myself reading the lengthy book in a much less time then I estimated.
    The book has fantastic photos it has a whole chapter of real pictures from the battle and also of all the soldiers. They really help bring the book to life in your mind. Black Hawk Down will keep you hooked right until the end. It is a long book that seems short what I mean by this is that you will find yourself reading it rather quick very hard to put down. If you like war story’s Black Hawk Down is a must read. I would also recommend it to anyone that enjoys stories of bravery and honor.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2007

    Black Hawk Down

    When a group of U.S. Army Rangers realizes that getting out of Mogadishu, Somalia, will be very hard, a short mission turns into a very long escape. After the task force Rangers capture two enemy militiamen in Mogadishu, they are on their way out when two of their helicopters get shot out of the sky. The Rangers and Delta Team work all day and night to save the crews in the copters. After a full day, they finally make it out of Mogadishu. This story, told in Black Hawk Down, is an exciting thriller that takes you into the heat of war. Black Hawk Down has some very sad parts. At one point, a Ranger named Blackburn is not used to the weight of his new gun, so he lands wrong when descending from the helicopter. He has many broken bones and almost dies. Another time, a man named Smith gets shot in the thigh. The medics can¿t stop the bleeding, and after about four hours, he dies. The saddest part of all is when you learn of the hundreds of Somalians and Americans dead or wounded in the hospital. The book is nonstop action. A lost convoy of three humvees makes its way through Mogadishu while getting shot at from all directions. Two Delta team members try to rescue a crashed helicopter without any backup. A group of rangers is attacked by a small group of Samalians with Rocket Propelled Grenades. There are many surprising twists in the plot. One time, the Rangers are supposed to be rescued by a helicopter, but it gets shot down before it can reach them. Another time, some of the Rangers get out of Mogadishu, only to find they have to go right back in to help other Rangers escape. At one point the Rangers drop like dominoes when they are getting shot at by many Somalians. Black Hawk Down is a really cool book. You learn about a real battle that took place about fifteen years ago. You also get to learn about different people that fought in the battle. Black Hawk Down is a great book that I recommend to all people who love action and adventure.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2014

    Black Hawk Down

    I read a little of everything, whether it's fiction or non-fiction. This is one of my favorite books. I've read my paperback copy literally to shreds and plan on adding it to my Nook library so I can experience it again. Impeccably researched and skillfully written, this reads more like a thriller than a true story; it's a page-turner. I would recommend this title to anyone who has an interest in history, the military, modern warfare or just a deep appreciation for excellent storytelling.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2012

    Just got no easy day by mark owen

    This book was acually mentioned in NED and i wanted to check it out. Saw some of the movie and it was sad

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    Book

    How many pages is in the book? I'm as we speak watching the movie but I know they leave a lot of stuff out and the book is more detailed. I want to know before spending $10.00.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2012

    So cool its unbelivable

    AWOSOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2012

    Loved it

    This book was fantastic. It depicted modern war in a way different of any. Any lover of war books should definitely read this. The movie is also great.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2012

    Awsomw!!!

    Great book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2012

    Absolutely amazing

    Better than the movie.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2012

    Black hawk down

    This avery good book to read. Gives a good account of what happen during this time in modern war

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    gripping account, excellent read

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2011

    Good Read

    I normally don't read war books, but this was a real page turner. Now, I'd like to see the movie.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2011

    The story behind the movie

    Like many, or perhaps most, my first in-depth exposure to the events that happened during our troops' time in Mogadishu, Somalia, was the movie by the same title. I had heard the news, but shrugged and went on with life, never knowing the amazing events that had occurred.

    The book is excellent, and it's clear that Bowden did a ton of research, spoke to as many people as he could who were involved, and those gritty, gruesome details are what make this read so much more than a dry recitation of facts.

    I was struck by not only how the movie changed many facts around, itself not much of a surprise, but how it did so for reasons quite beyond me. I won't go into the details, not wanting to spoil any of the book for those who haven't read it yet, but I found myself asking many time, "Why did they not show that accurately in the movie." For this reason alone it would be worth reading the book, and while the movie was dramatic the book is even more so for being true.

    The only thing I think I would have liked to have seen would have been a glossary of terms, a list of the soldiers and their units/organizations, and perhaps having the diagrams located centrally in an appendix. The book also contained a limited number of photos, and thought I don't know what quality they were when they were printed I do know in the Nook they were very poor (no way to zoom either, and the pics were very small).

    In general, this is an excellent read, and an amazing tribute to the men in the Special Forces.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Mad Firefight in Detail

    If you've seen the movie, you need to read the book now to flesh out the ill-advised, ill-conceived and ill-fated military arrest raid into Mogadishu. If you haven't seen the movie either, watch it, then read this book. Mark Bowden did tons of research in order to piece together the events as they happened on that day. The Rangers and Special Forces (Delta Force) operators involved in that arrest raid and subsequent SHTF firefight experienced combat at a level of intensity and ferocity probably unseen by American foot soldiers since the Tet Offensive or, more likely, the Korean War. Bowden's investigative reporting, collected into one cohesive narrative, brings to mind Cornelius Ryan's work on famous operations of WWII. The overlapping point-of-view of multiple participants in modern battle is similar to Henry Brown's Hell and Gone (though this is non-fiction). Why our armed forces were in Somalia is just as valid a question as why our troops are in Iraq now. But this is not a book about policies and politics...it's about men in combat.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 4, 2010

    Black Hawk Down

    This book was great. Mark did a great job of getting research. He went around to many people who were involved with the war. It didn't matter what side they were on. He got statements for Somali fighters and American fighters. The writing however was not my favorite. He jumped time periods and had many little battles going on at once so it was hard to figure out what was going on. He also used very specific names and it was hard to figure out who was who. It was a nice touch to put into the book, but I would have liked it to be a little vague so I wouldn't have had to keep flipping pages in order to remember who was who. This book was very original in the sense that it was the first book written about this battle. Mark is a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and was captivated by this battle. When he found out that nobody else had written a book on it he immediately started brainstorming. Another original touch were the little stories of the people involved. Like I said before, it was a nice touch, but he could have cleaned it up a bit and made it easier to know what was going on and keep in in chronological order. The balance was nice because the movie was based off of this novel. This made reading the book very easy to comprehend in terms of the general idea and some of the main characters. Due to this the interior images, or imagery, I encountered while reading the book was fierce because I was imagining the movie in my mind as I read it. The book was very touching and since he used actual names it really got to me and hit me on a personal level. The book was obviously inspirational as it is a war-based book and that always brings inspiration due to the bravery and valor of the soldiers. This was a great book and it worked great for my book report for my government class because of the role of Congress (called off further action against Aidid) and President Clinton (gave Aidid the ultimatum of either giving up the pilot or facing a decimation on the city).

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Heroic, Stoic, and Epic

    America was in the midst of a world war; against Terrorism. We were the epicenter of help and goodwill. Whether it was a responsibilty or a bad move, we spread our forces throughout the world trying to stem the tide of evil that was washing over it. "There's not to make reply/There's not to reason why/There's but to do and die." (Tennyson, Charge of the Light Brigade)
    This is the sentiment that is found within this riveting and sensational novel. The boys are out doing their job, fighting and dying for causes far greater and admirable than the ones plastered all over the news. How about the story of two Delta snipers who blatantly give their lives for to prolong the life of when of their pilots.
    You will fight and die with these men as they face a whole country full of people who hate Americans. You will be with them as a 45 minute long operation turns into a day long dilemma, eventually fighting to just survive. You won't forget these men as they become immortalized in your mind for their actions and memorialized in your heart for their bravery.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 1, 2009

    Good Book

    Black Hawk Down was a very good book in my opinion. It tells the complete story of October 3rd, 1993. Mark Bowden found a topic that not many Americans want to look back on and therefore had not written a detailed account of it. I have always had an interest in warfare so the detail in which he describes what happened pulled me in until the very word. I did think the way the chapters flipped from person to person could have been made a little bit more understandable but it wasn't beyond being figured out. The most interesting part of the story to me was when the mixed unit of Rangers and Delta operators were pinned down over night and the valiant rescue mission forged to save them. Another reason this book is so powerful is because it happened so recently. It was just over ten years ago while most great war books are about the wars of our grandfathers which are drilled into us so well that we become bored of them. This recent conflict is a conflict of a generation much closer to our own. The technologies that we still use today were used when this happened which adds another interest factor. I guess the main point is that all that is being talked about in this book is still relevant and understood today. In 30 or 40 years everything in this book will be old news. All the things that we found so interesting will be considered old. The technologies will be overshadowed by more sophisticated and efficient killing machines. We should consider this fact when we push this book on future generations. The children on tomorrow will know nothing of the Clinton Presidency or anything of this time period. To me it was an inspiring book which i thoroughly enjoyed reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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