The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan

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Overview

On a moonless night just weeks after September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Forces team ODA 574 infiltrates the mountains of southern Afghanistan with a seemingly impossible mission: to foment a tribal revolt and force the Taliban to surrender. Armed solely with the equipment they can carry on their backs, shockingly scant intelligence, and their mastery of guerrilla warfare, Captain Jason Amerine and his men have no choice but to trust their only ally, a little-known Pashtun statesman named Hamid Karzai who has ...

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Overview

On a moonless night just weeks after September 11, 2001, U.S. Special Forces team ODA 574 infiltrates the mountains of southern Afghanistan with a seemingly impossible mission: to foment a tribal revolt and force the Taliban to surrender. Armed solely with the equipment they can carry on their backs, shockingly scant intelligence, and their mastery of guerrilla warfare, Captain Jason Amerine and his men have no choice but to trust their only ally, a little-known Pashtun statesman named Hamid Karzai who has returned from exile and is being hunted by the Taliban as he travels the countryside raising a militia.

The Only Thing Worth Dying For chronicles the most important mission in the early days of the Global War on Terror, when the men on the ground knew little about the enemy—and their commanders in Washington knew even less. With unprecedented access to surviving members of ODA 574, key war planners, and Karzai himself, award-winning author Eric Blehm cuts through the noise of politicians and high-level military officials to narrate for the first time a story of uncommon bravery and terrible sacrifice, intimately exposing the realities of unconventional warfare and nation-building in Afghanistan that continue to shape the region today.

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Editorial Reviews

Former Congressman - Charlie Wilson
"The Only Thing Worth Dying For is not only brilliant, it’s the one book you must read if you have any hope of understanding what our fine American soldiers are up against in Afghanistan."
Bob Woodruff
“A skillfully reported and masterfully written account of one of the most crucial moments of the War Against Terror. Blehm reminds us of the perils, the triumphs and the sacrifices made in the name of freedom.”
Hampton Sides
“Through careful reporting and crisp narrative pacing, Eric Blehm has given us a thrilling, forgotten drama from the opening chapter of the war in Afghanistan. The Only Thing Worth Dying For will become an enduring classic of this extraordinary theater, where so much hangs in the balance.”
Stephen Grey
“Blehm provides powerful and unflinching insight into a real-life mission that ended in tragedy but left an indelible mark on history. From the comic moments to the bleakest hour, it’s a testament to how a small team of well-trained men can shape a nation’s destiny.”
Stephen Coonts
“Eric Blehm has written a literary masterpiece about modern war. The whole witches’ brew is here: valor, honor, heroism, cowardice, incompetence, stupidity, triumph, blood, death and despair. That America has soldiers like these should fill every American heart with pride. Read this book!”
Sergeant Major - Billy Waugh
"No other book has gone to such depths in research, nor been so descriptive in recounting this critical mission during the earliest days after 9/11 when the US Army Special Forces successfully waged unconventional warfare in Afghanistan."
Adam Makos
“The greatest story of a small unit’s battle through an untamed land since Lawrence of Arabia.”
W.E.B. Griffin & William E. Butterworth IV
“A captivating account of our heroic warriors-a remarkable U.S. Army Special Forces unit’s hard-fought success against incredible odds. It reads with the thrill of fiction-but this is the damned deadly real deal.”
Former Congressman Charlie Wilson
“The Only Thing Worth Dying For is not only brilliant, it’s the one book you must read if you have any hope of understanding what our fine American soldiers are up against in Afghanistan.”
Sergeant Major Billy Waugh
“No other book has gone to such depths in research, nor been so descriptive in recounting this critical mission during the earliest days after 9/11 when the US Army Special Forces successfully waged unconventional warfare in Afghanistan.”
Publishers Weekly
The early, relatively heroic days of the conflict in Afghanistan are memorialized in this engrossing if glamorized war saga. Blehm (The Last Season, a B&N Discover Award winner) follows the exploits of Capt. Jason Amerine’s Special Forces team Alpha 574, which choppered into Afghanistan in November 2001 to help future Afghan president Hamid Karzai organize anti-Taliban insurgents in the south. The team’s mission—to turn chaotic and perpetually stoned Pashtun tribesmen into effective soldiers—seems impossible and, ultimately, proved unnecessary. Indeed, according to Blehm’s account, the Green Berets’ worst enemies were other Americans: meddling CIA honchos and army brass, a do-nothing Marine officer, and the air force spotter who mistakenly called in an air strike on 574’s position, with ghastly results. The author overplays the comradely bond between Karzai and Amerine, who come off as a latter-day Washington and Lafayette, but doesn’t quite succeed in wringing a military epic out of what was essentially a turkey shoot. Still, Blehm’s warts-and-all account of the U.S. military machine in action is full of tension, color, and real pathos. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
Another stirring account of American Special Forces heroics. After 9/11, America could not rush a conventional army into Afghanistan to wreak vengeance on al-Qaeda, so it sent elite Special Forces teams. In Horse Soldiers (2009), Doug Stanton chronicled the soldiers who assisted Northern Alliance forces in crushing the Taliban. Blehm (The Last Season, 2006) recounts Green Beret exploits in southern Afghanistan where no organized anti-Taliban opposition existed. Worse, the population was Pashtun, the majority tribe that refused to accept a government dominated by the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance. With no alternative, American leaders decided to support Hamid Karzai (Afghanistan's president today), at the time an obscure Pashtun who had returned from exile to gather support. Blehm delivers biographies of team members and their leaders as well as the nuts-and-bolts preparation for the mission. In November 2001, helicopters dropped the team inside Taliban-controlled southern Afghanistan where it joined Karzai and his few supporters. Within a month this small band had assembled a guerilla army that fought its way to Kandahar, the Taliban capital in the south, and forced its surrender-though the mission was marred by a gruesome friendly-fire incident that killed and crippled many team members. The author provides a minute-by-minute account of this dramatic campaign, and the page never flags. Some readers, however, may wince at the author's narrative style, which features dialogue and inner thoughts as recounted to the author by the soldiers involved. Blehm extols these men's laudable courage and sacrifice, but he ignores larger issues, including the sad fact that America squandered thisvictory and the Taliban have returned to dominate southern Afghanistan. Lowbrow history, but a gripping story of admirable men. Agent: Christy Fletcher/Fletcher & Company
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061661228
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/19/2010
  • Pages: 375
  • Sales rank: 315,681
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric Blehm

Eric Blehm is the former editor of Transworld SNOWboarding, author of Agents of Change: The Story of DC Shoes and Its Athletes, and coauthor of P3: Pipes, Parks, and Powder. The Last Season was a Book Sense bestseller and a Barnes & Noble Discover selection. He lives in southern California with his wife and son.

Biography

In 1999, Blehm became the first journalist to accompany and keep pace with an elite Army Ranger unit on a training mission. His access into the Special Operations community set an important milestone for American war journalism two years before reporters began to gain widespread "embedded" status with the U.S. military in the War Against Terror.

Blehm has earned a reputation for both his accuracy and leave-no-stone-unturned approach to nonfiction writing. For The Only Thing Worth Dying For, he interviewed the surviving members of ODA 574, Special Operations soldiers and airmen, key commanders, war planners, and Hamid Karzai. He also scoured the military records and personal writings of the Green Berets involved. This unprecedented access continued with Fearless: Adam Brown’s civilian and military life was recounted to Blehm by family, friends, SEAL teammates, and other members of the military. In addition, he drew from official documents, statements, military records and reports, criminal records, family archives, letters, emails, and journal and diary entries. While writing The Last Season, Blehm pieced together the portrait of Randy Morgenson from journals, letters, photos, and interviews with his wife, friends, and colleagues, as well as by retracing Morgenson’s steps in the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

This diligent reportage has made Blehm a recognized voice in many communities, including National Park Service search-and-rescue (the Morgenson investigation was one of the most extensive search-and-rescue operations in NPS history) and various branches of the military, particularly the Special Operations community.

Blehm is also the founder of Molly the Owl Books, the independent publishing company behind Molly the Owl—his popular nonfiction children’s book about a barn owl and her family-which won the 2011 Nautilus Award and the 2011 San Diego Book Award. Currently, he is working on his next nonfiction book, which takes place during the Cold War era.

Good To Know

Some fascinating outtakes from our interview with Blehm:

"I became a writer so I could see the world and experience some of the places and things I'd read about as a kid. My mother died from cancer when I was 17, and toward the end of her life she told me, "If there is something you want to do in life, do it now, because you don't know about tomorrow." She had been a workaholic and was always putting off things like travel for later. Because she didn't get that chance, I have lived my life through her words of wisdom. Don't wait. If you have something you want to do, get on it. One of the best decisions I made was to use my savings to travel around the world for almost a year with my wife before we settled down and started a family. It was a time to slow down after working high-stress jobs right out of college and really relish the experiences.

Although I've been called an adventurer because of the stories I've written in locales ranging from the Himalaya to Iran, I have to say that being a parent is the greatest adventure of all. It's the most amazing, wonderful, exciting, and challenging "journey" that I've ever been on. My hat goes off to parents everywhere who try to make this world a better place by filling it with open-minded, responsible, and kind-hearted kids who will become open-minded, responsible, and kind-hearted adults.

It took me seven years to get through college, working 30 hours a week all the way through. First, however, I moved to Breckenridge, Colorado, to be a snowboard bum. So many people told me, "If you quit school now, you'll never go back." I knew I wanted a higher education, but I didn't know what in, so I followed my heart and eventually ended up graduating with honors from San Diego State University with a degree in journalism and a minor in outdoor recreation.

Snowboarding has been my ticket to seeing the world. Surfing has been my yoga. I think it's important to have something in your life that transcends being just a hobby. Something fulfilling, not because of success or accomplishments but simply through the act of doing it. Fishing, not to catch fish, but to be in the wilds ... that sort of thing.

I once jumped into a freezing-cold lake to try to revive a drowning trout. I would rather surf a lesser, uncrowded wave than deal with the vibe of a crowded peak. My idea of a perfect day is doing anything with my family, unplugged from the rest of the world. I believe in karma and the Golden Rule. I like good tequila better than good wine. I can get dressed for almost any occasion in less than five minutes. I've been saying I'll try yoga for about twenty years now. I'd rather fish a wild stream for small fish than a dammed lake for big fish. I actually really like my in-laws, all of them. Hospitals scare me. Oh, and about that trout-it lived to swim another day.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 A Most Dangerous Mission 3

2 The Quiet Professionals 21

3 To War 47

4 The Soldier and the Statesman 67

5 The Taliban Patrol 95

6 The Battle of Tarin Kowt 111

7 Credibility 139

8 Madness 161

9 Death on the Horizon 201

10 The Ruins 233

11 The Thirteenth Sortie 259

12 Futility 283

13 Rescue at Shawali Kowt 299

14 Worth Dying For 321

Epilogue 341

Map of Tarin Kowt 352

Map of Shawali Kowt 354

Acknowledgments 357

Selected Bibliography 363

Notes 367

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 206 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(129)

4 Star

(44)

3 Star

(19)

2 Star

(9)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 207 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 1, 2010

    Nice work BLEHM

    Great read, couldn't put it down. An amazing and intriguing look into what was and what is really going on in Afghanistan. The detail was intense, nice work Blehm

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 7, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Great story about even greater men

    Eric Blehm couldn't have portrayed the story, both victories and defeats, of Specials Forces ODA 574 any better. Blehm clearly placed a high premium on accuracy by interviewing numerous members of ODA 574 as well as other major players - including Afghan president Hamid Karzai. As a future Army officer myself, the realism and attention to detail really sets this book apart from other similar books. Additionally, Blehm's writing clearly displays the emotion each member of ODA 574 put into their mission. The men may not have known at the time that Hamid Karzai would become president, but they knew that their roles would change Afghanistan forever. The story of ODA 574 certainly had its ups and downs but Blehm captures the determination of team to complete their mission despite sometimes overwhelming odds. It is accessible to everyone, whether or not they are especially familiar with the military.Overall, The Only Thing Worth Dying For is wonderfully written and meticulously researched.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 5, 2010

    Very Enlightening

    I've always had a hard time understanding the War on Terror. Thank you for putting it an absorbing story for me to grasp the reality and the magnitude of this War on Terror. Definately a "Must Read!"

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 4, 2010

    This book is a must read for our generation

    What an important book for our generation, especially for those of us who have never experienced war or simply don't understand what our service men and women are up against everyday to help protect innocent people and freedoms around the world. Eric Blehm's ability to tell this amazing story through these real life characters was simply fascinating and heartbreaking. I felt like I was there with them during this mission, and I still can't stop thinking about this story. My heart goes out to everyone affected by the tragedies of war. I truly believe this book will inspire generations to come, and I highly recommend this book to all Americans, Democrat or Republican, Pro-War or Anti-War. Thank you for having the courage and fortitude to stay true to the facts, and write this important book Mr. Blehm, and thank you to all of our military men and women who risk their lives everyday to protect our freedom.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 20, 2010

    Eric Blehm hits another Home Run!

    This timely story on current events involving critical issues in Afghanistan will totally thrill and entertain the reader. My wife and I read and enjoyed Eric Blehm's previous book, titled "The Last Season", and having worked in the National Park Service, we were impressed by the author's depth in research, and ability to portray with amazing accuracy the nuances of backcountry wilderness rangers, search and rescue operations, and the types of characters who gravitate to those fields. While I do follow current events, I am not the type who would normally pick up a book about WAR, but we were so taken by Eric Blehm's last book, his writing style and depth of his research into real life events that we wanted to see if his follow up book would take us into Afghanistan, like he took us into the High Sierra in his last book. He succeed. I got the book yesterday, and finished it today. Blehm's talent for research clearly raises the bar for nonfiction books. His style of writing brings excitement and detail to real life stories and makes these events read like the most exciting thriller on the shelf. (Read the endnotes, Blehm only used info gathered from his own interviews with eye witnesses who were there) Before reading "The Only Thing Worth Dying For", I thought our Special Forces teams were just a bunch of snake eaters and assassins. This story reveals in detail a well educated, a highly trained team, and a dedicated and politically astute element in this sensitive real life assignment. The only reason you will put this book down is to take a deep breath and calm your emotions before reading on. It is exciting, educational, and a politically relevant tale of significant real events effecting our current and ever deepening involvement in the complicated Afghanistan corner of our world. Do not miss this one!

    Nevada Bookworm

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    Required reading for each american

    This book was a great book which revealed the dedication and sacrifices that our Green Berets / Special Forces made in helping the Afghan people and President Karza in forming their government. This book shows the training, and commitment and sacrifices that members of our Special Forces made. It is a book that you can not put down once you start to read about the challenges that the men were faced with on a daily basis in working with the Afghans and also the Senior U.S. Officers who were wanting to coach from the sidelines so they could get their medals and awards on the basis of the original Green Berets work with the Afghans. Unfortunately, the ending of the book reveals the true sacrifice of these 11 Green Berets/Special Forces when Senior Officers give orders and make decisions without consideration for the Special Forces Team or the Afghans. This should be required reading for each American and should be in each Library. Each of us, as Americans, need to say Thank you to the men and women serving our country and protecting our freedom and the freedom of others.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2010

    Awesome

    I spent 8 years in the SF, an awesome written book of the men in Afghanistan.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 22, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    An important book about an important, true story

    I have had the pleasure to read this gripping tale of the account of the 11 man Green Beret Team that escorted Karzai into Afghanistan from Pakistan a few short weeks after the horrors of 9-11.
    Anyone who wishes to read an objective, incredibly well researched account of a seminal point in the development of Afghan freedom, owes it to themselves to read this book.
    It is the true story of the men we entrust with our own freedom and the championing of freedom in distant lands.

    Thank you Eric for your brutal and honest commitment to accuracy and for helping to peel back the onion skin of a complex contemporary issue.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2010

    An incredible story brought to life by the author's accomplished voice and his ground-breaking research.

    This is by far the best book on the contemporary U.S. war in Afghanistan published thus far. Eric Blehm is both a gifted storyteller and a meticulous researcher. He makes you feel like you are on the ground in Afghanistan, serving as a member of a Special Forces "A-team."

    The narrative recounts the struggles of a small group of men who defeated the Taliban in their tribal heartland and brought Hamid Karzai to power in 2001. Despite our American fascination with technology and firepower, war remains a uniquely human endeavor. Blehm's characters are fully developed because he captures the human condition in extraordinary circumstances: valor and cowardice, the altruistic and the self-interested, skill and luck.

    Those of us who directly participated in these events have praised this book as the first one to paint the full picture of what happened after 9/11. Accurately capturing every facet of this strategic turning point required exhaustive research. The author interviewed everyone from Special Forces teammates to Afghan President Karzai. He uses official documents, but steers clear of CIA or Department of Defense self-appraisals that paint an overly flattering picture. In total, this provides the reader with a visceral understanding of both modern combat and the timeless concepts of the fog and friction of war.

    "The Only Thing Worth Dying For" is an engrossing read that is also enlightening. Eric Blehm provides a rare look at Hamid Karzai as our nation makes pivotal decisions on the way forward in Afghanistan. And as our nation grapples with terrorist threats in places like Yemen and Somalia, this book provides a lesson in succeeding on the ground without a large commitment of forces.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2010

    If you like facts and not filtered media and Hollywood.

    This book was an amazing read. As an Military Operator, I can attest to the real feel of the story. The emotions, camaraderie, and the problems that go along overzealous leadership, are all real. The story was fully approved by the SF soldiers and their survivors.

    With all of the media "junk" out there, you should really pick this book up. It's very hard to put down. This is a great book especially if you want to learn what a Special Forces soldier is really like.
    This story really tied up the Afghanistan situation for me with a view of what was going on in the crucial Southern part of the country, when what we were being reported all the time was focused on the North.
    The brave Soldiers and Airman of this story have had their adventure told in an accurate, respectful manner.

    The author specifically steered clear of glamorized violence and gore. That being said, you will get a very well written dose of what hell must surely be like and how the US Military handled things in an extremely professional manner, and also where it failed miserably. The story is a successful one about helping put a good leader in to place against insurmountable odds.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 7, 2010

    An engaging account of the brave men who fought the war on terror in Afghanistan.

    Eric Blehm continues to enthrall his readers with his outstanding writing ability. In The Only Thing Worth Dying For, Eric tells the story of the brave men of the Green Berets in Afghanistan with incredible detail and compelling drama. The book is nonfiction, but is written in such a way that the story captivates the reader and quickly becomes a page turner. Eric has a true gift in telling a story based upon fact without interjecting his personal biases or beliefs. The compilation of his interviews with the subjects of his book provided the information and dialogue. The way he assembled it and told the story is outstanding. I highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates great writing. Eric has honored the brave men of ODA 574 with the writing of this story. America is blessed to have brave men like those in ODA 574. America is also blessed to have great writers like Eric Blehm.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Story of Distinction

    This is an extraordinarily well-written book with a storyline that reveals genuine understanding among men before a mistake occurs that leaves one in tears. If only we could have maintained the good will that was developed during this early episode shortly after 9/11. Eric Blehm's research is extremely thorough and it is apparent that he develops a trusting relationship with his interviewees, which is the only way a story of this magnitude has any validity. A must read for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of Afghanistan and its history of the last 40 years. A must read in order to meet the Green Berets who served their country with such distinction.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Another view of Karzai

    Not your typical war story, but more of an inward look of the Special Forces and what they do correctly and wrongly. Also a well researched view of what went on in the early days of our involvement in Afghanistan. Doesn't say much for the Bush Administration. A good and fast read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Fascinating!

    After reading this book, I am hungry for more information about Hamid Karzi, and the social structure in Afganistan.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    I can't put this book down.

    I find that I can't put this book down. I am both fascinated by everything I am learning, and still touched worrying about these green berets. I can't help but like all these men. I have so much respect and admiration for them all. Blehm has done an excellent job or putting a human element on a tough war and also helping the average person understand how and why things are done in the middle East. I found I cared so much about the Green Berets and couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next. I also found I understood the makeup of Afghanistan better and much more sympathy for the Afghan people.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2014

    Challenges of Karzai's ODA team and CIA c.2001

    Mr Blehm's research is very thorough. The book follows Operational Detachment Alpha (Green Beret) team who took Hamid Karzai from Pakistan into Helmand and Kandahar provinces in order to overthrow the Taliban and to prevent the Northern Alliance from pushing south too far.
    I wish the book would have interviewed Gen Mattis, USMC to counter the one-sided bashing he took, but that is the only weakness I noted.

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  • Posted January 31, 2014

    Excellent historical account. Insightful and relevant.

    Missed this one when it came out; read Fearless first. Fearless is one of the most moving accounts of our special operators and heroes yet. So I wanted to read anything else Blehm had written. It did not disappoint. Totally different perspective, but nonetheless a riveting story. Great insight into the evolution of how our military has adapted to the war on terror. Great background on Hamid Karzai and makes it difficult to reconcile his public behavior now, but that is the conundrum of Afghanistan.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2014

    The only thing worth dying for

    Who would say The Only Thing Dying For

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2013

    Horrible title!

    Spoiler alert! Apparently the only thing worth dying for is friendly fire. I certainly respect the service men who were a part of these events. However, the book itself was awful. The author could not keep the story flowing. I regret wasting money on this book.

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  • Posted April 3, 2013

    I absolutely loved this book. I have recommended it to anyone I

    I absolutely loved this book. I have recommended it to anyone I know who is an active reader, and to those looking for a great, inspirational, yet tragic story. Well written, Blehm is one of my favorite authors, and this book certainly shows why!

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 207 Customer Reviews

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