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Samet, a graduate of Harvard who earned a Ph.D. at Yale before settling in to teach literature at West Point, might reasonably have expected that she'd be the one doing the educating. But most deeply affecting in her book is what she learned from the army.
One inescapable lesson of Soldier's Heart is that West Point does indeed attract America's best and brightest. Contrary to the crude, violent, jarhead image civilians may have of modern-day soldiers, the army men and women Samet encounters -- from colorful colonels to shy plebes -- are unfailingly courteous, intelligent, and likable. The fact that her students go off to war, and some do not return, places Samet in a unique position. Her lessons mean more. The novels and poems her cadets study carry them through missions in Afghanistan and Iraq and give voice to the inherent moral code that allows them to stand up against Abu Ghraib and other injustices. "West Point won me back to a kind of idealism," she writes. "Having been coached by professionals to cultivate ironic detachment, I allowed myself to be seduced by esprit de corps -- by the worth of community and commitment, and by the prospect of surrendering myself to a shared mission."
Such idealism has nothing to do with jingoism or zealotry, and everything to do with the highest principles and honor. Soldier's Heart should be required reading for a dispirited nation. (Holiday 2007 Selection)