Karl Marlantes has written a staggeringly beautiful book on combatwhat it feels like, what the consequences are and above all, what society must do to understand it. In my eyes he has become the preeminent literary voice on war of our generation. He is a natural storyteller and a deeply profound thinker who not only illuminates war for civilians, but also offers a kind of spiritual guidance to veterans themselves. As this generation of warriors comes home, they will be enormously helped by what Marlantes has writtenI’m sure he will literally save lives.” Sebastian Junger
“Marlantes brings candor and wrenching self-analysis to bear on his combat experiences in Vietnam, in a memoir-based meditation whose intentions are three-fold: to help soldiers-to-be understand what they’re in for; to help veterans come to terms with what they’ve seen and done; and to help policymakers know what they’re asking of the men they send into combat.” The New Yorker
“ What It Is Like to Go to War is a well-crafted and forcefully argued work that contains fresh and important insights into what it’s like to be in a war and what it does to the human psyche.” The Washington Post
“Marlantes is the best American writer right now on war . . . With What It Is Like to Go to War a second Marlantes book resides on the top shelf of American literature.” Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead
“ What It Is Like to Go to War ought to be mandatory reading by potential infantry recruits and by residents of any nation that sends its kidsMarlantes’s wordinto combat.” San Francisco Chronicle
“In this thoughtful, literate work of self-exorcism, Marlantes tells tales of incredible bravery as well as brutality.” People Magazine
“A precisely crafted and bracingly honest book." The Atlantic
“Marlantes knows what he writes. . . Raw, unsettling honesty pervades the work.” Time.com
“Marlantes has written a sparklingly provocative nonfiction book. . . He is an exceptional writer and his depictions here are vivid.” BookPage
“A gripping, first-person plea to consider the impact on the human spirit of being a soldier.” Huffington Post
“Karl Marlantes, author of the excellent What It Is Like To Go To War , cautions his audience to understand the cost to the human psyche in sending others to kill in our names or for policies decided by politicians determined to use (and abuse) the power entrusted to their office.” Daily Planet
“Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like to Go to War is a deeply personal account of dealing with his harrowing time as a Marine Corps officer in Vietnam. . . . Marlantes’ fiction might be just too wrenching for some readers to believe.” Logos
“This absolutely unique and lucid personal account and analysis will be read with profit by scholars, general readers, and most particularly, by veterans of close combat. . . . The author is qualified by experience, education, temperament, and skill as a writer to make penetrating observations. Many are graphic, bold, and shocking. Some are erudite; some are ethereal; all are worthy of careful consideration. . . . His method is to reflect on a point important to him, to illustrate it with an anecdote or a combat experience, and to mull it over in sparkling prose that has the reader hanging on every word. . . . Mastery of our language and the creative use of poetic devices and images make his pronouncements memorable. . . . Marlantes has joined a short list of authors whose experience, sensitivity, and skill enable them to share wisdom with those among us who would understand.” Parameters
“ What it is Like to Go to War is already considered by many a modern classic. . . . The former Marine has three main goals in this unflinchingly honest look at what it means to be a soldier in a war: to let potential soldiers understand what to expect, to help veterans better cope with what they’ve experienced, and to help policy makers truly comprehend what it means when they send combat troops into a war zone.” Bradenton Herald
“To say that this book is brilliant is an understatementMarlantes is the absolute master of taking the psyche of the combat veteran and translating it into words that the civilian or non-veteran can understand. I have read many, many books on war and this is the first time that I've ever read exactly what the combat veteran thinks and feelsnothing I have ever read before has hit home in my heart like this book.” Gunnery Sergeant Terence D’Alesandro, 3rd Batallion, 5th Marines, U.S. Marine Corps
“Wrenchingly honest. . . . Digging as deeply into his own life as he does into the larger sociological and moral issues, Marlantes presents a riveting, powerfully written account of how, after being taught to kill, he learned to deal with the aftermath.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A valiant effort to explain and make peace with war’s awesome consequences for human beings.” Kirkus Reviews
“ What It Is Like to Go to War offers profound insight on how we must prepare our youth who become our warriors for their hard and uncompromising journey through war’s hell and back home again.” Vietnam Magazine
“With war such a part of contemporary American life, this book is deeply important, as timely and urgent as contemporary on-the-ground reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq.” The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A sound debunking of anything smacking of the glory of warfarebut written with compassion, honest and wit for men and now women who fight and for all of those who care about them.” St. Louis Dispatch
“A slim spiritual guide. . . Marlantes’s book is a sincere plea for better soldiers and veterans.” Seattle Weekly
“ What It Is Like to Go to War is a courageous, noble and intelligent grapple with myth, history, and spirituality that beautifully elevates the cultural conversation on the role of the military in today’s world. It is an emotional, honest, and affecting primer for all Americans on war and the national psyche, and we ignore this book at our own peril.” Ed Conklin, Chaucer’s Books, Santa Barbara
…brilliant…a well crafted and forcefully argued work of nonfiction that contains fresh and important insights into what it's like to be in a war and what it does to the human psyche. At heart, the book is a from-the-gut psychological and philosophical meditation on what happens to human beings in combat and afterward. In delivering those insights, Marlantes recreates his own wartime experience and his subsequent decades of emotional difficulties.
The Washington Post
Marlantes, author of the highly acclaimed novel Matterhorn, reflects in this wrenchingly honest memoir on his time in Vietnam: what it means to go into the combat zone and kill and, most importantly, what it means to truly come home. After graduating from Yale, Marlantes attended Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. But not wanting to hide behind privilege while others fought in his place, he left Oxford in 1967 to ship out to Vietnam as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He eschews straight chronology for a blend of in-country reporting and the paradoxical sense of both fear and exhilaration a soldier feels during war. Most importantly, Marlantes underscores the need for returning veterans to be counseled properly; an 18-year-old cannot "kill someone and contain it in a healthy way." Digging as deeply into his own life as he does into the larger sociological and moral issues, Marlantes presents a riveting, powerfully written account of how, after being taught to kill, he learned to deal with the aftermath. Citing a Navajo tale of two warriors who returned home to find their people feared them until they learned to sing about their experience, Marlantes learns the lesson, concluding, "This book is my song," (Sept.)
Writing primarily to come to terms with his own experience in combat, Marlantes (Matterhorn) delivers an excruciatingly honest and insightful reflection of how a soldier subjectively processes war, death, killing, and surviving. We follow his narrative and self-examination from the Vietnamese jungle, where he fought as a marine, to coming home to a public reception as a soldier and an inward acceptance as an individual engaged in the timeless human battle. Not seeking acceptance of conflict and destruction, not a raw account bent on preaching pacifism as a substitute for war, his book instead urges us to recognize the feeling of transcendence and the psychological and spiritual intensity of war and to develop an awareness of its costs. VERDICT A gutting look into the psyche of a soldier, adding flesh to the often flat and stereotyped personage. Humanizing, empathetic, and wise, this reading experience will light corners in the human experience often judged dark.—Ben Malczewski, Ypsilanti Dist. Lib., MI
A manual for soldiers or anyone interested in what can happen to mind, body and spirit in the extreme circumstances of war.
Decorated Vietnam veteran Marlantes is also the author of a bestselling novel (Matterhorn, 2010), a Yale graduate and Rhodes scholar. His latest book reflects both his erudition and his battle-hardness, taking readers from the Temple of Mars and Joseph Campbell's hero's journey into the hell of combat and its grisly aftermath. That Marlantes has undertaken such a project implies his acceptance of war as a permanent fact of human life. We go to war, he says, "reluctantly and sadly" to eliminate an evil, just as one must kill a mad dog, "because it is a loathsome task that a conscious person sometimes has to do." He believes volunteers rather than conscripts make the best soldiers, and he accepts that the young, who thrill at adventure and thrive on adrenaline, should be war's heavy lifters. But apologizing for war is certainly not one of the strengths, or even aims, of the book. Rather, Marlantes seeks to prepare warriors for the psychic wounds they may endure in the name of causes they may not fully comprehend. In doing that, he also seeks to explain to nonsoldiers (particularly policymakers who would send soldiers to war) the violence that war enacts on the whole being. Marlantes believes our modern states fail where "primitive" societies succeeded in preparing warriors for battle and healing their psychic wounds when they return. He proposes the development of rituals to practice during wartime, to solemnly pay tribute to the terrible costs of war as they are exacted, rather than expecting our soldiers to deal with them privately when they leave the service. He believes these rituals, in absolving warriors of the guilt they will and probably should feel for being expected to violate all of the sacred rules of civilization, could help slow the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans.
A valiant effort to explain and make peace with war's awesome consequences for human beings.