Tag Archives: Richard Engel

Book Source – Recent History (Mine!)

I just recognized an important category of books for me! These are books about the “history” of my lifetime.

Insight: Just because I lived through something, that doesn’t mean I understand it in any depth. Yes, I may have memories, but they are fragmentary and I should be careful of using them as a basis for conclusions. I was a child in the fifties, a teenager and college student in the sixties, etc.

This insight was triggered by reading Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides, about the manhunt for James Earl Ray, who murdered Martin Luther King in 1968. I’ll post a review shortly, with some comments on my (personal) memories of that terrible event.

Here are some reviews in this blog that cover history I “experienced” first hand:

  • “The Eve of Destruction – How 1965 Transformed America” by James Peterson. Blog post dated June 3, 2013. Current commentators treat the sixties as some kind of joke! But serious things happened.
  • The John F Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library, in which I saw the exhibit on the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, an event that scared me half to death. Blog post dated January 1, 2014
  • “War Journal – My Five Years in Iraq” by Richard Engel and “Where Men Win Glory” by Jon Krakauer (posts dated November 15 and November 21, 2013). I’m trying to understand the wars we have been (and are) fighting in the Middle East.

Now that I’ve recognized this need, I will be watching for books that explain the world I lived in, and which (for better or worse) I leave to my children.

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“America’s Wars” #1 – “War Journal – My Five Years in Iraq” by Richard Engel

This book (published in 2008) starts in 2002 or 2003, when Engel entered Iraq before the war began, intending to wait out the early “shock and awe” stage, which I think he assumed would promptly lead to the fall of Saddam Hussein and regime change. He expected to witness to the most exciting event of the decade.

Engel was (and is) courageous to the point of recklessness. It was no surprise to learn that his marriage ended during his time in Iraq. Engel is a highly credentialed journalist (ABC and NBC) and speaks Arabic. He was working freelance when he decided to enter Iraq and await the invasion.

Engel discusses “war porn”. I think he means images and anecdotes that are true, shocking and add nothing new or significant to anyone’s understanding. The most descriptive word is “gratuitous”. I have encountered that kind of “porn” in other places, even in fiction. I won’t recommend “World Made By Hand” to anyone, despite its interesting plot premise. I threw it in the trash, a very rare fate for any book that passes through my hands.

Engel wrote another book about Iraq and reported as well on Afghanistan and the Arab Spring. In 2012, he and his news crew were kidnapped and held for five days (according to Wikipedia), an experience Engel wrote about in Vanity Fair. I hope he stays alive and keeps writing.