Top positive review
Be Informed Before Reading
Reviewed in the United States on December 27, 2014
First off, I want to be clear about the focus of my review. Book reviews should center on the genre (type) of book, the content as it is expressed within the genre, and the quality of the writing itself (and how that writing meets or does not meet the demands of its target audience). In case you hadn't already guessed, I am both an English teacher and a writer, so I would like to think I have a bit of experience in this area.
First, genre. This book is an autobiography, centering largely on Meyers' experiences at the battle of Ganjigal and its aftermath. As a result, you are going to hear strong opinions, raw emotion, and bloody accounts. You may not agree with them. That is fine. But do not be shocked that this man, this Marine who came as close to Hell as the living can, has a lot to say about it. Again, this is an autobiography, written by the author about himself. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the author will have definite opinions about his own life, and that they do not always please the masses. That is not the point of an autobiography. If bloody imagery, angry recriminations against military leaders, and honest portrayal of personal attributes don't appeal to you, that is also fine. But autobiography is then not the genre for you. For rip-roaring accounts of military bravery where the good guys always win (and are perfect), the bad guys always lose, and no one dies, I suggest the fiction section. For everyone else, if you can handle the description above, you will probably appreciate this young man's account. It satisfies the requirements for an autobiography quite well. I would have liked to know more about the author's early life, but being that he seems naturally to be a man of few words--and that the book is about his combat experiences--I can easily overlook that.
As for the content, in the context of military literature, Meyers sums up the key points without becoming verbose. He does repeat certain points, but if you read the entire book, it is quite easy to see why! Some readers will find his lack of explanation of some of the acronyms frustrating. However, this problem is easily remedied by a Google search of any term not understood (just as you would look up words with which you were unfamiliar in a dictionary). I hope the possibility of encountering unfamiliar words will not discourage anyone from reading the book. There are maps and full-color pictures included in the book. I found the first confusing and the second illuminating. You may feel differently, but either way, these extras in no way detract from the reading. As far as actual text is concerned, while Meyers spends a lot of time downplaying his own actions, he simultaneously gives credit to those who helped that day. Those who appreciate fairness and humility in an autobiography will most likely enjoy this book. Some readers may find some of his comments about killing disturbing. That is understandable. I view these comments as coming from a grieving heart that has been trained for combat. I may not agree with every single thing the man says, but nor do I judge him for it.
Finally: writing meeting the target audience's requirements. Some books are written for children, some for adults, some for specific segments of the population, and some for everyone. This book was written for everyone. Meyers wants people to know what happened (in hopes it will never happen again) and to honor his friends. It is not written by an academic; it is written by a young man who signed up for the Marines at 17 years old. The writing is of a simple and unsophisticated style. Bing West, the acclaimed journalist who helped Meyers write the book, makes very clear that the words are Meyers', not West's. If simple, unpolished writing is not for you, that is fine. But choose a different book. I enjoyed it precisely because Meyers, the man who was actually there, is the narrator.
This book is uncompromising in its candor and unapologetic in its pathos. It is not pretty, sanitized, or neatly wrapped up at the end. Life isn't always that way, either. And that is what an autobiography is: the story of someone's life. In this case, it is the story of a combat veteran, and as such, it meets the requirements for a good story. Furthermore, if this man can live through these experiences and be brave enough to share them, I feel that the least I can do is respectfully and thoughtfully listen to what he has to say. I can consider the large-scale effects of war, as well as its effects on individuals, without lapsing into hasty judgments. My advice for potential readers is to focus on the story itself, for that more than meets the requirements for compelling autobiography.