[PLACES AND NAMES] contains many insights into the purpose of war and how it damages all parties involved. . . . Any fan of Ackerman’s previous novels, memoirs on the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, and valuable outlooks on the nature of war and its combatants will find this phenomenal.” —Library Journal, starred review
“The power of this memoir comes from [Ackerman’s] illumination of paradoxes and contradictions that provide a common emotional denominator for soldiers who previously found themselves in wars where they discovered more than two sides. . . . A profoundly human narrative that transcends nationality and ideology.” —Kirkus, starred review
“[A] searing, contemplative, and unforgettable memoir-in-essays. . . . Deeply personal yet never losing sight of the big, historical reasons for recent events, this collection recalls Michael Herr’s classic Dispatches as well as William T. Vollmann’s voluminous ruminations on violence in Rising Up and Rising Down, and is perhaps the finest writing about the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts that has been published to date.” —Booklist, starred review
“Elliot Ackerman fought the Long War, and now, with Places and Names, he gives us a searingly honest record of his ongoing effort to make sense of that war. This is, literally, a book of wanderings; Ackerman's sojourns to conflict zones, old battlefields, and muddy refugee camps recall the wanderings of that earlier soldier, Odysseus, as he struggles to come home from war, and, no less than his predecessor, Ackerman finds himself journeying through the shadow world of ghosts and spirits that go by the name of memory. Vivid, profound, restless, and relentlessly probing, Places and Names is destined to become a classic of the Long War.”—Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
“What a great, honest book - the kind that makes one feel lucky to have in one's hands. Ackerman has served his country twice: first as an infantryman in our nations wars, and then as a guide—wise beyond his years—who helps us understand what we've done. His prose is easy and comfortable like an old jacket. His understanding of war is so profound that one feels like secrets have been revealed—truths—information that one day may be necessary for our survival. Well done.” — Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe
"Places and Names is its own profile in courage: the story of how a Marine turned reporter struggled with the polemics of desolation in the Middle East. Elliot Ackerman is a man of both action and thought, and his book is closely observed, rigorously lived, and clarifying for all of us who have not understood how U.S. policy in the Islamic world went so terribly wrong." —Andrew Solomon, author of Far and Away, Far From the Tree, and The Noonday Demon
"Places and Names is a brilliant and gripping account of the aftermath of failed wars and revolutions, and of the still burning idealism that smolders in the wreckage. Elliot Ackerman brings a novelist's skill with language, a reporter's eye for detail, and his life experience as a highly decorated Marine veteran of five deployments to bear in this unique and powerful meditation on violence, heroism, and the fracturing of the Middle East." —Phil Klay, author of Redeployment, winner of the National Book Award
"Elliot Ackerman’s voice scares me. It's a bit too close for comfort. He sees too much and he knows too much, and that makes him a great guide to today’s post-everything Middle East. Read him at your own risk—but ignore this book at your own peril." —Thomas E. Ricks, author of Making the Corps, Fiasco, and Churchill and Orwell
“In Places and Names, Elliot Ackerman, a soldier turned writer, seeks out his former foes and confronts his own memories on battlefields where the killing continues. The result is one of the most profound books I have ever read about the real nature of war and the abstract allure of the ideas and the bloodshed that fuels it.” —Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Fall of Baghdad and Guerrillas: Journeys in the Insurgent World
“Elliot Ackerman writes beautifully about war—especially the new wars of the Middle East through fiction and now non-fiction. His exceptional memoir is really a double memoir of his own experiences as a Marine and those of a jihadist fighter he befriends in a refugee camp. The result is an superb, unique, and unforgettable story of war and death, fear and cruelty, above all the horrors and allure of combat.” —Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs
“Places and Names is an extraordinarily beautiful and insightful work of memoir and journalism by a writer who deserves to be read widely. Elliot Ackerman is as adept at describing the strange cocktail of emotions that accompany the moments preceding combat as he is unraveling the Gordian Knot of contemporary geopolitics.” —Kevin Powers
“Ackerman’s honest searching to come to terms with his war experience helped me better understand my own. This book is a gift that should be shared with every American who helped pay for people like Ackerman to fight their wars for them.” —Karl Marlantes, prize-winning author of Matterhorn and Deep River
A memoir of the war you can't leave behind.
For Ackerman (Waiting for Eden, 2018, etc.), a former Marine who earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart, and so many of the others he met during his return to the battlefronts of the Middle East, there was no good reason for them to be drawn back there other than the feeling that war had given their lives purpose and that civilian life offered no fulfilling substitute. "If purpose is the drug that induces happiness," he writes, "there are few stronger doses than the wartime experience." The equation of war with happiness may jolt readers who haven't seen combat, but the power of this memoir comes from the author's illumination of paradoxes and contradictions that provide a common emotional denominator for soldiers who previously found themselves in wars where they discovered more than two sides. "For a moment we sit, three veterans from three different sides of a war that has no end in sight," writes Ackerman of his bonding with two friends who might have been categorized as Muslim terrorists, one of whom would later ask him to be best man at his wedding. "Not the Syrian Civil War, or the Iraq War, but a larger regional conflict," one in which they discovered "a unifying thread between us: friendships born out of conflict, the strongest we've ever known." Throughout the poignant narrative there is a sense that the Americans for whom the author has fought have misunderstood the Muslims that he has fought against and that the boundaries dating back to the colonial era have never reflected the ethnic geography of those who inhabit the region. A story in which Ackerman made new friends and confronted old ghosts culminates in a flashback to the Battle of Fallujah and his memories of what took place.
A profoundly human narrative that transcends nationality and ideology.
Former Marine Ackerman (Dark at the Crossing) crafts his memoir in a unique and entertaining format. Rather than writing chronologically, he begins in the present day with his travels to Syria and Iraq. He befriends a man named Abed who saw the start of the democratic revolution in Syria and introduces Ackerman to another man named Abu Hassar, who was himself involved with ISIS. Hassar and Ackerman realize they were combatants on opposite sides of war, both dealing with the effects of the conflict, the deaths of friends, and the memories of harsh battles. Throughout, Ackerman goes back and forth between his visits to today's Syria and Iraq and his five tours of duty. The account contains many insights into the purpose of war and how it damages all parties involved. The bookend meeting with Hassar and the conclusion help to solidify the beauty of the work. VERDICT Any fan of Ackerman's previous novels (Waiting for Eden), memoirs on the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, and valuable outlooks on the nature of war and its combatants will find this phenomenal. [See Prepub Alert, 12/3/18.]—Jason L. Steagall, formerly with Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI