HORSE SOLDIERS: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan
By Doug Stanton
Illustrated. 393 pp. $28 5/25/09
Author Doug Stantons first book In Harms Way enjoyed nine months on the New York Times Bestseller List back in 2001, including several weeks in the Top 10. His second book Horse Soldiers, a dramatic tale of a small number of Special Forces soldiers who entered Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 and eventually defeated the Taliban while riding on horseback, is expected to hit number 10 on the New York Times list this week.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read Stantons work over the years in a variety of publications including Esquire, Outside, Sports Afield and Mens Journal, where he is currently a contributing editor, that he would follow up In Harms Way with another bestseller.
Stanton has a keenness to go beyond the surface of the obvious by using his journalistic instincts to get to what actually drives a story. In the case of Horse Soldiers he could have easily found himself caught up in the policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations on Afghanistan and distracted the reader by going into great detail as to how these soldiers ended up from a policy perspective in Afghanistan in the first place. Instead Stanton delves into what happened on the war field, not in the war room.
Too often battles and wars are reported or written from the perspective of those creating the strategies and the policies and not by those who carry them out. Stanton received unprecedented access to a group of Special Forces soldiers, whose modus operandi is to blend in versus seek the spotlight. He made the most of his access and as a result he takes readers right to the battlefield and into the minds and moments of this extraordinary group of human beings.
It is not that Stanton ignores policies or the historical context that places these soldiers in this moment in time. He just eloquently weaves this information into the story as to not obstruct the reader from understanding events from the participants perspective.
After the incidents of 9/11 it was obvious to many that something had to be done. Horse Soldiers details the results of what had to be done in those days following the tragic incidents on September 11, 2001. But because the mission of the Horse Soldiers happened quickly and America found itself moving from Afghanistan to Iraq, the story was never told in detail. In fact, many of the soldiers involved in the Afghanistan mission found themselves quickly in the war with Iraq, posing a challenge for the author in his research.
Certainly Stantons book will benefit from Afghanistans recent resurgence in the news. American military leaders stationed in Afghanistan have suggested that the Taliban is again gaining a foothold in regions they were defeated in by the Horse Soldiers.
But Stanton does not need a current military conflict in Afghanistan to create merit for his book as he has captured this story in a way to make it a relevant read at any moment in history.
Horse Soldiers becomes a must-read because as a society we are too often caught up in the prowess of the celebrity. We seldom are afforded the perspective of major happenings from the ordinary everyday person who is in the center of the moment. It doesnt matter if it is a war or a natural disaster we hear from the spokesperson, not the everyday Joe. Politics and posturing often keep us from getting to the heart of the real story, but Stanton does not fall victim of either.
Stanton, admits that his past writings on celebrities are not about their celebrity but rather about who and what the celebrity is when no one is watching. As a society we have watched our recent military conflicts unfold through the eyes of politicians, military leaders, pundits and the media. Stanton has turned the tables and enabled readers a fresh perspective and that is what separates Horse Soldiers from so many books on military conflict.
It is hard to find fault and criticism with Horse Soldiers. Stanton has done his homework. It took him six years to research and write the book. In fact the reader is best served by starting at the back of the book and reading the Acknowledgements and Sources along with the Bibliography first to understand the scope of information and research Stanton sifted through to capture this story.
Stantons ability to sort through 100 interviews and numerous accounts and perspectives on the same incidents is exceptional. An ordinary writer would have taken shortcuts in hopes to accomplishing the same results -- not Stanton. His approach was meticulous and thorough and why many will find it difficult to put the book down once they start reading.
Another area Stanton is successful in is drawing the reader into the actual story. This is not your typical dry historical account, with boring statistics and facts that only are important if you have pop quiz to take or a Jeopardy question to answer; instead this descriptive narrative places the reader right into the battlefield. You actually find your mind right their riding along with the soldiers.
This type of writing is Stanton at his best and is not by chance. Readers of In Harms Way found themselves treading water with the soldiers of U.S. Indianapolis as well.
Regardless of your opinion on war, and in particular on the U.S. military policies in the Middle East, Horse Soldiers is worth reading.