Military Times book reviewer J. Ford Huffman reads so you don't have to. In 2015, he offered readers insights into 55 military titles, roughly a book a week. What are the standouts, the books he recommends most highly? Here are the top 10. By coincidence five are fiction, five are nonfiction.
Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish, Tyrant Books, 418 pages, $15
Brad Skinner is an Army veteran of Iraq whose "Brad's-eye-view of the world" makes him "get mad even when I'm trying to be nice." Zou Lei is a Chinese Muslim immigrant scraping by as a dishwasher.
"I'd Walk With My Friends If I Could Find Them" by Jesse Goolsby
Photo Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Their predicament is doomed but the debut novel is powerful and poetic, dense with hard language and hard choices in Chinatown and Queens. (Tish served in the Marine Corps about 20 years ago.)
I'd Walk With My Friends If I Could Find Them by Jesse Goolsby, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 292 pages, $24
Occasionally a first novel introduces real talent, and if this look at veterans of Afghanistan turns out not to be the great Goolsby, it's a good Goolsby.
Ellis, Dax and Torres serve together in combat, where a decision brings moral trauma that stays with them for "20 years of waking up, living, sleeping, repeat, and repeat."
The perceived sins of the fathers provide a rare, multigenerational scope.
"Green on Blue" by Elliot Ackerman
Photo Credit: Scribner
Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman, Scribner, 256 pages, $25
This is a war novel in the precise, concise view of Aziz, an Afghanistan youth, whose opening might be the most memorable of the year:
"Many would call me a dishonest man, but I've always kept faith with myself."
When his older brother is hurt, Aziz must take a side — in a U.S.-funded militia — and wonders whether he becomes "the very thing I despised."
It's the first novel by the former Marine and White House Fellow.
"The Valle"y by John Renehan
Photo Credit: Dutton
The Valley by John Renehan, Dutton, 438 pages, $26.95
The author served in Iraq but sets his debut novel in deepest Afghanistan, prompting comparisons to Joseph Conrad and Francis Ford Coppola.
But his story, full of suspense and substance, stands alone.
A lieutenant investigates misconduct at Combat Outpost Vega, where soldiers assume native habits because what happens in Vega stays in Vega — and the lieutenant's discoveries make this a page-turning mystery.
"War of the Encyclopaedists" by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite
Photo Credit: Scribner
War of the Encyclopaedists by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite, Scribner, 442 pages, $26
Two guys walk into a bathroom during a party they host at their Encyclopad in Seattle.
After puking together, Halifax Corderoy knows his friendship with Mickey Montauk has "evolved from superficial absurdity to something of substance."
The novel evolves similarly: Corderoy goes to graduate school in Boston and Montauk to war in Bagdhad.
Each makes mistakes, ethical and romantic, in a Wiki world of wisecracks.
"The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" by David J. Morris
Photo Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by David J. Morris, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 352 pages, $27
This biography of a malady contains autobiography, too, and the combination explores theories, therapies and combat, which builds brotherhood but can turn "men into dogs."
The author is a Marine veteran (1994-1998) who embeds in Iraq for three years and sees war "through the lens of an infantry officer turned journalist."
This history doubles as a call to action and shows trauma's "disintegrating effect on the entire psychological system."
"Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization" by Roy Scranton
Photo Credit: City Lights Books
Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization by Roy Scranton, City Lights Books, 144 pages, $13.95
This is a small book with big ideas from an Army vet who lives in what scientists call the Anthropocene, the geologic period in which we must "adapt to life in the hot, volatile world we've created."
"The problem," he writes, "is that the problem is us."
The salvation is us, too, and Scranton adds meaning and humor.
Milestones include "all seven seasons of 'Mad Men,' " and dying "is the one thing in life we can absolutely count on getting done."
"The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq" by Emma Sky
Photo Credit: Perseus Books
The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq by Emma Sky, Perseus Books, 416 pages, $28.99
A British woman volunteers to work — without receiving any briefing — at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2003.
Later, Gen. Ray Odierno reaches for Sky as his official political adviser, his polite but frank "secret weapon" who gets people to talk to each other.
A scholar and strategist, Sky's political perception alone makes worthwhile reading.
But beyond policy, there is personality, too.
"Where Youth and Laughter Go: With 'The Cutting Edge' in Afghanistan" by Lt. Col. Seth W.B. Folsom, USMC
Photo Credit: Naval Institute Press
Where Youth and Laughter Go: With 'The Cutting Edge' in Afghanistan by Lt. Col. Seth W.B. Folsom, USMC, Naval Institute Press, 352 pages, $34.95
This narrative from the front line is the third memoir by a Marine fond of Stephen King and Siegfried Sassoon.
Telling of his unit, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, the "Cutting Edge," he presents a tribute to and a testament of young Marines transformed into "ethical warriors."
It's a sitrep with sensitivity.
Folsom writes "to reconcile my experiences, to make sense of the senseless" — and succeeds.
Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, HarperCollins, 320 pages, $26.99
"Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield" by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Photo Credit: HarperCollins
1st Lt. Ashley White and other women volunteer for possible selection as members of the Army's pilot Cultural Support Teams in 2010.
The women are trying not "to make some kind of statement," White says.
"All they wanted," Lemmon writes, "was a shot at going to war on a mission they believe in with America's best fighters."
They get their shot in Afghanistan, where White is killed by an IED blast at a Taliban compound.