Book Review: No Easy Day

I was interested to read ‘No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden” by “Mark Owen” (Matt Bissonnette) and co-written by Kevin Maurer.

Having read it, I am surprised at the glowing reviews of the book and suspect that what people may be applauding is the author’s bravery as a warrior, not his prowess as a storyteller. Or, it may be simply an ‘approval rating’ for the act of killing Bin Laden.

For the record: I’m glad the bastard’s dead. I was surprised to read that the mission was to capture, not a ‘kill order’ and find that vaguely stupid. Bin Laden in custody would have served as the mother of all excuses for countless Jihadists to attempt to force his release through multiple and bloody acts of violence. What I’m reviewing is the book. Not the act and not the men who took him down.

Here’s my review for Goodreads:

This is a review of the book, not of the author

I feel I have to title my review this way because although I’m very glad this event happened, and I have boundless admiration for the people who participated in the raid, including the author, I can’t honestly say it was a great book.

To be fair to ‘Mark Owen’, his ghostwriter, Kevin Maurer, does bear some responsibility for taking a tired, pseudo-action-thriller approach to the story. The first half of the book is a very mediocre, dramatized ‘montage’ approach to what it takes to be a Navy Seal and rise up through the ranks to do the type of special operations detailed in the book. As heart-pounding action-thrillers go, it’s lacking in the kind of tangible, humanizing elements that elevate good stories of this kind out of the G.I. Joe stereotype.

The second half of the book deals with the raid itself in a very dry, accurate and factual way. It paints a clear picture of the anti-climactic demise of Osama Bin Laden. It probably would have taken a ghost writer with superior skills to Maurer’s to forge the rising anticipation, the fear, the frustrations into a more gripping read.

I need to make it clear that I’m not dissing the Navy Seal. I’m just saying a better ghost writer might have done more to bring his story to life.

Many critics have questioned this author’s motives for writing the book, and I think the end of the story really exposes them. He’s clearly not in it for the money – since most of the profits from this book are going to veteran’s charities. I think he’s a man who is bitter about the ‘spin’ the media and the administration gave the killing of Bin Laden, because having been an eye-witness to it, he feels the factual truth was good enough and didn’t require embellishment.

But he’s also a man, like many in front line positions, who holds tremendous animosity towards anyone with a say in military policy and decision-making who isn’t sitting beside him in combat gear, holding a firearm. I think most people who experience war on the front lines feel this way. But it sours the end of the book rather badly. Because the author is clearly not a fan of Obama, and says so often and, at times, in disparaging ways.

This book is a) a first hand account of the raid, b) a portrait of what these admirable and brave people go through to serve their country and c) a concerted effort on the part of the author to deny the present administration any share in the glory of Bin Laden’s final demise.

(Note to future administrations: If you say you’re going to have a beer with the guys you’re pinning medals on, you’d better keep your promise. Otherwise they end up bitter and write books like this one.)

And although I thoroughly commiserate with the author’s ‘walk a mile in my shoes’ feelings, I also think it does damage to the nobility of an account of what was a brave, courageous and well-implemented military action. I wouldn’t want to walk in Owen’s shoes, nor would I want to be responsible for making decisions about the fate of a whole country, its security, its economy and its place as superpower.

I think it may be a central flaw in attempting to write a first person account of this sort of experience too close to the actual event, without the distance of some time and consideration to put the events in proportion. There have been some outstanding first-person accounts of war, but rarely are they written so soon after the event.

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