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Martin was a bookish but lost young man—after graduating from high school, he was stuck in a dead-end job, shiftlessly escaping into histories. He became enthralled with Alexander the Great, consumed biographies about his life, and pined to replicate his achievements. The author decided to enlist in the Marines—he chose what he believed was the most elite of the military branches—in order to find drama in the Middle East, and his wish came true. Martin served in both Iraq and Afghanistan: “In my mind, I wanted a mission. I wanted an adventure. I wanted to wade into the tides of history, to soak in the events, and to make a splash, however small, of my own.” But his experiences in Iraq were largely a disappointment—instead of combat, his days were filled with bureaucratic toil, office work, and meetings. But he finally experienced the war when he was deployed to Marjah, the “most dangerous city in Afghanistan.” There, the author, desperate to see action, finally found some, and was intoxicated by the exhilarating feeling of power it aroused. Yet that excitement proved temporary, and ultimately was replaced by a dull dissatisfaction. Martin’s memoir is as thoughtful as it is lucid, and is written in a deeply personal, confessional style, probing and self-effacing. There is now an enormous storehouse of literature on this subject, including remembrances from soldiers who fought abroad, and the author’s book, while astutely executed, doesn’t contribute a fresh or original perspective for the most part. But his vivid account of his attraction to military life as a tonic for listlessness is as intelligently rendered as it is provocative.

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