Sunday, October 31, 2010

Review: Where Men Win Glory

Where Men Win Glory, the biography of NFL player turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, is classic Jon Krakauer. Misunderstood subject with grand ideals? Check. Painstakingly documented journey? Check. Grisly and tragic ending? Check.

The book is a character study of Tillman, who Krakauer paints as super masculine yet soft hearted through research and interviews with family, friends, and fellow soldiers. Those around him said Tillman was a man who lived to challenge himself. He was a hard-driving if undersized safety for the Arizona Cardinals. After 9/11 he suspended his NFL career, giving up millions of dollars and a comfortable life with his wife Marie to fight in Afghanistan, where he would meet a horrible end.

Tillman doesn't come across as a saint (check out how much he curses), but he does seem like the rare person who was motivated primarily by principle rather than by money, power or fame. In the last chapter Krakauer compares Tillman to Friedrich Nietzsche's Ubermensch, "an exemplary, transcendent figure." In the end Tillman does seem like a sort of superman, a real-life hero of legend.

Besides chronicling Tillman's life, the author offers the clearest description of the lead-up to the war in Afghanistan I've read. Krakauer tackles the cover-up of the true cause of Tillman's death with ferocity, and it's truly stunning to learn about the details. It makes me wish all journalism could be like this, cutting straight through all the B.S. with a laser light. As with Krakauer's previous books, it's heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, but it's the truth.

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