Friday, November 06, 2009

Where Men Win Glory

I just finished Jon Krakauer's Where Men Win Glory. I was disappointed and wouldn't recommend it. I've always defended Krakauer against critics of his previous books, but I have issues with this one.

Briefly:
1. Cite your sources.
2. If you're going to rag on Bush, do it about something non-obvious.
3. Quoting endless quotidian sections of your subject's journal is not the same as showing us that the thoughts and desires inside the heads of crazy adventurous men are the same as those rattling around inside our own heads.

In more detail:
1. Krakauer's method of crediting sources is to have a "Notes" section at the end with a list for each chapter that says "My sources were interviews and correspondence with Marie Tillman..." or "My main sources were Ghost Wars..." or something to that effect. The main text has essentially zero footnotes, end-notes or end-of-sentence citations; each chapter just gets a giant list of general sources in the back, so you have no clue who said any specific piece of information.

When re-investigating falsehoods told about a certain incident that people have already become familiar with, I feel it's essential to make your new sources part of the narrative. But Krakauer just mentions the three military friendly fire investigations and congressional testimony in the final few chapters of the book, despite the fact that they're obviously the source of much of the information for the entire book.

So after reading the book, I really have no idea where Krakauer's info came from. He's sort of accusing the military of this grand conspiracy regarding both Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, and I'd be more likely to believe that's what happened (instead of a bunch of people independently lying and misremembering to cover their own asses as they do every day) if I knew where Krakauer got any of his info from. Maybe he did a bunch of top notch investigative journalism, or maybe he just read Ghost Wars and the book by Tillman's mom.

2. Did you know that George Bush stole the 2000 presidential election? Or that we invaded Iraq despite the fact that Saddam Hussein didn't have any WMD and had nothing to do with 9/11? Personally, I already knew those things. I mean, don't get me wrong, because I hate George Bush just as much as the next guy, but re-telling me those facts without telling me any new details, and without citing any new sources seems like a waste, and is probably making readers who don't already believe these facts less likely to believe the story about Tillman.

3. I think the brilliance of Into the Wild comes from taking us inside the mind of Chris McCandless and making us realize that we all share some of those same thoughts and that same wanderlust. There's one line in this book (that I unfortunately can't find right now) about how the lust to run off to war is much more present in society than people are willing to admit in pleasant company. When I read that I line I thought, "Yes, that's what I want this book to be about." But instead Krakauer doesn't go anywhere with that (except very briefly in the postscript), and the book is mostly (not clearly verified) political journalism.

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