News of Iraq rarely turns up in U.S. media reports nowadays. But Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, two veteran military correspondents, have stayed on the story and done an important service for history by writing The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, From George W. Bush to Barack Obama (Pantheon, $35). This is the most comprehensive account to date of the ill-fated U.S. war in Iraq. Drawing on many interviews as well as quite a few classified documents, the authors trace the full arc of the American experience in Iraq, from the Bush administration’s mismanagement of the initial years of occupation to the Obama administration’s missed opportunities in setting Iraq on a more stable course. They break new ground, particularly in documenting how Obama fumbled chances to reengage with Iraqi leaders and shape a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq. Instead, the president remained narrow-mindedly intent on winding down America’s military involvement.
Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory is about the British army on the Western Front. It is about what these men read, wrote and suffered. Their boredom and agony at Paschendale, Ypres and the Somme endures in the fault lines of our cultural categories and the sinews of our language. I learned what a truly great work of scholarship can be from this book. Fussell reads the canon of First World War poetry alongside the innumerable letters, memoirs and other unpublished manuscripts of the Imperial War Museum’s collection. The Great War and Modern Memory is more than thorough, it is intellectually and methodologically intrepid: a deft mixture of literary and cultural criticism and historical investigation in the widest sense. Fussell insight is double and archeological: resurrecting the vanished, innocent prewar certainties and finding the trench mud smeared on our modern preoccupations.