A deceptively straightforward account of a platoon’s fifteen-month deployment in a remote outpost in the Korangal Valley of Eastern Afghanistan, War (Twelve, $15.99), by Sebastian Junger, is a brave attempt at documenting the lives of men in constant danger, the incongruities of combat, the boredom and the fear, and the fine line between the living and the dead. The stories of what happens to these men are interspersed with explanations of the science behind fear, courage, and the bonds that develop among men who trust each other with their lives.
One of the great stories from the world of publishing last year was that of an unappreciated manuscript that won a contest and was then taken under the wing of a nurturing publisher. Thus Matterhorn (Grove, $15.95) burst upon the scene as one of the great war novels of this or any generation. Karl Marlantes, a highly decorated Vietnam-era Marine, shows readers the futility of conquering ground only to give it back the next day, details the fear and courage experienced by regular soldiers on the ground, and captures war’s sights, sounds, and smells. This novel vividly evokes both the heights of adrenaline and the tedium of waiting for action.
Ben Macintyre, an associate editor at the London Times, follows up his bestselling Agent Zigzag with another World War II spy story, Operation Mincemeat (Broadway, $15), a tale so wild and entertaining that it could be a James Bond caper. Fictional agents and a bogus body are only part of the intricate plot by which MI5 successfully diverted Nazi intelligence from the planned Allied invasion of Sicily. False documents baked in a cake, an undercover removal of a three-month-old dead body from a local morgue to stand in for a drowned corpse—one clad in the thick underwear of an Oxford don—and an imaginary fiancée are only a few of the full complement of espionage tricks-of-the trade that Macintyre colorfully recounts.