Books You Really Should Have Read By Now — “Black Hawk Down”

Books You Really Should Have Read By Now — “Black Hawk Down”

You’re probably familiar with this week’s book, but my guess is you haven’t sat down and actually read it. This is one of those where “seeing the movie is close enough” is a pretty common sentiment, and I’ll half-agree with that — the 2001 film is damned watchable, and gives a pretty fair broad-strokes view of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu.

So if you’ve seen and enjoyed the movie, do you really need to read “Black Hawk Down?” The answer is, without reservation, yes. Yes you do.

Sure, the book is more accurate than the movie. Sure, it provides additional information the movie didn’t have time to include — but you could safely say the same of any non-fiction title that was made into a movie. And while both are valid reasons to read it, they’re not the only reasons.

Bowden makes sure to provide some perspective here — he doesn’t tell the story from the perspective of a single Ranger chalk, as the movie mostly did. Instead, he tells us what happened from multiple perspectives — the Rangers, the Deltas, the people they left back home, the Somali militia fighters, civilians caught in the crossfire. . . while most of his narrative comes from the American soldiers, the book is overall far more even-handed than Ridley Scott’s film adaptation.

And here’s something extra-geeky to get you to buy into this one — the book, which started its life as a series of newspaper columns for the Philadelphia Inquirer, may be the first example of an author using the Internet to crowd-source some of the research for his book. Way back in 1997, Bowden participated in more than 20 rounds of Q&A on the Web as the series was posted to the Inquirer’s Web site (which is still around and accessible, and definitely worth a read by itself), and through these Q&A sessions, he made contact with several people who were on the ground in Mogadishu that day. A lot of these contacts provided information that ended up in the book version.

I grew up in a military environment, so that shapes my view of the work, of course (I still call everyone “sir,” even). I work for the military now. Those caveats aside, I think people with no background and no interest in the military will find this book fascinating, as Bowden makes it about the people rather than the incident. His expert handling of the material has made me want to track down and read “Killing Pablo,” though I have no preexisting interest in the subject matter.

And if all of those reasons weren’t enough, it’s just a damn gripping read.

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