Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War - Mark Bowden

The year was 1993, Somalia was in the midst of a civil war with warlords fighting for their corner. The violence and turmoil caused famine within the country, this in turn prompted the United States to send in the its military.  Distractors would say this is the classic example of what can go wrong when the US plays the role of the world's policeman.  One of the key warlord was Mohammed Farah Aidid, the strongman who held power in Mogadishu.  Americans had already attempted to capture him after he ambushed a United Nations peace-keep force, but mostly civilians were killed which turn the Somolians against the UN and American forces.  Finally, Clinton sends in the Delta Force and Army Rangers.

Black hawk down describes gives almost an minute by minute blow of the American attempt to capture 2 of Aidid's advisors. The operations goes wrong as soon as the the Rangers fast rope down into the streets.  Even though Mr Bowden wasn't there, via numerious interviews with those who were, he places you squarely in the operation. Besides operation details, the confusion of the situation is conveyed immedidately to the reader. Perhaps a little too well, as the lack of good maps in the book sometimes makes it hard to follow the action. But overall, thats a minor fault to a a book that is tightly written.  From the initial wounded, the downing of the US Black Hawk Helicopter from which the book gets its title, the confused ground convoy that was tasked to transport the captured advisors back to base, and the eventual airing of Michael Durant, a capture helicopter pilot, on TV - all the action are well described. When the operation finally ended 15 hrs later, 18 Americans were dead, 70 wounded, and an estimated 500+ Somalis were dead.  The event caused the US to give up its mission in Somali, and had major influence on the US military and political situation.  This is a well written book that literally puts you into the midst battle.

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It Doesn't Take a Hero: The Autobiography of General Norman Schwarzkopf

This is Norman Schwarzkopf's story. If you didn't know, Schwarzkopf spent 30+ years in the US military, eventually finding himself in command of Half a million troops during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in early 1990's. As expected, after a brief discription of his childhood and his early experiences in Vietnam, the book concentrates on the events surrounding the Iraq invasion of Kuwait and the world's response. Interestingly, we see how the Gulf war was not only about turning back an invader that threatened a US ally and important source of energy, it was 'proofing ground' for much of the junior officials who served in the US in Vietnam. Now in position of command, this group wanted and needed to prove to themselves that the changes they've implemented corrected the mistakes in the US military. If you wanted to get a military view from the US perspective on this war, this is a great book. Not only that, Schwarzkopt comes off as a geniiuely decent man, irregardless of you agree or disagree wiith this particular decisions during the war.

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