American Sniper tells the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who completed four tours in Iraq from 1999-2009. The book describes Kyle's upbringing and Navy SEAL training, but the heart of the text deals with his experiences in combat. America's most prolific sniper, Kyle's wartime experiences went well beyond shooting from afar. Chris Kyle is an unpolished writer, but he tells his story clearly and authentically.
The paperback version has nearly 400 pages of text, but can be read quickly. I got through the book in about a week. Retrospectively, I probably should have read it a bit more slowly. Being a dedicated solder is not easy, but being a Navy SEAL seems especially difficult. Kyle recounts numerous experiences in combat, but also does a nice job of explaining other aspects of life as a soldier, including how his work affects relationships with friends and family. I've always thought that some people were made to be soldiers, to see the brutalities of war firsthand; if that's indeed true, Chris Kyle was definitely one of those people. He loved his job as a Navy SEAL.
At times politically incorrect or even crude, Kyle's writing seems relentlessly honest. Kyle is not an intellectual, although the book will make readers think - about the enormous costs of war and what Iraq has meant for American soldiers and their families.
The Iraq war remains controversial and debate surrounding U.S. foreign policy and American's role in the world will likely intensify in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. In that context, sometimes it's helpful to set aside the complexities of geopolitics or grand strategy and examine Iraq through the lens of one soldier's story.
Here in the States, the Middle East can seem far away, but - for most Americans - understanding what it means to serve one's country in the U.S. military is something probably even more remote. For that very reason, American Sniper and other contemporary American war memoirs deserve to be read closely and reflected upon even more closely. There is wisdom in Kyle's unvarnished, lean prose and we ignore it at our own peril.