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Book Review: No Easy Day

Oct 12, 2012 • book-reviews, general

I've always been curious about the military. I've wanted to join it several times, but the circumstances were never right. No Easy Day is an autobiography of an ex-Navy SEAL who participated as a team lead on the mission into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden.

The book generated a fair amount of controversy, because Navy SEAL missions are usually confidential, but the writer, Mark Owens, clearly explains that he has included nothing in the book that hasn't already been published in some form or another.

No Easy Day saw huge sales in the marketplace, exceeding even the sales of Fifty Shades of Gray. I'm not entirely sure why. The book is a military action account, but there's not much philosophical thought or reflection in the book. There doesn't seem to be much controversy either. The fascination driving the book is the inside look at the life of a Navy SEAL, especially in context of the mission to get bin Laden.

In general, the author tells how SEALs undergo rigorous physical conditioning, have die-hard dedication to their country, care for guns and other weapons with the greatest detail, have strong loyalty to their team, sometimes joke around with each other and play pranks, focus singularly on their mission, and get to travel to a lot of different hotspots on secret missions. As an autobiography, the narrator also tells a bit about his upbringing in Alaska. But the core of the book focuses on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

The navy SEALs execute their missions with the utmost determination to succeed, preparing and hunting and exerting 110% effort to find and capture/kill bin Laden. Their mission drives them more than anything else.

When the SEALs storm bin Laden's compound, bin Laden -- awoken in the night from his bed where he was presumably sleeping with his family -- peers around the corner to see who is down the hall when one of the seals pops a round and hits him in his head. bin Laden doesn't put up a fight or even try to escape -- he seems somewhat dazed from having just woken up when he is shot. He never says a word. He comes across as a silent, minimal, even a bit sympathetic figure in the book.

As the narrator explores bin Laden's room, he finds that bin Laden had a couple of guns but no ammunition. The narrator's comment is that bin Laden turned out to be the biggest coward of them all. He remarks that higher-ups ask the younger followers to sacrifice their lives as suicide bombers and in other deadly missions, but the higher ups aren't willing to make the same sacrifices themselves -- they are cowards.

Although bin Laden is described as the goal that drives the narrator through these years in Pakistan and Afghanistan, looking for him, bin Laden as a person never materializes much. I don't have any sympathy for the man who masterminded the 9-11 attacks that killed thousands, but that evil mastermind does not come across in this book. Instead you see a dedicated Navy SEAL and the life SEALs live.

Change?

I kept waiting for some event in the narrator's life to cause him a moment of change, but it never comes. The book simply contains an account of his service as a Navy SEAL and the bin Laden mission. Interestingly enough, his narration is enough to keep the reader's attention. There are plenty of other obstacles with the special missions, the military life, and other team mates to fill the book with story. I guess this goes to prove that the transformation in the narrator isn't always such a critical element for an engaging story.

In the epilogue, Owens does explain that he decided to leave the military after 12 years of operational duty, but only because the military life took too much toll on his personal life. He explains that a good SEAL gives all to the military, always saying yes to the military while saying no to his family.

I do admire the author's decision to tell a story that a lot of military and government officials didn't want him to tell. In the introduction, he says two motives drove him. First, he wanted to tell a story similar to a novel he read as a kid of a Vietnam soldier on a mission in the jungle. Second, he wants to set the record straight despite numerous distortions in the media.

If he wants to inspire high school or college kids to join the military, this book might certainly do it, but it would have been nice to tone down the language a bit and maybe omit the dildo joke scene. I have a hard time recommending the book to teens knowing the language is quite strong. Then again, omitting this language would no doubt fictionalize the military.

Overall, I have to say this book kept me more or less mesmerized most of the time. It's a fascinating and earnest depiction of the life of a Navy SEAL. The book isn't so long that it gets dull, and the focus on the missions kept my attention and interest. If it were made into a movie, it would be a pretty good action movie. But if it were made into a movie, I think the director would need to take some liberties with the narrator to suggest some change or transformation to give the story a little more depth.

Despite these shortcomings in the book, it is fascinating and worth a read. And the Audible narrator does an excellent job with the narration -- he actually sounds like a soldier.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.