The end of May in the United States is a time for memorializing the impact of war—in particular, the sacrifices made by service members and their families. Yet the ultimate costs of war—to individuals, communities, and countries—are in many ways incalculable, and attempts to honor the military can sometimes seem shallow. The author Ben Fountain critiques such celebrations in his satirical novel about a young soldier’s homecoming. The fiction writer Julianne Pachico explores what it means for children to grow up amid a conflict that lasts decades. And the journalist Steve Coll examines the factors that have kept U.S. troops in Afghanistan for almost 18 years.
David Means’s dystopian novel about an experimental treatment for trauma questions whether a nation’s battle scars can, or should, ever be erased. The Army veteran Christopher Combest charts his own path toward regaining his creative voice after combat. And Herman Wouk, who died on Friday at the age of 103, leaves as his legacy a set of novels that capture World War II with cinematic scope and moral clarity.
Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out.
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What We’re Reading
The tragedy of the American military
“If I were writing such a history [of the current political climate], I would call it Chickenhawk Nation … the story of a country willing to do anything for its military except take it seriously. ”