Book Review: The Living and the Dead – Brian Mockenhaupt

The Living and the Dead: War, Friendship and the Battles that Never End

“The worst feeling,” Sergeant Tom Whorl scribbles in a small spiral notebook, “is not knowing when your last step will be. That’s what takes a toll on your brain.” With those simple words, he captures the gut-wrenching day-to-day, life-and-death struggles and triumphs of the men of Patrol Base Dakota, fighting a war that many have all but forgotten and hear little about, save for sound bites about troop drawdowns and defense budgets. Their story unfolds at a Marine encampment in southern Afghanistan, but it could be the story of any young men in any war, trying to do their job when doing their job might mean, at any second, losing their lives—or watching their best friends lose theirs.

In The Living and the Dead, acclaimed journalist and Iraq War veteran Brian Mockenhaupt tells the gripping true story of three close friends—Tom, Ian, and Jimmy—and the reality of how twenty-first-century combat plays out in the lives of those in the fight. How walking through the Afghan countryside is a nerve-wracking gamble as they hunt for cleverly hidden explosives that can tear a man in half. How the families back home live in dread of men in uniform showing up at their front doors with news too grim to imagine. How the consequences of a split-second decision can replay over and over in a Marine’s mind and haunt him for the rest of his days. And how those who sign up to do democracy’s dirty work somehow manage to endure the unendurable.

The Living and the Dead is a  moving and timeless  account of bravery, friendship, struggle, and sacrifice in the face of unimaginable tests. It is an unforgettable tale of battles that continue to rage long after the final shot has been fired.

Brian Mockenhaupt is a contributing editor at Esquire and Reader’s Digest and is the nonfiction editor at the Journal of Military Experience. He writes regularly for The Atlantic and Outside. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine,  Pacific Standard, Chicago magazine and Backpacker. He served two tours in Iraq as an infantryman with the 10th Mountain Division. Since leaving the U.S. Army in 2005, he has written extensively on military and veteran affairs, reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq, hometowns, and hospitals, and even Mt. Kilimanjaro, which he climbed with a former soldier blinded by a bomb in Baghdad. Prior to joining the Army, he worked as a newspaper reporter in the United States and in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, at The Cambodia Daily, an English-language newspaper, and as a contributing reporter for the Far Eastern Economic Review, reporting from Cambodia, Burma and South Korea. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and has an MFA in creative non-fiction from Goucher College.