An ambitious Dartmouth classics major with an intimate knowledge of Thucydides, Nathaniel Fick confesses that he joined the Marines not only to serve his country but because he "wanted something . . . transformative. Something that might kill me--or leave me better, stronger, more capable," he writes. "I wanted to be a warrior."
In One Bullet Away Fick, now 28 and a civilian, tells the compelling story of his odyssey from Officer Candidate School ("Nothing proves your effort to me like projectile vomiting," says an instructor) to the adrenaline-fueled insanity of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Though other veterans of the Iraq war have covered similar territory (see box), the author, a captain in an elite Recon battalion, is a keen observer whose fine writing is distinguished by its intelligence and candor. The Marines in his command are vividly drawn and oddly endearing--perhaps because Fick neatly captures their deep, dark humor. (A seared enemy corpse becomes "beef jerky man"; another, flattened by several tanks, is "tomato crate man.") Though cool under fire, Fick sifts through the moral dilemmas in the field: Ignoring protocol, he allows his Marines to blow up an unexploded rocket-propelled grenade that threatens an Iraqi neighborhood. A riveting read, One Bullet Away offers a rare perspective on modern warfare--and on the culture of America's warriors.