Picks and Pans Review: One Bullet Away

updated 10/17/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/17/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Nathaniel Fick

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.

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