Places and Names is a classic meditation on war, how it compels and resists our efforts to order it with meaning. In simple, evocative sentences, with sparing but effective glances at poetry and art, he weaves memories of his deployments with his observations in and near Syria. He pulls off a literary account of war that is accessible to those who wonder 'what it’s like' while ringing true to those who—each in his or her own way—already know ... Does Ackerman really think Abed’s grass-roots Syrian movement parallels the United States’ ocean-crossing, false-pretext invasion of Iraq? I doubt it, based on the other things he writes. And whose 'democratic ideals' were at work in Iraq ... Ackerman doesn’t clarify. Mostly, though, he deftly evokes resonances and contrasts. As Syrians process their war, he processes his ... there is an honesty in keeping conclusions at arm’s length. This is a Marine’s-eye view. Marines aren’t supposed to talk politics. Their wars have not ended.
I couldn’t quite make this book out. Is it a profound meditation on the nature of war? An important insight into the disastrous interventions and failed revolutions that have followed the destruction of the Twin Towers? In a way it is both these things and neither ... This is a very male book, as if women have no part in war; the only female mentioned is the long-suffering Swiss fiancée of the depressed Syrian. Yet it is so readable I forewent sleep and devoured it in one plane journey ... Ackerman is a master of dagger-sharp prose and memorable detail.
[Ackerman] reveals his skills as a journalist and memoirist ... Though the book’s episodic pieces are dated by year and season, they’re presented without chronology. That fact, coupled with the complexity of the political and military landscape in which Ackerman dwells, presents challenges for readers not steeped in these subjects ... Though the journalism in pieces like that one is observant and informative, the sections of Places and Names more accurately characterized as memoir are its most engrossing. Ackerman’s recollections of his experience in Fallujah, the subject of the book’s final two entries, provide its most gripping moments ... The vivid descriptions of how he and his comrades fought for survival on unimaginably perilous terrain are as close as one can come on the page to the reality of combat ... the seemingly endless conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan already have spawned an impressive body of literature. To that collection of excellence, add Elliot Ackerman’s unforgettable Places and Names.
[A] searing, contemplative, and unforgettable memoir-in-essays ... Deeply personal yet never losing sight of the big, historical reasons for recent events, this collection recalls Michael Herr’s classic Dispatches ... perhaps the finest writing about the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts that has been published to date.
Ackerman builds on the coming-of-age images of training, combat and homecoming in the military memoirs of writers such as Benjamin Busch, Brian Castner, Adrian Bonenberger and Brian Turner. Fans of Ackerman’s nonfiction will recognize some previously published pieces in Places and Names. He refrains from delving deeply into his emotions and instead hints at them through the stories of friends ... Ackerman’s tone suggests his deep feeling beneath the surface ... Many veterans will viscerally feel this pull, along with nostalgia for the places where they came of age. Even after leaving the military, the desire for a sense of purpose under intense circumstances often persists ... ends with a searing and beautiful chapter — not included in Ackerman’s original draft — that details his thoughts amid the blood, sweat and adrenaline of the Battle of Fallujah.
Throughout the poignant narrative there is a sense that the Americans for whom the author has fought have misunderstood the Muslims that he has fought against ... A profoundly human narrative that transcends nationality and ideology.
... isn’t a glorification of war, by any stretch. Instead, it’s an attempt to make sense of something that can never be explained, to grapple with ghosts, and to try to adjust to the idea that, as horrible as war is, its hyperadrenalized environment can make ordinary life feel dull ... Ackerman, as he does throughout the book, sees both the details and broader meaning of his encounters.