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.