4 out of 5: The Forever War is Dexter Filkins's personal account of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a foreign correspondent for the New York Times stationed in Afghanistan (2001-02) and Iraq (2003-06), Filkins has bona fides in spades. Fortunately, he's also a good writer. Filkins's straightforward prose is well-crafted and clear, never detracting from the real story.
Rather than a comprehensive account of the wars, The Forever War is a zoom lens focusing on discrete scenes. One scene might describe a roof-top discussion with a patrolling U.S. marine, while the next scene jumps to an interview with the family of a suicide bomber. Filkins doesn't waste any time with transitions between unrelated scenes. This choppy structure is occasionally jarring but becomes easier to follow over time. Taken together, the disparate scenes reveal a great deal about the larger war, particularly the futility of the conflict. Despite aggrandizing political statements to the contrary, things aren’t getting any better in Iraq, and there’s no clear way forward. At times, I found myself wishing for a more global perspective—a more panoramic shot—to help me understand the larger picture and to place Filkins's experiences within a more complete timeline. However, there are plenty of other books that present that perspective. In this book, Filkins is trying to do something different and far more valuable.