Monday, October 21, 2013

Book review: "Eight Lives Down: The Story of the World's Most Dangerous Job in the World's Most Dangerous Place"

"Eight Lives Down" is a good book, especially if you like war stories. With better writing, it could have been a great book.

Chris Hunter spent four months in 2004 serving as a bomb disposal specialist for British forces in Iraq. He survived explosions, rocket attacks, and a wicked ambush. He risked his life defusing countless bombs that could have killed and maimed many.

Hunter gives us soldier's point of view of the Iraq War, and at times it's full of heart-pounding tension and adrenaline-pumping fireworks. He offers up fascinating details on the different types of bombs found in Iraq. He also gives us a glimpse of the toll the war takes on soldier's personal lives.

Hunter is certainly confident in his skills. On a few occasions in the book, this brims over into bragging.

While Hunter has some terrific stories to tell, they're too often cluttered with impenetrable military jargon and abbreviations, as well as British slang. If you're British or a military bomb disposal specialist, this might not bother you, but for the average American reader some of his sentences are almost incomprehensible.

Here's one: "We get the boys to help us transfer some EOD tools and equipment into a couple of bergens, then, grabbing the ECM kit from the new bleep, we chuck the whole lot into the back of a Warrior."

Or: "The sapper EOD teams are with us too-a hardy collection of Jocks, Scousers and Brummies."

I'm not sure it's fair to blame Hunter for this he's a professional soldier, after all, not a professional writer. His editor (he mentions in the foreword having a U.S. editor) should have flagged these items for rewriting.

There is a glossary at the end of the book to help decipher some of the terms, but I didn't see it until I was almost finished with the book. Still, editors should note this: If you feel the need to include a glossary to make a manuscript understandable, the book probably needs some rewriting.

That said, I learned to skip over the jargon, abbreviations and slang, and they became less of an annoyance as the book went on. Just keep pressing ahead, and you'll find some enjoyable reading.

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