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The Bin Laden Raid Books: Review of the Top 3 Books.

27/11/2011

Two of the most sensational books on the Bin Laden raid and one surprise "sleeper".

It was the single biggest news story since the 9/11/2001 terror attacks. Osama Bin Laden is dead, killed on May 2, 2011 in a raid by U.S. Special Forces purported to be from the Navy’s clandestine counter terrorist unit referred to in the media as “SEAL Team 6”, “DEVGRU” or “Development Group”.

The media widely reports the mission as “Operation Neptune Spear” a code name likely in reference to the trident symbol of the U.S. Navy Special Warfare groups. As of this writing there is no complete, official account of the operation. Perhaps one of the more credible reports appeared in the New Yorker magazine on August 8, 2011 written by Nicholas Schmidle. The account seems credible because of the New Yorker’s editorial policies and the fact that it was written by a journalist as opposed to a source claiming to be associated with the operation. Additionally, a detailed review of the New Yorker account leaves a lot out since the information isn’t yet available in the public domain. That suggests a measure of journalistic integrity.

It was inevitable the publishing industry would quickly fill the gulf of official information with… something. Three widely distributed books have surfaced so far, no doubt on the leading edge of many to come. While I would stop short of calling them historical records, they are relevant works if you are a student of history. One of these is an unusual gem.

Chuck Pfarrer's "Seal Target Geronimo" has drawn criticism as a non-fiction account but is a face paced and enjoyable read.

Author Chuck Pfarrer’s SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama Bin Laden was the first title to grab big headlines and controversy.  Amazon.com reviews and popular press claim author Chuck Pfarrer took significant license with his account of the raid and that parts are fabricated. There are critics from the political and military community officially opposing Pfarrer’s account of the raid. Having met with Chuck Pfarrer in person to discuss the book and its reception by some I’ll suggest Pfarrer may be drawing unwarranted criticism since he enjoys a level of access few other writers possess. As a result, his account may be more accurate than some other insiders are comfortable with. Pfarrer knows his topic as a former SEAL Team 6 Assault Element Commander and screenwriter.

With former SEAL Team 6 Assault Element Commander and author Chuck Pfarrer (left) at the 2012 SHOT show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I can tell you this book is a fast paced, magnetic read that draws you in. There is some of the dialogue found in every Navy SEAL book, staples of the topic- no SEAL book is complete without some context. It is not “read one, read them all” though and Pfarrer’s level of access provides insights not available anywhere else. This book offers a number of fascinating insights into recent Naval Special Warfare operations such as the rescue of the Captain of the Maersk Alabama seized by pirates off the Somali coast in 2009. It is great story telling rife with technical detail. If you want a dramatic, fast paced read taken from the headlines you will enjoy SEAL Target Geronimo. I would stop short of using the book as a de-facto historical record though since, by Pfarrer’s own admission, there are a few minor technical errors in the book largely because of the speed with which it had to be finished. Pfarrer told me he had only four months to complete SEAL Target Geronimo. That being the case it is an impressive achievement and a darn good read.

SEAL Target Geronimo reads like it was written quickly, and that isn’t a bad thing. The casual reader can pick out some minor inaccuracies and feel some degree of license, a feature of good writing but not necessarily good journalism. The book is “non-fiction” and that may be part of what has drawn criticism. It may hit a little too close to the bone among some organizations and be a little too accurate for some. It’s unlikely we’ll know the facts and details of Neptune Spear for some time, so in the mean time, call it a great page-turner written by an expert insider with an unprecedented level of access relevant to a sensational topic.

John Weisman’s “KBL: Kill bin Laden” is sold as fiction, avoiding the controversy surrounding whether it is factual or not.

Author John Weisman co-wrote the massively successful Rogue Warrior series of books by Richard “Dick” Marcinko. You remember Marcinko as the controversial early commander of  the Navy’s Counter Terrorist Unit called SEAL Team 6- the unit predominantly credited with the Bin Laden raid. 

Weisman’s KBL: Kill Bin Ladin: A Novel Based on True Events is as hot a read as the Rogue Warrior series. KBL is sold as a fictional account of the Bin Laden raid.  And, as author Weisman mentions in an Amazon.com interview, “Because the people who put Neptune Spear together and carried it out aren’t talking, and won’t be, for some time” this is a safe way to depict the flavor of the operation if not the facts. The high road is that a fiction book is simply entertainment, not a historical record. As such it has avoided the criticism of Pfarrer’s SEAL Target Geronimo.
 
If you liked the Rogue Warrior books you’ll enjoy KBL. It has the same feel and dialogue. It’s rough-shod, feeling a lot like a Louis L’Amour style action/adventure novel. This is a classic man’s book, filled with ballsy references and testosterone moments. Good. Navy SEAL books don’t belong in Oprah’s book club. I moved through this one faster and with more adrenaline than Pfarrer’s SEAL Target Geronimo. It is more readable, has more engaging dialogue and just feels… “smokier”. It’s a slick read that made me look forward to more from this author.
 
 

A surprise addition to this topic is this interesting- and possibly accurate- graphic novel on the raid to capture Osama bin Laden.

 
 
I met the author of Code Word: Geronimo, Capt. Dale Dye (USMC, Retired) in North Africa when he was there acting as technical advisor to the film Rules of Engagement. He has also consulted to or acted in films like Saving Private Ryan. Dye has an uncanny knack for extracting the drama and tension from military stories and this little book is no exception to his gifts for story telling.
 
This little (74 pages) book is a “graphic novel”, the popular term for “comic book” used now. I was impressed with how engaging and realistic it felt. The artwork, drawn by Gerry Kissell and Amin Amat, lends a shadowy quality to the story telling experience that seems to fit well with this topic. The book also has authentic feel to it and a shameless product endorsement or two (check the wristwatch on page 23).
 
I consider this a little gem since the other books are traditional in the military fiction/history category. Code Word: Geronimo does something the other books don’t- it pulls illustration and imagination into the tale. It makes the story something of legend. Fifteen years from now young men will join the Navy because this little book stirred their imagination and sense of adventure.

Gerry Kissell and Amin Amat's illustrations are fantastic and lend a shadowy allure to the tale already steeped in mystery.

 
 
While this, like the other books, certainly isn’t the historical record I’m looking forward to reading from official sources it is a time-capsule of the era and the lore surrounding the raid on Bin laden. Of the three books, this is my favorite. It simply does something the others do not, and it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. Code Word: Geronimo is an out of left field hit to me. Unusual and entertaining. I have visions of the men who actually took part in the raid reading this one… and liking it. This is a wonderful surprise on a topic already weighed down by controversy.
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