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“We find ourselves in good hands throughout the journey. . . . Once in a while his descriptions actually take on a terse Hemingwayesque brilliance. . . . Ayres happened to be in Lower Manhattan during the events of Sept. 11, and in the midst of suffering from a typical bout of cowardice he managed to record the event with grace. . . . War Reporting for Cowards reminded me of the granddaddy of the genre, Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop, and that Ayres’s book can be mentioned in the same sentence is a tribute. . . . The truly indispensable part of this book is its final section. Once we finally get to Iraq, Ayres is at his journalistic and comic best. . . . Chronicle[s] many of the absurdities, horrors and discomforts of life during wartime circa two years ago, and the honor and steadfastness of the men and women who have to endure them.” Gary Shteyngart, New York Times Book Review
War Reporting for Cowards
978-0-8021-4256-6 • $13.00 • Paperback • July 2006
With the gonzo style of Hunter S. Thompson and the biting wit of P. J. O’Rourke, an unlikely reporter recounts how he got the opportunity of a lifetimeand ends up between Iraq and a hard place.
Chris Ayres is a small-town boy, a hypochondriac, and a neat freak with an anxiety disorder. Not exactly the picture of a war correspondent. He’s a twenty-seven-year-old reporter for The Times of London living in Los Angeles, and the only thing he cares to be embedded in is celeb-studded after-parties. But somehow, he has a habit of ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time, whether it’s a few blocks from the World Trade Center on September 11 or one cubicle over from an anthrax attack at The New York Post. When his boss asks him if he would like to go to Iraq, he doesn’t have the guts to say no.
War Reporting for Cowards is the Iraq Warwith all of its horrors and absurditiesthrough the eyes of a “war virgin” who was there, in the heat of battle, and wishing he were anywhere but. After signing a $1 million life-insurance policy, studying a tutorial on repairing severed limbs, and spending $20,000 in camping gear (only to find out that his bright yellow tent makes him a sitting duck), Ayres is embedded with the Long-Distance Death Dealers, a battalion of gung ho Marines who, when they aren’t playing Monopoly using Baghdad and France as Park Place and Boardwalk, are a “disassembly line, churning out Iraqi body parts.” They switch between shunning him and threatening to shoot him in the head when he files an unfavorable story. As time goes on, though, he begins to understand them (and his inexplicably enthusiastic fellow war reporters) more and more: Each night of terrifying combat brings, in the morning, something more visceral than he has ever experiencedthe thrill of having won a fight for survival.
In the tradition of M*A*S*H, Catch-22, and other classics in which irreverence springs from life in extremis, War Reporting for Cowards tells the on-the-ground story of Iraq in a way that is extraordinarily honest, heartfelt, and bitterly hilarious. It is sure to become a classic of war reportage.