The Junior Officers' Reading Club, By Patrick Hennessey

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The Independent Culture

The diary of a young soldier thrust into 21st-century theatres of war, The Junior Officers' Reading Club is a challenging read. It begins as an account of training at Sandhurst, and of the frustrations of a callow young man who had geared up for fighting and heroism, only to be asked to perform guard duty in a prisoners' detention centre in Iraq. In fact, the writing only loses its tetchiness when Patrick Hennessey's company reaches Afghanistan and, in often funny passages, begins work weeding out the Taliban in Helmand alongside the pot-smoking, trigger-happy Afghan National Army.

As a work of literature, it leaves a lot to be desired. But as a raw account of history, told through the eyes of a young officer, it is excellent. It is littered with detail – film and music references, the perks of toffee popcorn, the hunger to email home, anger at embedded journalists who misunderstand what's going on, the thoughts that go through an officer's head as he aims a rocket at a hillside village suspected of harbouring hostile forces – and becomes a strident and engaging tale of modern war in ancient lands.

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