Bowe Bergdahl and the U.S. Tragedy in Afghanistan
This event includes a book signing
May 23, 2019
7:00 PM ET
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
This event is free; no tickets are required.
Harvard Book Store welcomes political and environmental journalist MICHAEL AMES for a discussion of his new book, American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the U.S. Tragedy in Afghanistan, co-authored by Matt Farwell.
About American Cipher
Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl left his platoon's base in eastern Afghanistan in the early hours of June 30, 2009. Since that day, easy answers to the many questions surrounding his case—why did he leave his post? What kinds of efforts were made to recover him from the Taliban? And why, facing a court martial, did he plead guilty to the serious charges against him?—have proved elusive.
Taut in its pacing but sweeping in its scope, American Cipher is the riveting and deeply sourced account of the nearly decade-old Bergdahl quagmire—which, as journalists Matt Farwell and Michael Ames persuasively argue, is as illuminating an episode as we have in seeking the larger truths of how the United States lost its way in Afghanistan. The book tells the parallel stories of a young man's halting coming of age and a nation stalled in an unwinnable war, revealing the fallout that ensued when the two collided: a fumbling recovery effort that suppressed intelligence on Bergdahl's true location and bungled multiple opportunities to bring him back sooner; a homecoming that served to deepen the nation's already-vast political fissure; a trial that cast judgment on not only the defendant, but most everyone involved. The book's beating heart is Bergdahl himself—an idealistic, misguided soldier onto whom a nation projected the political and emotional complications of service.
Based on years of exclusive reporting drawing on dozens of sources throughout the military, government, and Bergdahl's family, friends, and fellow soldiers, American Cipher is at once a meticulous investigation of government dysfunction and political posturing, a blistering commentary on America's presence in Afghanistan, and a heartbreaking story of a naïve young man who thought he could fix the world and wound up the tool of forces far beyond his understanding.
“Avoiding easy outrage, Matt Farwell and Michael Ames do their best to understand what motivated Bergdahl’s wildly irresponsible decision. For in that decision lie truths not only of a troubled mind but also of a troubled nation engaged in a seemingly endless war. This is a spectacularly good book about an incredibly painful and important topic.” —Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe and War
“Farwell and Ames convincingly rebut popular misconceptions about the then-23-year-old Private Bowe Bergdahl’s desertion of his post in Afghanistan in 2009. . . . The engrossing narrative intertwines Bergdahl’s odyssey with an effective critique of U.S. policy in Afghanistan under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Readers looking for a nontechnical history of America’s longest war and a nuanced look at Bergdahl’s story will find that here.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Farwell and Ames make a great case for the continuum of history, depicting Afghanistan as a graveyard of empires in which the U.S. is the latest victim of a military quagmire and showing how one soldier’s actions can polarize an entire nation. American Cipher sets the record straight on a tragic subject and will strongly appeal to a wide audience.” —Booklist, starred review
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.
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