1. The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL, by Eric Greitens
It should really go without saying that this is not a typical read for me. Actually, it’s probably a first. But, my Air Force Special Ops brother gave it to me for Christmas and, feeling guilty about not cracking open the book of personal stories of North Korea escapees he gave me LAST Christmas (?!?), I started this.
The jist: In college, Greitens gets drawn into the world of international relations and humanitarianism. He pays his way to spend semesters in war zones as a volunteer and photojournalist in refugee camps, and later goes to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, continuing to research and visit some of the poorest, most ravaged parts of the world. Yet throughout both his formal education and time spent shoulder-to-shoulder with volunteers and NGO staffers — from American evangelicals in Rwanda to U.N. bureaucrats in Croatia — he comes to the conviction that, despite all the good that is done by volunteers and relief efforts after the fact, there’s no replacement for the warrior who steps up to defend the innocent who suffer most during war. Faced with the question of what he’ll do with this conviction, he walks away from lucrative offers from both Oxford and the business world, and signs up to be a Navy SEAL. Or rather, signs up to be yelled at, degraded, almost drowned and underpaid, in the hopes of becoming a SEAL. Spoiler! He does! And the journey there is incredibly well-told.
The last book that made me stay up irresponsibly late (11:30 p.m.! Who am I!) was In this House of Brede, a fantastic novel about life in an English Benedictine cloister. How on earth does the memoir of a Navy SEAL pull me in just as compellingly?
- This isn’t some memoir of a meathead who just joined the military to shoot guns and be tough. Rather, Greitens comes across as well-rounded, principled and educated. His love of learning is very evident, from his familiarity with the Great Books to his frequent mentions of his childhood fascination with historic, wartime leaders. Pericles definitely gets in his fair share of quotes. And the man was in love with Oxford — how can I not appreciate that. At the same time, he maintains an admirable balance between reading and talking about issues, and doing something about them; between discussing world affairs with a seminar of fellow college sophomores, and leaving the university bubble to experience that world for himself.
- Likewise, Greitens makes it clear that a warrior’s strength doesn’t reside solely in the physical — formation of character, including a keen sense of restraint, is integral along with the grueling training. He shares the story of witnessing Army Rangers take a suspected terrorist’s house, skillfully rushing and capturing the suspect while at the same time shielding an infant in the same room until they were able to carry her to safety. There’s a lot of heart and compassion in his story.
- Raised in a Catholic-Jewish family, he also seems to be a man of faith, carrying a handful of religious medals given him by friends of various faiths and sincerely thanking God for sparing his life during two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He speaks well of the Christian volunteers he meets around the world, noting their good intentions even when some are more culturally insensitive (<–understatement) than others (the Southern Baptist Paula Deen character who tells survivors of the Rwandan genocide to accept Jesus or go to hell, etc.) All in all, he is very respectful of faith’s role in motivating people to do good, whether it’s his black boxing coach during his days at Duke or the Missionaries of Charity in India.
- Finally — and this is probably something I appreciated most of all — he doesn’t come across as promoting an ideology, whether a faith in pacifism or military strength. He’s pragmatic, but hopeful and sincere — and most importantly, he backs up his convictions with a willingness to lay down his life, literally and figuratively, for them. There are some beautiful moments in the book that give you a sense of the sacrifices Greitens has made, along with his knowledge of what he was walking away from. To use Catholic speak, it was like reading a “how I realized my religious vocation” story. With his knowledge of history, philosophy and literature, he even raises the haunting, age-old questions himself throughout his story: What is freedom? What does it mean to live the Good Life? And what am I willing to do to grasp it?
And so, fellow literature nerds, humanities lovers, and stay at home moms whose idea of grueling exercise is trudging up and down three flights of stairs to retrieve a forgotten teddy bear — I highly recommend giving Greitens’ book a chance.
Another Christmas gift, this time from my more similar-in-tastes sister-in-law 🙂 Food blogger/podcaster Matthew Amster-Burton takes you (and his family) on a zany, month-long, food-centric romp through Tokyo. Eels, ramen, and fried balls of octopus (not to be confused with octopus balls…which…I don’t think exist…) abound. A fun read resulting in me googling Japanese restaurants and scheming when Luke and I can get to New York.
A cute story about mouse companionship and all that, but what really makes it worthy of a mention here is Wilson’s book dedication to a certain, beloved British author. (Hint: the little jacketed guy on the cover is named Lewis).
Anyways. Looking forward to reading more reviews at Housewifespice — thanks, Jessica!