John Williams of The New York Times reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
Two new books offer gripping accounts of highly trained people — soldiers and surgeons, respectively — reacting to traumatic situations.
In his widely acclaimed 2009 book, "The Good Soldiers," David Finkel recounted the experience of a U.S. Army battalion in Baghdad. The New York Times Book Review called it "ferociously reported, darkly humorous and spellbinding." In his new book, "Thank You for Your Service," Finkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, follows several of those same soldiers back home, where they're tormented by their memories of the war and largely unequipped for the transition back to domestic life. Some become suicidal. All of them — and their families — face great barriers to normalcy. Finkel addresses larger questions, like how the military struggles for answers to the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder. But the book's greatest strength is its intimacy. Finkel observes his subjects closely and with great empathy. You feel like you're living with these people and the harrowing details of their nervous minds and cracking marriages. This is a book that's hard to put down, even when it's hard to read.
The same can be said about Sheri Fink's "Five Days at Memorial." The devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans included a crisis at Memorial Medical Center, which lost power during the storm. In the days after, stranded by the surrounding high water, surgeons and nurses fought for their sickest patients to be rescued. But it was a losing battle against bureaucratic confusion and inefficiency.
Later, authorities investigated whether some of those patients, who were found to have elevated levels of morphine, had been euthanized by desperate and exhausted doctors. Fink won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of these events in a 2009 article for ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine. Here she greatly expands the story, reconstructing the crisis hour by hour and then confronting the complicated legal and ethical questions that followed in its wake. In his review for The Times, Jason Berry called the book "social reporting of the first rank."
Find more reviews of new books in The New York Times at nytimes.com/books.