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Patrick Lang
Memoir of a soldier who came from a family of soldiers, fought in Vietnam, became a leading figure in US intelligence, a scholar on Middle East affairs after serving as military attache and special advisor in a number of Arab countries, and as a senior Defense Intelligence Agency officer.
Lang’s sweeping memoir surveys the author’s life as a soldier, officer, and intelligence official, telling not just the story of Lang’s service and family but offering a close-up history of the U.S. military’s global engagements in the fractious second half to the 20th century. Born into a family of soldiers, Lang talked his way into enlisting with the Maine National Guard at just 16 and then enrolled, after high school, in the Virginia Military Institute. Even before joining the Army’s 5th Infantry division after graduation, Lang had distinguished himself as a speaker, marksman, tactician, and expert in languages and military history, talents that would serve him well in Panama, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and other posts in a career that would take him to the position of the DIA’s Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and South Asia.

Tattoo overflows with revealing–sometimes harrowing–stories of military life. War games in training, conflicts with commanding officers, the fascinating early days of Army Special Forces, the horrors of Vietnam: Lang covers this and more in clear-eyed, scene-driven prose unencumbered by romance or overstatement. He refers to himself in the third person, but his command of the language ensures feeling (sometimes even humor) suffuses every page: “After watching Lang shoot, [the CIA operative] asked how Lang felt about shooting individuals. The reply was that this would depend on who they were.”

It resonates deeply, then, when Lang does indulge emotion, express doubt about a mission, or set the record straight. One impassioned clarification: The U.S. did not furnish Iraq with military materials during its 1980s war with Iran. Don’t expect much in the way of guidance of where this life is going or a précis of lessons learned in the manner of many contemporary memoirs. Still, with a scrupulous eye for detail, Tattoo illuminates every international conflict Lang saw and offers a fascinating portrait of what soldiering means.

Takeaway: An incisive and revealing survey of the career of an American soldier, from Vietnam to the Middle East.

Great for fans of: Richard E. Mack’s Memoirs of a Cold War Soldier, Elliot Ackerman’s Places and Names.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B+