In my daily work, I read flowery prose from eager writers who ooze their souls into the essays they send. I get tangled in emotional tales and wrapped in captivating narratives. Or I get exhausted by run-on sentences that are sometimes artistic but might not be if you’re the average reader who doesn’t want to know about the way the wind whistled seductively at the brook whose turns and curves were as voluptuous as the salsa dancer in the apartment upstairs who had a way of clacking her heels on the hardwood floor that just beckoned come hither.
I was drawn to No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden because it is written plainly, authoritatively, simply — a severe departure from my daytime reading. The author, Mark Owen, is no showy writer, no bleeding artist; he is instead a gruff and ragged former Navy Seal who uses no words I don’t already understand, and no sentence structures that make me read and reread and edit. Instead, I could just breeze through and enjoy his story.
Perhaps enjoy is not the right word — for the military memoir goes into great detail about the strategy and execution of the plot to capture Osama bin Laden and the ways in which the Seals effectively rescued Captain Phillips. It’s pretty grueling stuff. But Owen successfully deconstructs the Hollywood stories that we saw on screen in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Captain Phillips (2013) and instead tells the real stories of being there. He was on the ship that trailed the Somali pirates, waiting for the right moment to take them out with laser precision. He was there waiting and waiting and waiting for word from the White House that the time to take down bin Laden had arrived. And he was in that helicopter that crashed in bin Laden’s compound and almost cost them the mission.
Of the moments before the crash he says, “The helicopter was bucking as it tried to find enough air to set a stable hover and hold station. The wobbling wasn’t violent, but I could tell it wasn’t planned…All I needed was a clear spot to throw the rope. But the clear spot never came.”
A methodical account of two of modern American history’s most heralded moments, Owen’s narrative also provides a fascinating inside look at the mind of a Marine. He acknowledges an extreme fear of failure, a workaholic attitude, a severe competitive streak and a crippling addiction to adrenaline are all innate to the men who serve in the selective SEAL Team Six.
There are also the stories of the effects of military life, of seeking a combat high, of post-traumatic stress disorder on families, relationships that are omitted from the cinematic versions. But Owens references them in this book, albeit in a typically blasé, (and occasionally profane) soldier kind of way. Still, the 300-page account is a worthy and quick read. It’s suspenseful, detailed and original, not to mention its release caused quite a stir within the American political and military communities for fear it had leaked national secrets.
And maybe it did. There’s only one way to find out…
Tara Hunt is an associate editor of this magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.