The best books about battles that go wrong

Tim Pritchard Author Of Ambush Alley: The Most Extraordinary Battle of the Iraq War
By Tim Pritchard

Who am I?

In 2003 I was travelling through Baghdad with US forces to report on the Iraq war. Suddenly an ear-shattering explosion cracked through our Humvee and a rush of hot debris swept past my face. The heavily armoured door warped inwards, and the vehicle lifted off the ground. Soldiers were screaming in terror and anger, clutching at bloody faces, arms, and legs. We’d been attacked by unknown members of the Iraqi resistance. The sheer terror of that moment gave me a new understanding of war  the sight, smells, sounds, and touch of combat – and a desire to tell the stories of the young soldiers who get caught up in it.  

I wrote...

Ambush Alley: The Most Extraordinary Battle of the Iraq War

By Tim Pritchard,

Book cover of Ambush Alley: The Most Extraordinary Battle of the Iraq War

What is my book about?

U.S. Marines from Task Force Tarawa are caught up in one of the most unexpected battles of the Iraq War. What started off as a routine maneuver to secure two key bridges in the town of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq degenerated into a nightmarish twenty-four-hour urban clash in which eighteen young Marines lost their lives and more than thirty-five others were wounded. It was the single heaviest loss suffered by the U.S. military during the initial combat phase of the war.

Ambush Alley tells the story of the deadliest battle of the Iraq war and how a routine military operation descends into a nightmarish 24-hour urban clash that leaves 18 young marines dead and 35 others wounded.  

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War

Why did I love this book?

It was this book that inspired me to write my book. It’s a powerful and gut-wrenching description of soldiers being lost in the fog of war when a military operation goes wrong and exposes the limits of what sophisticated hardware and weapon technology can do to save the day.  

By Mark Bowden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Hawk Down as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recounts a 1993 firefight in Mogadishu, Somalia, that resulted in the deaths of eighteen Americans and more than five hundred Somalis, examining the rationales behind the disastrous raid.

Book cover of Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War

Why did I love this book?

This is a devastating account of over thirty years of highly dysfunctional battles between war-mongering countries and groups that instead of healing divisions continue to tear Lebanon's different communities apart. What makes it so powerful is that it exposes the lie that wars are unleashed by complex grand forces at work. Fisk's book shows how ruthless individuals consciously start wars by inventing grievances and fomenting unrest, destroying a stunningly beautiful country, and brutalising its population.

By Robert Fisk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pity the Nation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pity the Nation ranks among the classic accounts of war in our time, both as historical document and as an eyewitness testament to human savagery. Written by one of Britain's foremost journalists, this remarkable book combines political analysis and war reporting in an unprecedented way: it is an epic account of the Lebanon conflict by an author who has personally witnessed the carnage of Beirut for over a decade. Fisk's book recounts the details of a
terrible war but it also tells a story of betrayal and illusion, of Western blindness that had led inevitably to political and military catastrophe.…

An Evil Cradling

By Brian Keenan,

Book cover of An Evil Cradling

Why did I love this book?

This is a blow-by-blow account from one of the Beirut hostages on his experience of being kidnapped and held for four years during the Lebanon war. But it’s so much more than just a historical narrative – a poetic meditation on the evil of war, what it does to people and how the human spirit goes about surviving it. 

By Brian Keenan,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked An Evil Cradling as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Brian Keenan's release from captivity was the first ray of hope for those hostages held in the Middle East. He describes the plight of his fellow hostages with first-hand knowledge. The language he uses reflects his past efforts as a poet in describing the pain and claustrophobia of imprisonment.

Book cover of If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home

Why did I love this book?

A brilliantly intimate and personal account of a foot soldier’s tour of duty in Vietnam. This was a revelation to me while I was writing my own book showing that the microscopic detail of a soldier’s individual concerns and anxieties was just as compelling as the bird’s eye narrative of a battle. 

By Tim O'Brien,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked If I Die in a Combat Zone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A classic from the New York Times bestselling author of The Things They Carried

"One of the best, most disturbing, and most powerful books about the shame that was / is Vietnam."
—Minneapolis Star and Tribune

Before writing his award-winning Going After Cacciato, Tim O'Brien gave us this intensely personal account of his year as a foot soldier in Vietnam. The author takes us with him to experience combat from behind an infantryman's rifle, to walk the minefields of My Lai, to crawl into the ghostly tunnels, and to explore the ambiguities of manhood and morality in a war gone…

Book cover of Bravo Two Zero: The Harrowing True Story of a Special Forces Patrol Behind the Lines in Iraq

Why did I love this book?

This is a detailed account of a secret military mission behind enemy lines during the first Gulf War and how a series of minor setbacks can quickly escalate into a full-blown disaster. I first read it years before I'd had any knowledge of a battlefield. I read it again after I'd been caught up in my own terrifying experience of combat and took away a new appreciation of the realities of war – how stress on the battlefield narrows the field of vision to minute details which distort what is really going on. It's a lesson about war, but also about life – even with all the planning and the training, it's almost impossible to control what happens in the heat of battle. 

By Andy McNab,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Bravo Two Zero as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sergeant Andy McNab recounts the story of the top secret mission that would reveal the secrets of the SAS to the world for the first time.

Their location: Iraq
Their mission: to sever a vital enemy underground communication link, to find and destroy mobile Scud launchers
Their call sign: Bravo Two Zero

When eight members of the elite SAS regiment embark on a highly covert operation, they are each laden with 15 stones of equipment, needing to tab 20km across the desert to reach their objective. But within days, their location is compromised. They engage in a fierce battle. They…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Vietnam War, commandos, and Vietnam?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Vietnam War, commandos, and Vietnam.

The Vietnam War Explore 195 books about the Vietnam War
Commandos Explore 15 books about commandos
Vietnam Explore 133 books about Vietnam

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Dispatches, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, and The Little Prince if you like this list.