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My Detachment: A Memoir


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Tracy Kidder graduated from Harvard and studied at the University of Iowa. He has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, and many other literary prizes. The author of Mountains Beyond Mountains, Home Town, Old Friends, Among Schoolchildren, House, and The Soul of a New Machine, Kidder lives in Massachusetts and Maine.


The author of The Soul of a New Machine put in a year during the Vietnam War; he was a reluctant warrior. Kidder joined ROTC in his junior year at Harvard as a way of avoiding the draft's uncertainties. Two years later he was taking part in a war that he found "unnecessary, futile, racist," serving as a lieutenant commanding an Army Security Agency detachment of eight enlisted men inside a well-fortified infantry base camp. As a shaved-headed ROTC cadet and later as an army officer, Kidder felt "separated from my social class, from my student generation"; in Vietnam, he detached himself emotionally from the mind-numbing army bureaucracy, from his ticket-punching career officer superiors and from his iconoclastic, work-shirking enlisted men. For Kidder, there are no heroes, and, in fact, few "war stories"; he presents, instead, realistic day-to-day reports on what happened to him at his posting: the mission was to interpret enemy troop movements using raw intelligence data supplied by eavesdropping technology. His account is an introspective, demythologizing dose of reality seen through the eyes of a perceptive, though immature, army intelligence lieutenant at a rear-area base camp. War isn't hell here; it's "an abstraction, dots on a map." Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Sept. 13) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Joining the ROTC when a junior at Harvard seemed to Kidder a way to avoid the uncertainties of the draft during the Vietnam era. But after graduation, he found himself in Vietnam, commanding a detachment of undisciplined enlisted men who had grown lax under their former leader. The author, only 23 at the time, had serious doubts about the war and cared little about whether his men kept their hair short or their quarters neat. Their mission, eavesdropping on enemy radio transmissions in order to locate troop movements, left them comparatively safe and with time on their hands. Kidder drank and joked with his men, sharing their dislike of the war, and eventually earned their respect, despite his always feeling out of place. He seemed to be comfortable only when alone, writing in his journal. Kidder, winner of a Pulitzer Prize (The Soul of a New Machine), has written an unusual war story-low-key and questioning-that takes a thoughtful yet humorous look at an unpopular war through the day-to-day activities of a serious, bookish, and immature young soldier. He narrates here, sounding clear and convincing, although a little thin. Tape quality is excellent; recommended for all libraries.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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