Best Movies and Books on Iraq

Not since Vietnam have so many books and movies been produced about an American War. With the end of combat being announced by President Obama, The Daily Beast looks back over the best of them to read and watch.

The Forever War by Dexter Filkins

What Michael Herr’s Dispatches did for Vietnam, veteran correspondent Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War has now done for Iraq. He spent more than a decade reporting from the wars in the Middle East. He witnessed a public execution at a soccer stadium in Kabul, stumbled through the rubble of the World Trade Center on September 11, followed Marines in their brutal battle in Fallujah. " The Forever War lacks a coherent narrative or an abiding argument,” Toby Clements writes for the Telegraph, “but this becomes an illuminating virtue: from the ground, there is no coherence.” The New York Times raved, “Though Filkins does not rejoice in paradoxes, he never seems to miss one either, and the result is a haunting spiritual witness that will make this volume a part of this awful war’s history.”

Fiasco and The Gamble by Thomas Ricks

Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco was one of the first classic works of journalism to come out of the Iraq war—it was seen in the arms of everyone from soldiers to politicians to politically active celebrities. The Washington Post reporter’s 2006 book chronicles how after a very successful invasion, the war went terribly wrong. Ricks “serves up his portrait of that war as a misguided exercise in hubris, incompetence and folly with a wealth of detail and evidence that is both staggeringly vivid and persuasive,” says The New York Times. Ricks followed up that bestseller with The Gamble, explaining how the military desperately worked to change its strategy in 2006 to respond to the disastrous occupation—and how many factors, not just the surge, led to the relative calming of Iraq.

Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Rajiv Chandrasekaran paints a picture of Iraq’s Green Zone, where military brass and private contractors blissfully barbecued by the pool as Iraq quickly deteriorated into civil war. Imperial Life in the Emerald City is a primer on the gross incompetence of the men and women tasked with rebuilding the country, from Paul Bremer’s foolish insults of Shia leader Moktada al Sadr to the 24-year-old with zero experience tasked with reopening Iraq’s stock exchange, whose determination to make it the most sophisticated in the world kept the trading floor closed for years. “Surreal vignettes abound,” in the book, writes George Will. It “would be hilarious were it not horrifying that so much valor and suffering have been expended in this context.”

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

While Washington bickered over the merits of George W. Bush’s surge, Washington Post correspondent David Finkel headed off to Iraq to see what was actually happening there by following one American infantry battalion on their 15-month deployment. The result, The Good Soldiers, is one of the most compelling books on war since Michael Herr’s Dispatches, says The Daily Beast’s Lucas Wittmann. There is no better example of why great journalists matter than to be taken into Finkel’s devastating, harrowing, and moving account of one battalion’s efforts to turn the tide in their bloody section of Baghdad. It takes spirit and an admittedly slightly perverse sense of self-preservation to do what he did and he should be justly celebrated for it.

The Prince of the Marshes by Rory Stewart

Now a Conservative MP in David Cameron’s government, Rory Stewart spent a year working as a provincial administrator for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and his The Prince of the Marshes tells the harrowing story of devolving security and political instability. Stewart, “a contemporary George Orwell” in Bloomberg’s words, finds Iraq broken and Paul Bremer’s plan to fix it absurd. “Despite this cynicism, he maintains a stiff-upper-lip resolve to re-establish a political system representing every Iraqi affiliation, Islamist and insurgent alike,” despite fear of being exploded by the locals.