American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the U.S. Tragedy in Afghanistan
Hardcover – March 12, 2019
"A riveting journalistic account of Bowe Bergdahl's disastrous--and weirdly poignant--choice to walk off his military base in Afghanistan. . . . A spectacularly good book about an incredibly painful and important topic."--Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe and War
Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl left his platoon's base in eastern Afghanistan in the early hours of June 30, 2009. Since that day, easy answers to the many questions surrounding his case--why did he leave his post? What kinds of efforts were made to recover him from the Taliban? And why, facing a court martial, did he plead guilty to the serious charges against him?--have proved elusive.
Taut in its pacing but sweeping in its scope, American Cipher is the riveting and deeply sourced account of the nearly decade-old Bergdahl quagmire--which, as journalists Matt Farwell and Michael Ames persuasively argue, is as illuminating an episode as we have as we seek the larger truths of how the United States lost its way in Afghanistan. The book tells the parallel stories of a young man's halting coming of age and a nation stalled in an unwinnable war, revealing the fallout that ensued when the two collided: a fumbling recovery effort that suppressed intelligence on Bergdahl's true location and bungled multiple opportunities to bring him back sooner; a homecoming that served to deepen the nation's already-vast political fissure; a trial that cast judgment on not only the defendant, but most everyone involved. The book's beating heart is Bergdahl himself--an idealistic, misguided soldier onto whom a nation projected the political and emotional complications of service.
Based on years of exclusive reporting drawing on dozens of sources throughout the military, government, and Bergdahl's family, friends, and fellow soldiers, American Cipher is at once a meticulous investigation of government dysfunction and political posturing, a blistering commentary on America's presence in Afghanistan, and a heartbreaking story of a naïve young man who thought he could fix the world and wound up the tool of forces far beyond his understanding.
About the Author
Matt Farwell is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Men's Journal, Playboy, and other publications. He was an Army infantryman for five years, including sixteen months in Afghanistan. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Michael Ames is a regular contributor to Newsweek and Harper's. His work has also appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, The Daily Beast, and The Believer. He spent nine years in Idaho working as a newspaper reporter and magazine editor, and now lives in Brooklyn.