Original Review: January 23, 2016
**Most of this review is going to be on the content of the book. An autobiography isn't smooth or suave. It's real stories from a real human being. In this case, it's also only the story the US government will let Chris Kyle tell. It's very nature - being an autobiography - means it will piss people off. Truth hurts. He says what I can guarantee many, many more servicemen and women say behind closed doors. He gives a face to everything people don't want to believe of their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters or government. He takes the disdain and judgement so that the lot of them don't have to.**
Anything that falls under the realm of true life, military, etc, really hasn't been my thing.
Then, I get engaged to a man who served as a Ranger for ten years. He wants me to watch American Sniper with him, but he can't even make it through the first 30 minutes.
What else can I do? I get the book.
Not even two chapters in, and I wonder how crazy it is that I - having never served in the armed forces myself - am enjoying reading about his experiences thoroughly. I'm wishing I was there. I hadn't even gotten to the part on Hell Week before I had to file it under a book that made me laugh out loud.
Maybe it's because of my fiancé. Maybe it's because my family has military history dating back to William Wallace and beyond.
Or, maybe it's just like my fiancé keeps saying, and I've got the same kind of mentality that all the current and former "spec ops" people have. Thankfully, we'll never know. Yet, for all he described, for everything he said was most exciting, even though it was completely fucked up and torturous, it sounded like a good time to me.
I will admit, the opening of the book could have been handled with a little more finesse. But that's not what an autobiography is. That would take away from the measure of the man we get in these pages. His story is real and raw, as is his telling of it. If you can't get past t hose first pages, with the sentiments and situations found within, without passing judgement - you really shouldn't continue reading.
One thing that stands out hearkens back to the beginning of the book when he talks about something he had learned simply by being his father's son - do what you love. And Chris Kyle obviously loved what he did.
"I wanted to defend my country, do my duty, and do my job."
Based on the information he was provided, he believed our country, our freedom, and our way of life was under fire. Based on his training and his orders, it was his job to defend and protect. This was an idea I struggled with in the opening pages. But, the more I read, coupled with the service men and veteran's I know now and have in the past, it becomes clear - he was, and will not be the last - the only soldier taking controversial action based on what he believed was going on, or was going to happen.
In short, yes, he did what he believed "needed to be done." Yeah, that included killing. Yes, he enjoyed the killing. In wartime, when you're the one on the front lines, enjoying staying alive - and sane enough to make it home - means you enjoy killing.
You do what needs to be done. In a survival situation, that's all you can do.
So much of what I got out of the book came from impressions - not explicit statements. Chris Kyle is trying to tell his story more than he's trying to justify his actions, actions which I believe need no more justification than he was in a war and trying to keep the war from coming home. It's also an autobiography, so what's being told is a story, where the decisions he made weren't necessarily based on any active thought, but simple instinct.
In a way, I can understand the lack of mentioning his wife and kids. Being in a situation like that, it would seem there just wouldn't be any "good" time to drop your guard like that and really think about the family. As demonstrated by the time he called his wife and she ended up getting to listen in on an entire firefight.
On the other side of things though... there's no specific instance I can pinpoint that makes me recoil, but the times he wrote about his family seemed incredibly flat and shallow compared to how he approaches his combat memories. I hear that they went much further into his return home in the movie than they did in the book, so I'm hopeful that what happened when he got back to his family is fleshed out more there.
He was given orders, he was given procedures. Every killing he was responsible for had to be justified. Not to the American people - but to the military's lawyers. Take everything else out of the equation, and just remember the word "lawyers". If there was any doubt on the legitimacy of a kill, he was grounded. So, no matter how much he enjoyed it - he controlled it.
Does Chris Kyle admit to enjoying killing? Yes. But you have to look beyond that - he believed with all his heart that he was defending our country. He was killing people that, if given the chance, would kill his team, come here, and kill us. There is so much more to get out of this book than the words he's written.
At least give his story a chance. You might not think it justifies anything, but at least you'll gain some understanding. It is not my - or anybody else's - place to pass judgement. This book was written to tell a story, to give some insight on the realities of war. It's not all action, all the time. Even he admits to being luckier than most in the amount of action he saw and the number of kills he got. He didn't edit out what was "less interesting" in order to appease the masses, or add in unnecessary (and unrealistic) action. He kept it real to what he experienced, being a Navy SEAL in Iraq.
5 Stars. Because honestly, whether you agree with the man or not, an autobiography that bares the soul no matter how dark, is what writing is all about.