Barrel of a Gun: A War Correspondent's Misspent Moments in Combat

Published: February 13th, 2011     
Product Image
Box Art
Author: Al J. Venter
Reviewed by: John Ratzenberger - IPMS# 40196
ISBN #: 978-1-935149-25-5
Other Publication Information: Hardbound, 6" x 9", 504 pages, illustrated with small black and white photos throughout
Price: $34.95
Product / Stock #: 9781935149255
Product provided by: Casemate Publishing

This book has nothing to do with models or modeling. If you are into modeling that part of the world, you might find a useful picture of a vehicle or aircraft.

The author, Al J. Venter, is a South African war correspondent who has covered Africa and the Mideast for 40-some years He has about 20 books to his credit, a few of which are on diving. I have read none of them, so this was a first for me. There is no doubt that he is not, and never has been, sitting behind too many desks.

From the publisher's data sheet and the book end covers, I gathered the purpose of this book is the show that it's a dangerous profession -- well, yeah, think Ernie Pyle. It was fortuitous (I guess) that as I was reading this, the Egyptian government was being overthrown -- the media became the target of the "pro-government" forces and there was the scene of Katie Couric almost swallowed by a mob -- all that brought the theme home, maybe as well as the book did.

The problem with the book is that is really a bunch of disjointed stories -- things that the author experienced in Lebanon, Biafra, El Salvador, Somalia, Israel, Uganda, Zaire, Congo, Serengeti, Balkans, Zululand, Rhodesia, and points between. The stories are not presented chronologically, nor is there any apparent reason for the sequencing. Even within stories it is difficult to figure 'when' you are, much less, at times, 'where' and sometimes even 'why'. I knew I was in trouble when I had a hard time getting into the prologue; part way through he says "but I digress" and that's when I knew where things were heading.

Some of this is interesting -- El Salvador and Serengeti, for example. But the rest simply doesn't work for this reviewer. By jumping around in time, there is no demonstrated learning -- no what happened from my first job on that saved my bacon later on. Only the prologue makes a stab at this, but it isn't reinforced by the organization of the following stories. I read the whole thing -- the last story, Helicopter Drug Raids in Zululand, ended and that was it -- no wrap-up, no lessons learned, no words to the (un)wise, it just ended.

On the plus side, he is readable except for my comments above. The book is well edited technically -- I found only one typo/error in the whole thing -- but the editor should have exerted a bit more control over the overall product.

If Africa and/or the Mideast, particularly over the last 40 years, are your area of interest, this book might be interesting. Other than that, I have a hard time recommending this to the IPMS membership.

As always, thanks to Casemate for the review sample and to IPMS/USA for allowing me to review it.

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