Marines in the Garden of Eden : The Battle for An
by Richard S. Lowry
List Price: $24.95 Hardback: 448 Pages
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover
Publish Date: June 6, 2006
Review by Brian Grafton.
Richard Lowry's Marines in the Garden of Eden is the story of the
creation, deployment and initial commitment of USMC Task Force Tarawa in the
coalition invasion of Iraq on 20 March 2003. TF Tarawa's story is framed by the
"ambush" of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company, and of the capture and
subsequent rescue of Jessica Lynch – arguably the most famous PoW of the
assault on Iraq. Task Force Tarawa entered Iraq with what might have been a
simple mission: secure a path on the east side of the city of An Nasiriyah
which would allow other Marine groups to close on Baghdad from East of the
Euphrates. Without the complications arising from the Iraqi assault on 507th
Maintenance Company, which became lost and strayed into Iraqi-controlled
territory, the week-long battle for An Nasiriyah may never have taken place.
Lowry's book is, in truth, more a chronicle than a history; it is concerned
with military mobilization and deployment, not with geo-political complexities
and assessments. Lowry has worked hard to follow the chronology of the seven
days his story covers. For the most part, he has done this well, conveying the
intensity and complexity of battle very effectively. Marines in the Garden of
Eden gives a fine sense of the nature of combat, seen from various
perspectives in the field, during the seven-day battle for An Nasiriyah.
For the general reader, I would have been happier to see time markers included
with each sub-head in the book: given the number of groups Mr Lowry is dealing
with, time sequences would have helped understand the relationship between
various complex military actions being described. Lowry attempts to provide
time indicators in his narrative, but this is not always possible; as a result,
there are one or two places where (for this reader, at least) the sequence of
events becomes hazy. An editorial decision to provide a time frame outside the
narrative would have provided an additional level of clarity.
The book will not please all readers. From his very first sentence, Lowry makes
it clear that this is a book in praise of the US Marine Corps. This becomes
clear as the reader follows the story: there are no negative comments about any
doctrine, action or decision made by Marines; there are no bad officers or
cowardly men. Were this handled more subtly, there would be no problem: the
USMC has a proud and honorable history, with battle honors stretching back
centuries. Nevertheless, some readers will find Marines in the Garden of Eden
less a description than a testament – more John Wayne than Chesty Puller. I
expect that some will find the bias too irritating and pervasive, and will
worry that the bias undermines the tale Lowry tells.
The tale is, of course, Lowry's strength. He was given access to massive
amounts of information, and has used that to generate a rich tapestry. Once or
twice the wealth of data overwhelms him: he offers details which lead nowhere,
simply because the detail is available. For the most part, however, Lowry does
a fine job of making a series of chaotic events both vivid and intelligible.
His battle narrative might have been conveyed more effectively had the text
contained even more maps than the rather high number already embedded. There
are points where the location and movement of US forces come as a shock,
particularly when the rescue of Jessica Lynch unfolds. Additional maps may have
made such moments easier for the reader. But this is a minor detail in the
larger narrative Richard Lowry offers.
Review by Brian Grafton (firstname.lastname@example.org).
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily
represent those of MHO.