The Unforgiving Minute

In my 20-year career as a sergeant in the U.S. Army, I gradually became aware of one timeless fact about military life: it's an Us vs. Them war. The "Us" in this case are those who wear the uniform, the "Them" are the larger majority of the population who have never served in the armed forces and who don't have a clue what it feels like to lie on your belly at a rifle range in the temple-throbbing heat, gravel digging into your elbows, helmet tipping onto the bridge of your nose while you squint through the sweat waiting for a pop-up target to show itself 300 meters in the hazy distance, with the clock ticking and the M-16 rifle, loaded with 40 rounds, heavy in your hands and the range's safety instructors on the prowl, ready to thwack you on the helmet if your right leg is not cocked at a precise 45-degree angle; and all the time you're wrestling with the sweat, the helmet and the suffocation, you're aware this is only Stateside training -- what will you do when faced with the real thing in Iraq or Afghanistan?

No, the average American worker sitting in a cubicle decorated with Dilbert cartoons and worrying about the price of his daughter's orthodontics cannot fully appreciate what it's like to lace up shin-high boots every morning and go to work in a profession whose ultimate goal is to "kill the enemy." Then again, to be fair, I don't know what it's like to be a stockbroker, elementary school teacher, or logger. We're all encapsulated in our particular worlds, boundaried by the limits of our experience.

Still, despite all the "Support the Troops" bumper stickers and the genuinely enthusiastic rallies i...

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.


What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.