Most readers won't recognize Rick Atkinson's name, but they are likely to know the subject of his recent book, an army officer named Gen. David Petraeus.
Gen. Petraeus is one of the principal figures in Atkinson's book, In the Company of Soldiers, an "instant history" of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Atkinson, a Washington Post reporter, was one of hundreds of embedded reporters who went to war.
Unlike the other journalists, Atkinson was embedded with the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus. As a "fly on the wall" in Petraeus's command, Atkinson provides a close-up portrait of this tough-minded and highly competitive officer, man who went on to become the top U.S. military official in Iraq.
Atkinson, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his World War II history, An Army at Dawn, provides a top-down view of the invasion, giving readers sense of how modern warfare is conducted from the staff level.
That's interesting, of course, though Atkinson's position keeps him well away from the front lines. That means he loses much of the emotional intensity of combat, details that can be found in many other Iraq war books.
Nevertheless, Atkinson is a strong reporter and his observations of Petraeus and his staff appear to be accurate and thoughtful. On that basis alone, In the Company of Soldiers is worth reading.