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Book Review of: Buried Alive

The True Story of Kidnapping, Captivity, and a Dramatic Rescue

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Review of Buried Alive, by Roy Hullums with Audrey Hudson (Hardcover, 2010)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This is a well-written first-hand account of one man's experience as a kidnapping victim in Iraq. Starting from the actual kidnapping, we accompany Roy through various locations until his release after 311 grueling days of captivity. Beatings, starvation, injury, illness, filthy conditions, sleep deprivation, and extreme confinement--Roy endured all of this and more.

Editorially and journalistically, this book is a standout. The prose was sparkling and error-free. The composition was superb. Iraq-related books are nearly always politically proselytizing, and this one isn't. The author gave a factual account of the events. The book doesn't have any agenda apparent to me other than to tell what happened.

We do get a glimpse of Roy's religious background, but the book doesn't have a religious agenda. Roy does express his gratitude for his rescuers (and rightfully so), but he doesn't shill for the military. As a reader, I wanted to know what happened and I wanted to read that without having to endure political or religious preaching. This book did not betray my trust on that score.

Roy provides enough detail at each step so we can understand how and perhaps why this or that event happened. For example, how does someone inside a reasonably secure building protected by armed guards get kidnapped from that building? How can someone be hidden away for nearly a year, in a place crawling with military troops who are looking for the kidnapped?

This book raises many interesting questions, just in the telling of the story. As noted, it also answers many questions. One question people have asked Roy repeatedly is how he managed to hang on for so long. We see the answer as events unfold.

Sprinkled into this account are parallel accounts from family members for certain days. The material for these accounts comes from such sources as his daughter's diary.

Many interesting facts emerge in the narrative. For example, despite being in a dark cellar Roy was able to track the calendar by counting the daily flyover of Blackhawk helicopters and to determine the approximate time of day by noting which of the five daily prayer sessions his captors were engaged in.

The very existence of the prayer sessions brings up another point. Many times throughout the book, Roy recounted some "our religion is better than your religion" remark or another from his captors, and the remark was completely at odds with their behavior (kidnapping and torture). At one point, his captors gave him a sheet of paper in which they had written "the house rules." Item number one said "We are your friends." The other items basically gave reasons they would kill him.

You can understand much about the Iraq situation just by reading this book. Even if you're not especially interested in learning about Iraq, this book is worthwhile because it's a good read. It's a page turner, partly because the story is good and partly because the story is told so well.

This book runs about 200 pages covering 34 chapters. The chapter count is a little high for this many pages, and my first concern upon seeing this was the chapters were made short in an effort to cover weak writing. That wasn't at all the case, though, as the writing was top-notch. The chapters were short, because each one addressed something specific and Roy didn't write any filler to make the chapters longer.

Reviewer's personal viewpoint

The contradictions Roy observed are (IMO) part of the overall Muslim extremist delusion. All of the destruction by these people since the fall of Saddam Hussein has been pointless and counterproductive. Had these extremists been capable of rational analysis, they would have taken an entirely different course and benefited from increased prosperity and all that entails. Instead, they've been killing off themselves and everyone around them while ensuring poverty for all.

This point isn't one Roy made. The reason I make it is Roy's account reveals just how insane these people are, and how little regard they have for their own country or fellow citizens. The account reveals that simply by recounting the actions of these people. Roy did make a point of letting us know the kidnappings are rampant and most of the people kidnapped are Iraqi citizens. So, this isn't a matter of "freedom fighters" striking back at invaders. It's a case of criminals engaging in crime. It's really that simple.

The account here does help us understand the minds (such as they are) of the people who are doing the kidnappings. I don't know if Roy will agree with me or not, but to me this just shows that whether we bring all of our troops home today or stay in Iraq another 20 years, the outcome will be the same. The only difference is the body count and the spending that we can't afford.

The book doesn't advocate staying in Iraq or pulling out. The kidnappers own irrationality makes that particular case.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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