The Changing of the Guard
A TLS and a Prospect Book of the Year
A revelatory, explosive new analysis of the military today.
Over the first two decades of the twenty-first century, Britain has changed enormously. During this time, the British Army fought two campaigns, in Iraq and Afghanistan, at considerable financial and human cost. Yet neither war achieved its objectives. This book questions why, and provides challenging but necessary answers.
Composed from assiduous documentary research, field reportage, and hundreds of interviews with many soldiers and officers who served, as well as the politicians who directed them, the allies who accompanied them, and the family members who loved and – on occasion – lost them, it is a strikingly rich, nuanced portrait of one of our pivotal national institutions in a time of great stress.
Award-winning journalist Simon Akam, who spent a year in the army when he was 18, returned a decade later to see how the institution had changed. His book examines the relevance of the armed forces today – their social, economic, political, and cultural role. This is as much a book about Britain, and about the politics of failure, as it is about the military.
'Akam's beautifully written, from the inside out, account of the British Army's reluctance to engage with the realities of recent small wars, in Afghanistan in particular, is a must-read for every serious student of modern military history. At one level, it explains how and why we managed to turn victory over Al Qaeda in Afghanistan into defeat at the hands of the Taliban. But this book is about much more than the army in Afghanistan - it is a parable about failure, the failure of a revered institution, with a proud history and an uncritical public, to come to terms with a changed and changing world.' -- Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British ambassador to Afghanistan 'Simon Akam has written a perceptive, challenging and passionate book that looks at modern soldiering. In doing so, Akam provides an invaluable look at how the British Army works - and how the changing world in the 21st century is asking new and complex questions for soldiers and military strategy alike.' -- Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads 'This brave, absorbing and prodigiously well-researched tour de force renders every previous account of the British Army in its disastrous recent campaigns obsolete. Akam makes an unanswerable case that we are no longer very good at fighting wars, building his arguments with panache and good sense. In doing so he has done his country, and the army, a great service - although the Generals may not see it quite that way just yet. Put away the self-serving autobiographies and the obsequious histories of in-house academics; this is the definitive account of the British Army in its 21st Century misadventures.' -- Frank Ledwidge, author of Losing Small Wars 'Simon Akam delivers a devastating indictment of Britain's military chiefs for overseeing the shocking decline of the nation's armed forces. His book is compulsory reading for every patriot.' -- Tom Bower, biographer 'A brilliant book ... Gets right to the heart of so many of the British Army's problems.' -- Simon Scarrow, Sunday Times bestselling author of the Eagles of the Empire series 'A new book looks at the changes the British Army has undergone and roles it has played as an almost volunteer sidekick to the American military in the war on terror.' -- CJ Chivers * The New York Times * 'The truth about the British Army' -- Jason Burke * The Guardian * 'Akam is an angry young man and the book is better for it.' * The Times * 'A blockbuster critique ... with heaps of evidence.' -- Matthew Paris * The Times * 'A passionate book.' -- Max Hastings * The Sunday Times * 'It's compellingly written - I got through all 500-plus pages in two sittings - and it is certainly worth the effort.' -- Adrian Weale * Mail on Sunday * 'Detailed and well structured.' -- Anthony Loyd * New Statesman * 'Impassioned ... It is a valuable addition to analysing the past, present and future of a venerated institution.' -- Kim Sengupta * The Independent * 'A blistering account ... Akam's research, including interviews with 260 individuals, is formidable.' -- Richard Norton-Taylor * Declassified UK * 'A scathing account of the British army in the years after 9/11 ... Akam has not just done his homework, interviewing 260 people, but also shows his working in 89 pages of footnotes, full of forensic detail - and delicious gossip.' -- Shashank Joshi * Spectator Australia * 'Akam makes many important points and reports in depth on officers' recollections of specific episodes.' -- Helen Parr * Prospect * 'The Changing of the Guard is a major book that provides the first serious analysis of the effectiveness of the modern British Army ... With a particular focus on the failure of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he gives a brunt assessment of the Army as an institution and its role in society. There is lots of interesting material here and some relevant lessons for Australia.' -- Jeff Popple * Canberra Weekly * 'It is a review of the British Army ... It does not tell a 'pretty' story - rather, it is a 'warts and all' tale ... Simon Akam has written a fine book on how and why the British Army has changed, between 2001 and 2020. For those who have seen military service, it will provide a broad picture of the conditions some soldiers have faced in the early 21st Century. For those who have not, it shows clearly the true face of war, as it is fought in this day and age, and may, possibly, be fought in the near future and within current social value sets.' -- Rob Ellis * RUSI VIC Library * '[In] beautifully written, evocative and passionate prose, [Akam places] you in the boots of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan suddenly discovering the mission they've volunteered for isn't the war they're fighting at all ... He begins asking questions at ground level, 260 interviews probing everyone from commanders, medal winners to those convicted of war crimes ... This breadth of research gives Akam's book immense power.' -- Nicholas Stuart * The Canberra Times * 'Simon Akam ... has written a timely, elegant and important book, The Changing of the Guard, about the British army's failures in Afghanistan and Iraq.' -- David Patrikarakos * The Spectator * 'Full of gripping reportage and compelling personal stories ... the story he tells is profoundly important.' -- David French * TLS * 'A powerful, compelling, and fascinating polemic. Essential reading.' -- William Boyd 'Akam contends that there was as little accountability within the military hierarchy as there was outside it ... The military would obviously like to avoid a close examination of this unbroken string of catastrophes, but Akam's book is a gentle account - critical, but not unsympathetic.' -- Tom Stevenson * London Review of Books * 'Gripping and thoroughly disheartening.' -- Al Murray
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