Once it was simple to write about war. States or ideologies clashed; battles were fought between national armies or movements. But war has changed.
War has become ‘privatised’ by small armed groups, states have fragmented and the conventional arms of the United States have been defeated by warlordism. Drawing on the author’s experiences as the Observer’s chief foreign correspondent, , The Secret Life of War focusses on the human cost of war: to the combatants, to civilians and to the author, as one who bears witness.
Every encounter is arresting: a visit to the bombed and abandoned home of Mullah Omar; a deserted Al Qaeda camp where Beaumont discovers documents describing a plan to bomb London; young bomb-throwers in Rafah refugee camp. But what marks out The Secret Life of War from innumerable other accounts is the sum it makes of these parts: a lasting catalogue of fear and harm, an anatomy of the human impulse to confrontation; an atlas of armed conflict.
Often travelling unembedded and without bodyguards in some of the world’s most dangerous locations, he has managed to achieve a rare closeness with his interview subjects, a sense of intimacy with soldiers and other combatants even in the midst of ongoing violence.
Unflinching and exquisitely written, The Secret Life of War goes beyond classic reportage: it is a deeply personal and defining vision of the inner, secret nature of modern war.