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All the Ways We Kill and Die

Cover of All the Ways We Kill and Die

All the Ways We Kill and Die

An Elegy for a Fallen Comrade, and the Hunt for His Killer

The search for a friend's killer is a riveting lesson in the way war has changed.
The EOD—explosive ordnance disposal—community is tight-knit, and when one of their own is hurt, an alarm goes out. When Brian Castner, an Iraq War vet, learns that his friend and EOD brother Matt has been killed by an IED in Afghanistan, he goes to console Matt's widow, but he also begins a personal investigation. Is the bomb maker who killed Matt the same man American forces have been hunting since Iraq, known as the Engineer?
In this nonfiction thriller Castner takes us inside the manhunt for this elusive figure, meeting maimed survivors, interviewing the forensics teams who gather post-blast evidence, the wonks who collect intelligence, the drone pilots and contractors tasked to kill. His investigation reveals how warfare has changed since Iraq, becoming individualized even as it has become hi-tech, with our drones, bomb disposal robots, and CSI-like techniques. As we use technology to identify, locate, and take out the planners and bomb makers, the chilling lesson is that the hunters are also being hunted, and the other side—from Al-Qaeda to ISIS— has been selecting its own high-value targets.
Skyhorse Publishing, along with our Arcade, Good Books, Sports Publishing, and Yucca imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. Our list includes biographies on well-known historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, Nelson Mandela, and Alexander Graham Bell, as well as villains from history, such as Heinrich Himmler, John Wayne Gacy, and O. J. Simpson. We have also published survivor stories of World War II, memoirs about overcoming adversity, first-hand tales of adventure, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

The search for a friend's killer is a riveting lesson in the way war has changed.
The EOD—explosive ordnance disposal—community is tight-knit, and when one of their own is hurt, an alarm goes out. When Brian Castner, an Iraq War vet, learns that his friend and EOD brother Matt has been killed by an IED in Afghanistan, he goes to console Matt's widow, but he also begins a personal investigation. Is the bomb maker who killed Matt the same man American forces have been hunting since Iraq, known as the Engineer?
In this nonfiction thriller Castner takes us inside the manhunt for this elusive figure, meeting maimed survivors, interviewing the forensics teams who gather post-blast evidence, the wonks who collect intelligence, the drone pilots and contractors tasked to kill. His investigation reveals how warfare has changed since Iraq, becoming individualized even as it has become hi-tech, with our drones, bomb disposal robots, and CSI-like techniques. As we use technology to identify, locate, and take out the planners and bomb makers, the chilling lesson is that the hunters are also being hunted, and the other side—from Al-Qaeda to ISIS— has been selecting its own high-value targets.
Skyhorse Publishing, along with our Arcade, Good Books, Sports Publishing, and Yucca imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. Our list includes biographies on well-known historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, Nelson Mandela, and Alexander Graham Bell, as well as villains from history, such as Heinrich Himmler, John Wayne Gacy, and O. J. Simpson. We have also published survivor stories of World War II, memoirs about overcoming adversity, first-hand tales of adventure, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.

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  • From the book

    On January 5, 2012, a good friend of mine named Matt Schwartz was killed in Afghanistan. Like me, he was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician, a member of the military's bomb squad, and he died in a massive detonation that bent his armored truck and threw it like trash against a mud wall.

    When Matt died, my old training kicked in. I felt compelled to do an investigation, to discover everything about the circumstance of his death, but especially this: Who set the bomb on that road? And more importantly, who built it, who designed it, who taught the Taliban to use it? By 2012, nearly every roadside bomb was tailored for a specific purpose; to know whether Matt's death was random or the result of a deliberate scheme, I needed to learn more about this builder, designer, teacher. The master tailor.

    Who is the man who killed my friend? In war, it was a question I had never really asked with any specificity, and it consumed me.

    In shorthand, we always called this man the Bomber, and this is the first part we got wrong. The term was widespread in the media, and so even though we knew it was incorrect, we repeated it anyway. How did the IED get to the donkey path? The Bomber put it there. Why are there six artillery rounds hidden in the courtyard of this mud-walled qalat? This is where the Bomber lives. Who did we just shoot digging on the side of the road? Must be the Bomber.

    We in the EOD community understood the imprecision, but the lazy figure of speech persisted, especially in our conversations with the uninitiated infantry and armor commanders who ran our sectors. So words guided thought, and thought guided action, and we spent many years chasing and killing men called the Bomber who were, in fact, no such thing.

    The truth is harder and more specific. If the Bomber is the person responsible for an explosive device's existence, the ultimate guilty party, then mostly we know who the Bomber is not.

    The Bomber is not the average foot soldier, the unemployable Afghan with a battered Kalashnikov and a literacy that does not extend beyond the Koran, nor, eventually in 2016, the disaffected middle-class British youth traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State. The gunman is a tool and a trend, not a leader.

    The Bomber also is not the man who hides the weapons cache and then places the explosives in the ground. This job is too dangerous, exposed, and menial to be done by someone with the expertise to build the thing. Better to pay a desperate, out-of-work father to do it instead.

    The Bomber is not the cell leader organizing the attack. Many of these men are extremely clever, but their cleverness is in camouflage and hiding the device and choosing advantageous terrain, not in the design of the bomb's firing circuit.

    So too the Bomber is not the spotter waiting for an American convoy to approach, or the triggerman with his thumb ready to key the radio to set off the device. Once made, bombs are often placed by gun-toters in the service of an ambush. Despite the stereotype and the historic Western examples to the contrary, in Iraq and Afghanistan the designer of the bomb was almost always not the employer of the bomb. The Unabomber may have fought a one-man war against the American system, but jihadists fight collectively in groups.

    The Bomber is not the one wearing the suicide vest. So much education squandered, so many future devices left unbuilt, it makes no sense to blow one's load on a single binge, no matter how high-profile the target.

    The Bomber is not the courier, though such conflation proves tempting. When Hassan Ghul, an Al Qaeda agent, was captured entering Iraq in 2004, he was toting...

About the Author-
  • Brian Castner is the author of the acclaimed memoir, The Long Walk. An EOD officer in the Air Force who commanded bomb disposal units in Iraq and subsequently trained soldiers prior to their tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he is now a writer and journalist. His stories have appeared in Wired, the New York Times, the Daily Beast, Outside, Foreign Policy, VICE News, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and on NPR. He lives with his family in Buffalo, New York.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 11, 2016
    Castner, an Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer who commanded bomb-disposal units in Iraq, follows his memoir, The Long Walk, with another account of the harrowing EOD world. This time Castner offers a tautly written, first-person look at the death of another EOD officer, his friend Matthew Schwartz, in Afghanistan in January of 2012. The fatal attack on Schwartz sent Castner on a quest to find the killer, and this wide-ranging investigation—in which he interviewed many Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, as well as intelligence operators and others in the EOD community—centers on figuring out who exactly planned and executed the killing, and whether it was “unlucky or targeted.” The working theory was that it was a man known as the Engineer, who had been targeting Americans since the start of the Iraq War. Castner writes in the style of a thriller, replete with military and high-technology jargon (a glossary is included). This is a fast-paced, personal tale that examines some little-known aspects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how they have influenced the current fight against al-Qaeda and ISIS.

  • Phil Klay, author of the National Book Award-winning Redeployment

    "In this book Brian Castner takes us through a kind of moral detective work, uncovering not only private griefs, but also the broader military and social context of our country's response to such deaths. A brilliant, moving, and troubling portrait of modern American warfare."

  • Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, author of the New York Times bestseller Ashley's War “Like the best of storytellers, Castner transports us into the world of the men and women who fight and die and grieve: a struggling widow, two amputees, the exhausted pilot, the contractor for hire, a talented female biometrics engineer, even the jihadist bomb-makers. An extraordinary work of nonfiction that reads like a suspense novel."
  • Doug Stanton, New York Times bestselling author of Horse Soldiers "Brian Castner has written an intimate, heartfelt, and rending portrait of the American family at war and at home; and he's done so in a totally surprising and captivating way, by making the journey as a detective, a soldier, a father, a husband, a citizen. How did my friend die, where did he go, where have I gone in the meantime, who did this to us? These are questions that Castner meditates on as he searches--across thousands of miles and back through the years--for the moment when a total stranger decided to kill a man closest to him and his family. Deftly reported and elegiac in its language, this is a story every neighbor, every parent, every soldier, and every school civics class ought to consider required reading. All the Ways We Kill and Die has much to tell us about how to live."
  • Kevin Maurer, author of Hunter Killer and No Easy Day “A powerful and gripping take on modern war. All the Ways We Kill and Die is a stirring inside look at the deadly dance between EOD and bomb makers on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Written in crisp, unflinching prose, the book is one of the definitive accounts of our decades of war."
  • Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, author of The Watch "Provocative, riveting, and uncommonly insightful in addressing both sides of the story, Castner writes in the tradition of Orwell and Kapuscinski . It is impossible to read his book and not be moved by the predicament of the shadow wars we're mired in. Infused with the knowledge of an insider, this is a bravura performance."
  • Booklist "Castner solemnizes a small but recently critical section of America's armed forces, and powerfully acquaints readers with the risks run and the sacrifices made by EOD personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan."
  • Consequence Magazine "[A] deeply-reported tale of the costs of war. . . . Castner works like a translator."
  • Task & Purpose "Of this book's many strengths, perhaps most notable is its willingness to confront horror unrelentingly--furiously, even . . . All The Ways We Kill and Die occupies a space somewhere between rage and redemption, a purgatory of loss reported as unflinching testimony. . . . To call it intense is to cheapen its power. Castner's writing is as horrifying as it is illuminating. Castner's writing shines because of his willingness to hold his readers' faces toward the abyss when they would rather turn away. We would all do well--as veterans, as citizens--to be so brave."
  • Matthew Komatsu, The Millions "All the Ways We Kill and Die display[s] Castner's considerable talent for both in-depth reportage and more imaginative forms. . . . There's as much for the armchair military history buff in Castner's exploration of IED technology and tactics as there is for fans of literary nonfiction."
  • The New York Times Book Review “The enduring treachery of memory . . . remains the real, unfinished story of The Long Walk. It takes as much courage for Castner to confront that memory as it does to face an active fuse."
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune “Castner's book maps out this new and sorrowful territory with the skill and focus of someone who has had to defuse a bomb inside his own body."
  • Dallas Morning News “What makes Castner's astonishing memoir so unique is his forthright, unflinching look at postwar life."
  • Morning Edition (NPR) “Direct and disturbing. . . . A painful but compelling read, even as Castner finds ways to cope, at least partially, with his long walk back at home."
  • The New Yorker “He gives equal, if not more, weight to the time and effort that goes into readjusting to his family life, and his...
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All the Ways We Kill and Die
All the Ways We Kill and Die
An Elegy for a Fallen Comrade, and the Hunt for His Killer
Brian Castner
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