“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.”- Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, author of the New York Times bestseller Ashley’s War
Named a “Best of March” book by Amazon and Barnes & Noble
In January of 2012, a good friend of mine–Matt Schwartz from Traverse City, Michigan–was killed in Afghanistan. Matt was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician. We had the same job, but while I had done my two tours in Iraq and went home, Matt deployed again and again and again. He was shot on his second tour, and died on his sixth.
I realize now that I was bound to do an investigation into his death; my training demanded it. But instead of asking “what” killed him–we knew immediately it was a roadside bomb–I asked “who” killed him. It’s a question that would not have made any sense in past wars, not even at the start of this one. But we have individualized the war, we target specific people in specific insurgent organizations, and in the course of my research, I discovered the leaders on the other side do the same in reverse to us.
This is the story of an American family at war, and the men and women who fight this new technology-heavy and intelligence-based conflict. I interviewed intel analysts, biometrics engineers, drone pilots, special operations aircrew, amputees who lost their legs, and the contractors hired to finish the job. They are all hunting a man known as al-Muhandis, The Engineer, the brains behind the devices that have killed so many soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Read excerpts at VICE and Foreign Policy, and an op-ed on the challenge of identifying who we are fighting at the Boston Globe. For Memorial Day, I wrote an essay about Matt for his hometown news mag.
“The search for the story behind an IED death leads to the history of the post-9/11 wars and the lives of the men and women who fight them. . . . Castner does a beautiful job of putting together his puzzle, weaving all the seemingly disparate elements into one cohesive whole. . . . [His] writing is evocative and engaging, completely absorbing from beginning to end. A must-read for military buffs and a should-read for anyone who has given even a cursory thought to the US efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“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 the 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.” – Doug Stanton, author of the New York Times bestseller Horse Soldiers
“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.” – Phil Klay, author of the National Book Award-winning Redeployment
“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.” – Kevin Maurer, author of Hunter Killer and No Easy Day
“Provocative, riveting, and uncommonly insightful in addressing both sides of the story, Castner writes in the tradition of Orwell and Kapuściński. 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.” – Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, author of The Watch
“It reads like a detective novel but it’s a real story. Compelling and devastating.” – PBS
“The best book about America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last fifteen years.” – Passages West
“All The Ways We Kill And Die reads like a good work of fiction with a rich cast of characters and well developed whodunit plot line, all set in a postmodern military genre of special operations forces, robots, and drones. However, it is Brian Castner’s literary style that makes this a welcome addition to any bookshelf. Similar to his first work, The Long Walk, the language is raw, it is real, and it is that of a warrior. The meta-narrative, the structure of the book itself, the pace and tempo of the prose, everything about this book is reflective of an EOD response to an IED strike.” – US Navy Commander Jeremy Wheat (EOD), writing for CIMSEC
“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.” – Nate Bethea, writing for Task & Purpose
“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.” – Matthew Komatsu, writing for The Millions
“We get the insider’s view but told with the analytical, fact-laden remove of the outsider, as if he were an embedded journalist. He’s lived much of what he’s writing about. And yet he’s at a remove….works like a translator, revealing the thing behind the thing. War is hell. We know this. We’ve been told how hellish it is in so many ways, for so many years. Yet Castner has found new ways to illustrate the point.” – Consequence Magazine
“All the Ways We Kill and Die is a singular book both in the way it explains the unique and vexing nature of asymmetric warfare on the one hand and explores the signature wounds of this war—physical, mental, and spiritual—on the other.” – Strategy Bridge
“A tautly written, first-person look . . . in the style of a thriller. 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.” – Publishers Weekly
“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.” – Booklist
Interviews and Media:
PBS Book View Now:
National Writers Series – in conversation with Ben Busch:
Northeast Public Radio (WAMC) – The Roundtable – March 7, 2016