Book Review: The Reaper: Autobiography of One of the Deadliest Special Ops Snipers

The Reaper: Autobiography of One of the Deadliest Special Ops Snipers by Nicholas Irving with Gary Brozek is a first-hand account of Nicholas Irving's tour in Afghanistan in 2009, during the beginnings of the US surge in that region. During his 100-day tour in Afghanistan, Sergeant Irving served with the Army's Special Operations 3rd Ranger Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment as a Master Sniper. The Reaper is his record of that his deployment and the 33 kills that he made during that 4-month period - a record for the number of enemy kills on a single deployment which still stands today.
The Reaper by Nicholas Irving with Gary Brozek

About The Reaper

Although the majority of The Reaper focuses on Irving's 100-day deployment in and around Khandahar, Afghanistan in 2009, the book does touch on other aspects of his life and Army career. We get little bits and pieces about his childhood, his parents, his wife, his other deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan starting in 2005, and his time in the Rangers before he became a sniper, but there are no large sections of the book (with the exception of the last chapter) dedicated to his personal life. The little bits we do get, however, do give us some insight into Irving's personality, and they provide some nice context to Irving's thoughts, actions, and feelings. These details help us get to know Nicholas Irving as a person as well as a soldier, rather than just focusing on his military accomplishments as "The Reaper".

Through the eyes of Irving, we also get to know several of his Ranger buddies and feel his anguish, sadness, or relief at their escaping or succumbing to combat stress and injuries. We feel his elation when missions are completed, and his anger or frustration when plans go awry. While he, as a soldier on the ground, is largely unaware of the overall war in Afghanistan, we do get his feelings on several different types of missions, from those "ordinary" patrols (which never end up being ordinary!) to missions searching out particular persons of interest, and even some behind-enemy-lines special operations!

Overall, the book is well written and a real-page turner, and while I'm sure some may not like the anecdotes inserted throughout the book, I actually enjoyed them. These little stories made the whole book seem more like a casual conversation over a few (strong) drinks rather than a sterile recounting of military movements, objectives, and missions. It's true that moving from the stress and fast-paced action of an ambush to a flashback of comments made during a poker game can be a little bit hard to follow sometimes, but the background and atmosphere it gives the book is well worth it to me.

Despite being a hair over 300 pages, the book is a very quick read, and is one that can be difficult to put down - especially during some of the more memorable missions.


Perhaps one of the reasons why these little stories about his training and his personal life work so well is that they give a very real sense of Irving as a person and as a soldier. Many times during the book, Irving is upfront about his worries or fear, and has no problem admitting that some of his accomplishments and survival are due purely to luck.

These personal anecdotes about his feelings and emotions - both during combat and after coming home - gives us a perspective that we don't normally get to see in such an up-close-and-personal way, unless you are close friends or family to a soldier. For that reason alone, I think The Reaper deserves to be read, so that more people can hopefully understand what goes on with soldiers in a war zone and the challenges of returning home and resuming a "normal" life.

One additional note: read this book soon, since The Reaper will also soon be a 6-hour miniseries on NBC, probably sometime this Fall. I have every hope that the miniseries will do justice to this book, Nicholas Irving, the Rangers, soldiers, Marines, and others that he writes about, but definitely read the book so you can get the unfiltered story first!

You can buy the book through Amazon with the following link:

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