David Koeppel
January 09, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

At first, Pfarrer’s tough-guy bravado can be off-putting. But after a few chapters, you get caught up in his riveting transformation from ”pooka-shell-wearing surf dude” to Navy SEAL commando. His 1983 peacekeeping tour in Lebanon offers a fascinating perspective on the frustrations and ultimate futility of a conflict that, in one day alone, resulted in the deaths of 243 soldiers. (”To this day I have no goddamn idea what the United States of America was doing in Lebanon.”) Pfarrer visits other ’80s hot spots: A showdown in Sicily with the Achille Lauro hijackers and an amphibious confrontation with a Nicaraguan patrol boat prove especially memorable. Even so, the writing sometimes sounds like a B movie (not surprising from the screenwriter for 1997’s The Jackal), and civilians should be prepared for frequent trips to the book’s military glossary.

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