Synopses & Reviews
The unsentimental education of an idealistic, brilliant American naval officer.
It begins in 2001. Christopher Brownfield is a naïve young midshipman. His heroes at the time: Oliver North and John McCain.
In My Nuclear Family, Brownfield writes about how he loved the navy for its “rigidity and its clarity in separating right from wrong”; how he cut his teeth there on the principles of energy and violence, strategy and thermodynamics, on war doctrine and weapons systems. The question was never if he was capable of killing; it was simply about methods and rationales.
He writes about his years serving on a nuclear submarine, with its hundred-ton back-up battery—the first hybrid vehicle capable of sustaining its environment and mission independent of oil.
We see Lieutenant Brownfield making his way, receiving his advanced nuclear supervisory certification from the departments of defense and energy, and, after years of training to become a nuclear submariner, being able to supervise an entire reactor plant aboard a nuclear warship.
He writes about his ships secret missions in the global war on terror and how he begins to experience his own eroding faith in the entire operation . . .
He describes his decision to leave the navy to attend graduate school at Yale, as his colleagues in the submarine force are faced with a new morbid reality—an involuntary lottery for service in Iraq. And how, for the sake of his country, his naval forefathers, and his mother (who believed in cleaning up after ones own messes), Brownfield is determined to do something good in the name of the United States.
With one foot in the door at Yale, Brownfield jumps on the hand grenade and volunteers to fill a one-year tour of duty in Baghdad, working in the strategic headquarters, reporting to the top general on matters of oil and electricity.
Brownfield, a submariner in the sands of the desert, writes about how he finds himself better equipped to handle the energy problem than his much more senior colleagues, many of whom had no prior experience in energy or management. With the arrival in Iraq of General Petraeus, and with policy changes and an overhaul in strategy, Brownfield is put center stage in the unit, supervising the colonel who was his former superior in rank; briefing cabinet ministers, ambassadors, and generals, who endorse his groundbreaking plans for energy efficiency, development, and counterinsurgency . . .
Now a graduate student the author of this brash memoir of dysfunction in the armed forces began as a lieutenant on the nuclear submarine USS Hartford where military professionalism was tarnished by systematic cheating on the nuclear propulsion exam and high blundering when senior officers ran the ship aground. Then came a stint in the pre surge Green Zone trying to reconstruct Iraq's electricity system in a unit whose officers spent their time downloading pirated movies or angling for consulting gigs. Tasked with the daily briefing on the collapsing grid blackouts proliferated as insurgents wrecked power lines killed repair workers and kidnapped officials Brownfield seethed as his efforts to address problems bogged down in military bureaucracy. Brownfield was one obstreperous lieutenant: he crashes a party with Ahmed Chalabi and the American ambassador sounds off to a visiting senator and tweaks generals to their faces. He similarly overreaches with his incoherent analysis of the Iraq War as a war for oil and a vague call for a global energy regime of "sustainable interdependence." Still Brownfield's stimulating disabused tale of corruption incompetence and careerism in uniform is a useful sometimes explosive corrective to hagiographic accounts of America's militarized approach to nation building. Photos. (Sept. 24) " Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
About the Author
Christopher Brownfield was born in Michigan and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He has a masters degree in international energy policy and international economics from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a masters degree in engineering management from Old Dominion University. Brownfield has also been a visiting scholar on nuclear policy with the Hertog Global Strategy Initiative at Columbia University. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.