This chronicle of daily life at the US Military Academy is “a fascinating, funny and tremendously well written account of life on the Long Gray Line” (Time).
In 1998, West Point made an unprecedented offer to Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky: Stay at the Academy as long as you like, go wherever you wish, talk to whomever you want, to discover why some of America’s most promising young people sacrifice so much to become cadets. Lipsky followed one cadet class into mess halls, barracks, classrooms, bars, and training exercises, from arrival through graduation. By telling their stories, he also examines the Academy as a reflection of our society: Are its principles of equality, patriotism, and honor quaint anachronisms or is it still, as Theodore Roosevelt called it, the most “absolutely American” institution?
During an eventful four years in West Point’s history, Lipsky witnesses the arrival of TVs and phones in dorm rooms, the end of hazing, and innumerable other shifts in policy and practice. He uncovers previously unreported scandals and poignantly evokes the aftermath of September 11, when cadets must prepare to become officers in wartime.
Lipsky also meets some extraordinary people: a former Eagle Scout who struggles with every facet of the program, from classwork to marching; a foul-mouthed party animal who hates the military and came to West Point to play football; a farm-raised kid who seems to be the perfect soldier, despite his affection for the early work of Georgia O’Keeffe; and an exquisitely turned-out female cadet who aspires to “a career in hair and nails” after the Army.
The result is, in the words of David Brooks in the New York Times Book Review, “a superb description of modern military culture, and one of the most gripping accounts of university life I have read. . . . How teenagers get turned into leaders is not a simple story, but it is wonderfully told in this book.”