Book Review: Carnivore by Dillard Johnson

Carnivore, c Nick Leghorn

The success of Chris Kyle’s war novel “American Sniper” seems to have set off a tidal wave of war memoirs that are trying to give the American public more of the same. One of those memoirs is titled “Carnivore,” and being distributed by the same publisher that Chris used, and while the influence of Chris’ book is very evident, this is a different kind of memoir . . .

I actually heard about this book when the author emailed me with the subject line “You shot me in the head!” Turns out that during a Crimson Trace sponsored junket I actually had popped the co-author in the noggin with a simunition round. James Tarr is writer in question and he helped Dillard Johnson bring his war story to life.

While Chris Kyle was a Navy SEAL and mostly talks about his experiences in Afghanistan, Dillard Johnson spent the war in Iraq at the tip of the spear in his Bradley Fighting Vehicle. That position let him and his crew rack up one of the highest body counts of any unit. Ever.

You can definitely see the influence of Chris’ novel on this book. The writing style is almost identical, but the stories are very different. Where Chris focused on human aspect of the war, Johnson focuses on the action — of which there is quite a lot. The book starts out with a few chapters about Johnson’s family life, and then quickly moves into describing in gory detail the fighting that he participated in while “in the sandbox.” From the build-up on the Iraqi border to scenes of street fighting in An Najaf, the book reads like “Generation Kill” except with more action scenes and fewer discussions of shooting camels.

For the armchair soldier looking for exciting stories of combat, this is just about as good as it gets. The stories are written with the same conversational and self deprecating tone that we’ve come to know and love from modern war memoirs, but with a more aggressive stance than Chris’ book. In fact, some of the stories had already made their way into Soldier of Fortune in the form of after action reports, and that’s without any of the storytelling that makes this book really flow. It makes for an entertaining read for anyone who enjoys war movies.

That being said, there’s a bit of controversy following this book around. For example, some people are questioning the number of kills claimed by the book jacket. Johnson says that he doesn’t claim that number in the book (he doesn’t), and that the numbers were added by the publisher for publicity. Also slightly controversial is that Johnson describes some of his activities in the novel as being a sniper, and while he does make the distinction very clear (he was a grunt who picked up a M21, not a trained sniper) he claims to use the term to describe the activity for the less well informed readers.

How much of this book is the truth and how much was inflated to sell copies? We’ll never know for sure. But if you read it with that caveat in mind, it’s an interesting story. And as someone once told me, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

If you’re looking for an exciting war memoir told by someone from the tip of the spear in Iraq, this is the book for you. For that reason, I highly recommend picking up a copy.

comments

  1. avatar Woody says:

    Nick,
    If you haven’t read them yet, pick up “House to House”, “The Good Soldiers” and the “Long Road Home” all about Iraq. Great reads!

    Woody,

    1. avatar Bastiat says:

      “Long Road Home” is fantastic.

  2. avatar Dirk Diggler says:

    how did you like that Romeo y Julieta?

    1. avatar Nick Leghorn says:

      It was okay. Not every day can be a Davidoff day.

      1. avatar mark_anthony_78 says:

        They are god to keep on hand for friends/new smokers.

        Not bad, and if they don’t like them you’re only out like $2.

        1. avatar E. Jones says:

          The actual Cuban Romeo y Julietas are much better, to my palate… But they’re a far cry from $2, and getting European friends to smuggle them is a hassle…

  3. There seems to be a lot of negative comments on Amazon about this guy’s integrity. If it was one or two reviews, then I would just write it off, but it’s coming from a lot of people.

    Not sure I would want to read or support an author that sells fiction as fact as a lot of those reviews are claiming. I respect him for his service, but can’t get behind this book due to the reviews, which is a shame.

    1. avatar Gary says:

      There are lots of consistent reviews from people claiming to actually know the author and were there. They all call BS. I believe them. This review now has no credibility. TTAB suffers yet another credibility loss. I won’t buy the book and I still don’t hold this blog very high in my opinion either.

  4. avatar JRP says:

    Way to many negative reviews for me on this one. Seems to be from a lot of people that knew also. I agree with Prairie Patriot if its one or two let it slide. These seem to be kind of personal.

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      Hmmm, as someone who reads 2-3 books a week, even I’ll pass due to the reviews.
      Nick, please don’t let this dissuade TTAG from doing any other book reviews.

      1. avatar Matt in FL says:

        This is why I love the comments section of TTAG. I finished the review ready to buy a copy, but the comments down here make me think maybe I want to look for it at the library or something like that, instead of spending my hard-earned cash.

        Nick, as Tom said, don’t let this dissuade you from writing more reviews, as I might have never heard of this book otherwise.

  5. avatar jwm says:

    Sniper is a very misused and misunderstood term even amongst the military. Anybody comes under fire from a hostile in a concealed position is taking sniper fire, according to him. Even if the sniper turns out to be a dude with an iron sighted AK. In my day, the day of the full auto m16 and mad minutes, one of our guys took an aimed shot on semi at a bad guy more than 75 yards out we called him a sniper.

    1. avatar jollyroger says:

      Its still a somewhat mid used term. For example in Afghanistan whenever we took fire that was slow and accurate we called it sniper fire.
      For example we had whoss shots were much more accurate but he still missed us. He missed by inches instead of feet though. When we finally got him he was armed with an iron sighted Lee enfield. I’m thankful everyday he didn’t have a scope.

      1. avatar Matt in FL says:

        When your mobile device tells you that your comment failed to post, ignore it. It’s wrong 99.8% of the time. Approximately.

        1. avatar BLAMMO says:

          I thought the WordPress software prevented duplicate posts.

        2. avatar Matt in FL says:

          It does work when coming from a PC, but from a mobile device it doesn’t work for some reason. I’m sure there are internet infrastructure reasons for this.

          In my experience, the “failed to post” comment on mobile is wrong basically every single time. The only time I’ve experienced it being correct is when I have a really tenuous internet connection, like at the extreme edge of a wifi signal or when my cell signal only has that “dot” that is smaller and precedes the four actual bars. If I recall correctly, it has been correct twice out of the easily two hundred times I’ve seen that message.

  6. avatar Adam says:

    Nick,

    I think you should update this review to be a little more specific about the controversy. Many people who served with this guy attest to the fact that he is a lying douche. My god just read the Amazon reviews. People like this guy bring shame to the Armed Services and do not deserve the publicity.

    Noting at the end of the review that there is “some controversy” doesn’t do this justice. I would hate to see this post generate book sales for a complete tool and self-serving aggrandizer like Johnson.

    If you want an accurate portrayal of the fighting in Iraq pick up a a copy of “Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad” by David Zucchino. Zucchino is a pulitzer prize winner and an editor of Blackhawk Down. I think his description of Bradley fighting vehicles and combat in Iraq was much more truthful.

    1. avatar Matt in FL says:

      “My god just read the Amazon reviews.”

      I’m not disagreeing with your point. Just remember those reviews are anonymous. For every three people that say they “were there,” 2.75 of them are probably lying.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        Matt, did I ever explain to you the difference between a war story and a fairy tale?

        A fairy tale starts out “Once upon a time….”

        A war story starts out “This ain’t no sh!t, man…..”

        1. avatar Matt in FL says:

          There’s actually a line in a Tom Clancy book that says something similar. He uses the phrase “This is a no shitter…”

        2. avatar J.G. says:

          Ive heard the same thing. “Once upon a time” versus “No shit there I was.”

      2. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        Reminds me of how many people say they were at Woodstock…

        1. avatar William Burke says:

          I can assure you I wasn’t. But town sure was lonesome for those four days.

  7. avatar Bill Meyer says:

    Hey Nick, If you are going to write more book reviews how ’bout learning the difference between a novel and a non-fiction account.

  8. avatar Henry Bowman says:

    Great. More glorification of and financial capitalization on an illegal, immoral, unjust, and irresponsible foreign escapade.

    Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

  9. avatar mike says:

    Bill, how about you start your own website and then you can review and do whatever you want. No one forces you to come here, if you dont like what he says and posts then find somewhere else.

    1. avatar William Burke says:

      It was the war and the glorification of it he objected too. I am not only objecting to that, I am objecting to you acting like a baboon.

  10. avatar Mister Fleas says:

    “While Chris Kyle was a Navy SEAL and mostly talks about his experiences in Afghanistan….”
    Chris Kyle never went to Afghanistan. He fought in Iraq.

    Also, what is with your use of the word “novel” to describe these memoirs? They are nonfiction works, not fiction.

  11. avatar Joseph says:

    If he had any integrity, Johnson would have objected to the publisher making such ridiculous claims, which I think speaks for itself.

  12. avatar AFIraqVet says:

    For more on the controversy surrounding SFC Johnson and the claims in his book, check out these links:

    http://thisainthell.us/blog/?p=36374
    http://thisainthell.us/blog/?p=36533
    http://thisainthell.us/blog/?p=36429

  13. avatar Smaj says:

    Johnson is an infamous liar and embellisher. I served with him in a unit prior to the Iraq War. He is not a trustworthy individual. Go to Amazon and read some of the book reviews. Go to Thisainthell.us and read the thread about this joker. He’s trying to line his pockets on the sacrifice and valor of those killed and wounded in 3-7 Cavalry. And what kind of ghoul keeps track of “killing” 2,500+ people? Save your time and money and avoid this book.

  14. avatar Grammar Nazi says:

    For a second there I thought you were reviewing an album by an 80’s thrash metal band.

  15. avatar W. Campbell says:

    Guys,

    I worked with Mr. Johnson with BW in Iraq. While I cannot make any claims as to his wartime exploits I can say is that while he was with BW he was one of the most despised employees in Iraq. While his professional performance was adequate his need to self aggrandize was almost non stop. Factor that in with a abrasive personality in a highly volatile area such as Baghdad and this is well …not good. -Embellishment of any sort is unacceptable given that incidents had to be accurately documented.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email