By Josh Marcinik
The stated purpose of the Villanova One Book program is to put in the hands of students a book that is “worthy of close reading, discussion, course adoption, and the stimulation of dialog among all members of the campus community.” They’ve hit the nail on its head with selection of The New York Times best-selling book The Unforgiving Minute by Craig Mullaney. Subtitled “A Soldier’s Education,” the novel promises to tell the “unparalleled education and the hard lessons that only war can teach.” The book has been praised by figures like General David Patraeus and Bob Woodward, but what’s it got in store for the collegiate reader?
First and foremost, Mullaney is an ideal author for a book program aimed at college students. As detailed in the latter parts of the book, Mullaney has a wide range of experience with contemporary politics and higher education. He was a defense advisor to then-candidate Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in one of the most eventful election cycles this nation had seen; previously he was a college educator himself, teaching at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. Even though he may be coming from a different viewpoint, Mullaney was privy to a university environment.. It should come as no surprise that the tale he tells is a smart, nuanced narrative of his life.
In brief, we are treated to Mullaney’s entire story from the time he commences studies at West Point, continuing through Airborne paratrooper training and the brutality of US Army Ranger school. With Ranger tabs on his shoulders, he is a recipient of the prestigious Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University, where Mullaney often ponders what it means to be both a soldier and a scholar. Upon graduation, he is recalled into the 10th Mountain Division. It is in Afghanistan that his education will be tested by actual warfare. Patrolling the rugged mountains of the Afghan-Pakistani border, Craig and his men search for the elusive Taliban in the rugged mountains. All his training has prepared him for this- or has it? It all comes down to one critical minute at an unforgettable place called Losano Ridge, where Captain Mullaney’s decisions will mean life or death for his men.
If you’re sitting and wondering how to apply a war story to your life, don’t. The Unforgiving Minute has much more in store. Craig needed to learn not only how to lead men but also that leading entails service to those under his command. He saw his father walk away from his family and he faced questions about the morality of fighting for one’s country. He even had to deal with the slippery subject of intercultural marriage as he pursued the woman he loves. These are universal themes facing millions of contemporary Americans, and are questions that students may someday be asking themselves. In The Unforgiving Minute, we not only get an insider’s perspective of the war against terror, but at its heart, the story is a thought-provoking narrative of the human experience. Through his book, Mullarey poses a vital question: when life presents you with an “unforgiving minute,” how will you respond?
The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive for the university’s One Book program, says Joe Lucia, director of the Falvey Memorial Library. Coordinated by the University Staff Council, Residence Life and the One Book Villanova Committee, the One Book program has provided the student body with a means of “[giving] the community a shared experience that forms the basis for dialogue and exploration,” he said. The program has garnered national attention, with some calling it the best of its kind.
For such a prestigious program, the discovery of this book was almost accidental. Mr. Lucia first came across Mullaney’s book when his wife pointed it out to him and suggested he read it, and it quickly showed promise. “[Craig Mullaney] was very much the type of person who might have been interested in coming to Villanova,” Lucia said. It was definitely cast in a different mold than previous outings of the One Book program- but that was not a bad thing. In the past, the program had focused on books revolving around current events, like The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and The Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji, but nothing like this. The Unforgiving Minute manages to tell a war story without novelizing actual events on one hand and devolving into a dry tactical report on the other.
For the Villanova community, the best part of the deal comes on January 31st when it will experience the highlight of the One Book program: Craig Mullaney himself is coming to campus for a visit and lecture. Lucia is “absolutely” excited. Judging by the quality of this book, the community should be abuzz as well. For the One Book program, Mullaney’s book is a new and intriguing change of pace. For a war story, The Unforgiving Minute is refreshingly varied and insightful. So should you pick up and read a copy of this book if you haven’t already? Absolutely.