Breakfast with the Dirt Cult, by Samuel Finlay. 313 pages.
I bought this book after reading these first three lines in this WSRA book review post:
Holy shit.I pray God that the (extremely well-written) internal emotional wrenching was all fiction.And I know that it was not.
Even the chance of the book being as good as the review claimed was worth the risk of the kindle price.
“Extremely well-written” is exactly right. I was stunned this was a first time writer.
This book overlapped several areas for me.
I went through a phase over 20 years ago of reading every Vietnam War paperback I could get my hands on. While many were great and all were interesting, none covered a full range of emotions and issues as Breakfast with the Dirt Cult. None.
Another overlap: I too enlisted (E1, Army Reserves) and made that transition to corporal, and later sergeant. He had this experience pegged.
The main character in the book, Tom Walton, enlisted in the Army infantry. You get to see him in the grunt role where no responsibility is combined with being at the bottom of that hill where shit only rolls down. Then you get to watch him rise to the first levels of non-commissioned officer. The weight of the assigned responsibilities combine with the unexpected inner drive to do well for your men.
Another overlap: I discovered the Manosphere a couple years ago. This book hits on many of the relationship challenges for men, which is the topic of the Manosphere sites like Return of Kings. The Manosphere has little to do with my life, but I’m appalled at what has happened to America’s women and I admire the men of the Manosphere helping others with this counter-intuitive environment. You’ll experience these frustrations through Walton in raw detail.
My wife asked me if this the book is fiction or non-fiction. Good question. I think the answer is “yes.” It appears to be an autobiography written in third person. The only distraction this caused me was my own constant interruption: “I wish I could write like this.” If there was any fiction here - anything made up - I didn’t catch it. There are parts I wished were not true.
Unlike the Vietnam books I’ve read, combat is only a small part of this book. You’ll watch Walton on pass, chasing girls, preparing for deployment, and going to war. You’ll learn the infantryman’s modern tasking (in Afghanistan) and you’ll come to agree with Walton’s opinions on this - some critical of the strategy, some not. You’ll see Walton post-deployment, re-uniting with family and friends, and watch him develop powerful feelings and opinions that only a returning soldier could form.
This book is for men. The author does not filter the conversations and topics for a wider audience. This is the infantry and these are American men in their prime. You might notice the book is written in three parts with the first part raw in the areas of dating, sex and warrior camaraderie. The second part is more about the unit’s experiences, it’s interactions, and the maturing of Walton. The third part starts in the last 20 or so pages and is more reflective. Parts one and two were top quality. I did not enjoy the third part as much, partly because I did not agree (or want to agree) with the bitterness of some conclusions, and partly because it felt like a rush job to finish the book.
My top takeaway: Breakfast with the Dirt Cult is yet another reminder that America’s best are always found in the military. In some ways it is the same old Army I knew in the 80’s. In some ways, it is all new.
I highly recommend this book to men in the military and veterans, and I suggest all men give this book a try. There is far more in it than just a military story.
I’ve added this book to the Library section at the left of the blog. Here is a Google Document with some choice quotes from the book.
You can buy the book here.
U/T: Samuel Finlay and WRSA