Book Review: Fearless

“As a rule, we don’t endorse books or movies or anything regarding the command where I work—and Adam Brown worked—but as the author writes in Fearless, ‘you have to know the rules, so you know when to bend or break them.’ This is one of those times.  Read this book. Period. It succeeds where all the others have failed.”  –Anonymous SEAL Team SIX Operator

FearlessIf you have any lingering interest in the modern military and how it wages war, it is hard to ignore an endorsement like that. And of course SEAL Team Six is now well-known as the group who finally got Osama Bin Laden, an event that happens after this book’s narrative arc. Yet Fearless is so much more than a military book; it is a story about redemption, sacrifice, heroism, and ultimately faith and its power to endure. The strongest compliment I can give this book is to say that Adam Brown’s life, what he overcame and what he willingly did, is something that will haunt me for some time.

Author Eric Blehm resists the urge to start Adam’s story where so many other Navy Seal books have begun- at BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL). He starts at the true beginning, with a boy from Hot Springs, Arkansas. A boy, who we learn right from the start, was fearless, much to his parents’ dismay. From family stories about needing to cut the legs off of his crib so that when he inevitably escaped, the fall wouldn’t be so hard, to leaping off of his parent’s roof as a kid, or out of a moving car and off of a bridge in high school, we are left with no doubt that Adam was one of those rare adrenaline junkies who constantly push themselves and those around them. But Adam was more than just a dare devil, he was also the boy who would stand up to bullies who outweighed him by fifty pounds, and who would ask the developmentally-delayed girl to dance at the prom when he thought she looked lonely. It is hard not to like him and wish you had known him then.

As entertaining and endearing as reading about Adam’s childhood exploits is, the real drama of Fearless begins after his high school graduation. It is at this point that his life takes a drastic turn for the worse. While most of his high school friends go off to college, Adam only lasts one semester, and in that short time really loses his way. Alcohol, marijuana and a sense of pointless drifting lead him to eventually take up residence in the crack houses on the edge of town. Blehm does such a great job making you like Adam throughout those first few chapters that this portion of the book is hard to read. You find yourself alternately feeling bad for him, then wanting to strangle him for what he is doing to himself and to his family.

However, it is from this place of ultimate depravity that Adam Brown’s life finds its purpose. Through friends who just won’t give up, parents who apply tough love, even though it nearly rips them apart to do so, to a local pastor who shows him a way out, Adam finds himself going from a jail cell to a place that offers his last chance at hope: Teen Challenge. This Christian faith-based program provides drug and alcohol rehabilitation services to people of all ages completely free of charge. (Full disclosure: this is my family’s primary charity, and I have seen what kind of changes this program can produce. Suffice to say this only added to the book’s appeal for me.)

While Adam’s struggles with addiction will continue for many years, this was his turning point. Soon after graduating from Teen Challenge he meets the woman who will become his wife and decides what he wants to do with his life. From this point on his life is directed by his faith and his desire to become a Navy SEAL. At this point we get the more traditional part of a SEAL story. We vicariously go through BUD/S, sniper school and eventually United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU. This last is a group whose activities are not commented on by the government, and is more generally known by its older name, SEAL Team Six- a name that should be familiar to anyone following the news over the past couple years.

As Adam travels up through the various levels of the Special Forces world, his rise is met with one obstacle after another. I won’t ruin the story by giving details here, but based on the interviews Blehm does with Adam’s former teammates, Adam gained more respect and admiration than just about anyone by overcoming what was thrown in his path. But this is not just a gung-ho, can-do soldier. The reader sees Adam grow into a humble, self-effacing, and deeply religious man. He becomes know as much for his effort to provide shoes for hundreds of poor Afghan children as he does for his classified black ops missions where he defied death countless times. His fellow soldiers admire him not only for his ability to rise to the absolute heights of the Special Forces, but for his ability to remain a devoted husband and father while so many others struggle to hold on to family life while doing the kind of work that they do. He was a warrior who would drop into the middle of hell in the black of night, and smile, because under his body armor he had on the superman underwear his kids gave him for Christmas- underwear that would be with him until the end.

The full title of this book is Fearless: The UndauntedCourage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown, and with this we know how the story will end. Knowing somehow makes it all the more poignant to read. Adam would be about my age, his kids just about the same as mine, and it was hard not to personalize some of the intense scenes that occur toward the end of this book. I think the best way to summarize Adam Brown is to share a quote from one of his favorite books, and one that was with him on his last op, Tender Warrior:

“A warrior is one who possesses high moral standards and holds to high principles. He is willing to live by them, stand for them, spend himself in them, and, if necessary, die for them.”

At his funeral one of his teammates shared this quote saying, “Adam was the rarest and truest of warriors in that he combined fierce and unwavering resolve on the battlefield with a deep and genuine compassion off of it.”

This, I think, is a fitting legacy. Fearless, a book I can highly recommend, is a fitting tribute.