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October 25, 2017

Book Notes - John Dolan "The War Nerd Iliad"

The War Nerd Iliad

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

John Dolan's The War Nerd Iliad is a fresh and engaging translation of the Greek classic.

Felipe Gutteriez wrote of the book:

"The War Nerd Iliad draws you deep into a world of flawed gods and fated human beings. In doing so John Dolan invokes the spirit not only of Homer’s world but also of our own. The result is a living Iliad, a tale for telling by the campfire or reading by the fireplace. Writing in his own unique style, Dolan shares with the Zelazny of Creatures of Light and Darkness and the Erikson of the Malazan Books of the Fallen the ability to combine wit and drama, martial thunder and quiet pathos into a wonderful telling of a timeless tale."


In his own words, here is John Dolan's Book Notes music playlist for his book The War Nerd Iliad:



'That's When I Reached for My Revolver' - Mission of Burma

To read The Iliad honestly, you have to abandon a lot of genteel notions. That transition, away from assuming the world and the gods are good, is what this song is about. The fallout from an unkingly dispute between two kings weakens the Greek force and drives the rest of the plot.


'No Mercy' - Altan Urag

The Iliad doesn't start with a battle. It starts with the evil Greek leader Agamemnon being cruel just for fun to an old man trying to ransome his captive daughter. The mood is very sour. The Greeks have been camped on the beach for nine long years. The war is in a stalemate. It's clear the gods are not with them and Agamemnon's cruelty is only making things worse.


'Song to the Siren' sung by This Mortal Coil

Elizabeth Fraser's version of the song catches the tone of Achilles' plea to his demi-goddess mother Thetis. He is going to die. Nothing can change that. All she can do is plead with the more powerful gods to make his death heroic.


'Who Was In My Room Last Night?' - Butthole Surfers

In the third book, Zeus sends a lying dream to Agamemnon to convince him the Greeks will win. The idea of a malicious, god-sent dream inspired my choice of this heavy, hypnotic track, which manages to convey Zeus's malicious intent and Agamemnon's crude violence.


'Search and Destroy' - The Stooges

In book five, Athena selects Diomedes as her hero of the day, 'suffusing every cell in his body with her relentless will' to kill as many Trojans as possible. Thanks to her divine strength, he even manages to give Ares a flesh wound. For one book, at least, Diomedes is a real 'runaway son of a nuclear A-bomb'.


'Monster' - Chad VanGaalen

In the middle of a particularly violent battle, Ajax momentarily loses it--he is overcome with fear and panic, 'something is rising inside him, a huge scream that will never stop. Now he can only see burst guts and spraying arteries.'


'Amed Newrozu' - Cerxa Sorese

In book 12 Hector leads the Trojan army up against the Greeks, who are pinned against the shore. The gods, who favor the Trojans, fill them with bloody confidence. When Hector urges them on the Trojans cheer, their fear gone, ready to attack.


'Mon Coeur S'ouvre a ta voix' - Saint-Saëns

In Book 14, Hera exerts all her charms (and even borrows some from Afroditi) to seduce her husband Zeus, intending to distract him from the battlefield so her beloved Greeks can get ahead. This sultry, sexy aria is taken from a scene of the opera Samson et Delila, where Dalilah attempts to seduce Samson so he will reveal the secret of his strength.


'The Heroes' Gate at Kiev' from Pictures at an Exhibition - Modest Mussorgsky

One of the most beautiful moments in the book is when Hephaestus presents a new shield to Thetis and its wonders are described in haunting detail. The description of a work of -- ekphrasis also applies to Mussorgsky's piece, inspired by plans for a monumental gate designed by artist and architect Viktor Hartman that would have been 'in the ancient Russian massive style with a cupola shaped like a Slavic helmet' – a Homeric combination of beauty and military grandeur.


'Otryad Ne Zametil' - Yegor Letov

A death ballad about hopeless, pointless sacrifice 'a moth flies into the flame/the dead don't rise/the blind don't see/the sleepers don't waken' –an appropriate dirge for the death of Hector.


John Dolan and The War Nerd Iliad links:

the author's Wikipedia entry
the author's Radio War Nerd podcast

3hattergrindhouse review


also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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