Drawing on complete, unprecedented access to West Point and its cadets, David Lipsky explores the academy's rich history, describes the demanding regimen that swallows students' days, and examines the Point as a reflection of our society. Is it a quaint anachronism, or does it still embody the ideals of equality, honesty, and loyalty that moved Theodore Roosevelt to proclaim it the most "absolutely American" institution? Lipsky tackles these questions through superbly crafted portraits of cadets and the elite officers who mold them, following them into classrooms, barracks, mess halls, and military exercises. His reportage extends from 1998 through 2002, arguably the most eventful four years in West Point history. He witnesses the end of hazing, the arrival of TV and telephones in dorm rooms, the exposure and concealment of several scandals, and the dramatic aftermath of 9/11. He depicts young people of every race and class, and details a rigorous training program that erases their preconceptions and makes them a tight-knit community.
Lipsky jumps around back and forth through the book covering the lives, trials, and tribulations of a select number of cadets in various stages of graduation or attempted graduation. We get a brief covering of the alphas who achieve as they have before they got there. More focus is reserved for the chronic screw ups, one in particular George Rash. This guy is a monument to failure and it begs the question how did he ever get there in the first place? The standards and weeding process if very very tough. Yet George gets in and from start to finish struggles to make the grade yet he perseveres to the bitter end, well success actually. It doesn't leave one with a very good feeling about the quality they are putting into our armed forces as an officer. Yet this is just one guy and presumably the majority are the successes.
The plus side was you do get a feeling for what these young people go through and the many tough decisions they face with this inexperience. Many will make their parents and us citizens proud and make make us feel good about our great country and the character it builds.