The Year in Reviews
A different take on the end-of-year story
December is the month of holidays and “year in review” stories and posts. From news organizations to relatives, people churn out articles and missives about the top news stories of the year, the notable passings, or the often cringe-inducing humble brags of the family travels and achievements of questionable significance.
I’m taking a different approach, compiling a “year in reviews” to make one last sales pitch for my book Passport Stamps before the end of the year.
That’s because other than the 20 to 30 copies I have sold directly, I have yet to receive a dime for any book sales. As I am with an independent publisher, my deal did not include an advance, and I get paid annually in the spring for the previous year’s sales.
So, if someone buys a book in the next three days, I will get paid for it sometime in the spring. If a buyer waits until January 1, 2024, I won’t see any proceeds until spring 2025. Thus, you can see why I want to cram in all the sales I can before the ball drops.
Plus, I spent 14 months with no salary or income beyond Substack subscription revenue while writing the book. While I don’t ever expect to ever recover what it cost me to write the book—it was more important to write it to heal and share my story in hopes of helping others—I obviously want to make back as much as I possibly can.
I know that most recipients of this Substack have already purchased the book (thank you), but if you’ve been on the fence, now’s the time to grab a copy. To help convince you, I’ve compiled reviews from Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble. These are real reviews from real readers—many are friends, but they are still independent reviews. There is no better sales pitch for something in life than a testimonial from an actual user.
At the end of this post are links to some of the interviews I’ve done and some other coverage of the book.
Again, if you have read the book, please give it a rating and short review (Amazon, Goodreads, Instagram, etc.) to help inspire others to buy and read and to boost my placement in searches. And please share on your social media (and tag me: Facebook, X, Instagram, LinkedIn). Selling creative work—books, paintings, music—is a viral thing and relies on “word of mouth” for those of us who are not James Patterson or Toni Morrison—or Britney Spears—who sell millions just by name recognition. Please forward this email to anyone you think might enjoy Passport Stamps.
Lastly, I still have copies on hand that I can autograph and personalize if you purchase through this link.
Hope you have had a great holiday season, and best wishes for a happy, healthy, and purposeful 2024!
I very rarely recommend a book to others but Passport Stamps: Searching the World for a War to Call Home, is outstanding. The author is a former colleague. To me, a retired military officer, he’s a rare journalist who “gets it” regarding war. Sean is also a great guy and one hell of a writer. I can hear his voice in the pages. It’s a riveting and funny book, deep but not depressing, especially considering the topics. Fantastic writing by a guy who has truly seen and done it all.
Sean doesn’t hold back in this chronicle of his quest for danger and earning the credentials as a “real” war journalist. He is honest and self-effacing. It’s also a page turner because of all of his adventures. I love it!
I’ve known Sean since we were both fairly young and have followed his radio career since I unexpectedly heard him reporting from Iceland on my own public radio station. If you’ve heard him speak either in real life or on the radio, you’ll probably do as I did and read this book with his made for “NPR voice” in your head.
This book is fascinating, deep and darkly comedic, full of cultural references from our generation, and a raw autobiography of what Sean went through over the last 15-20 years, all while chasing his tribe through places many of us will never visit. His years as a parachute journalist and then in more permanent positions including as NPR's last correspondent in Kabul, he takes us along for the good, the bad, the 'too much information zone', the very scary and everything in between.
He informs us of the awful realities of the political public relations stunts that are pulled daily around the globe and in DC. If not for his candid reporting of what he saw at times, we all might believe what we were sold on TV regarding these various conflicts. I appreciate how he explains things to the layperson and this book is very readable and very candid.
He and Squeak returned to the states, but he was not the same person I first heard reporting from hot springs in Iceland or played in the high school band with. He is deeply changed and impacted by years of suppressing what he has seen, who he has interviewed and the death and destruction along the way.
If the task of writing this book has helped him process his experiences and the psychological implications of having worked in war zones, then it has done a better job than his employers who let him down. The lack of support and training for journalists working in war zones is appalling and hopefully may be improved upon this publication. He's clearly shown a need for mental health training for journalists and makes you think about what the voices on the air each day are going through, behind the scenes. I encourage everyone to grab a copy of this book.
Sean Carberry has been to some of the worst places in the world - in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere - to tell the stories of the human cost of war in the various conflicts of the early 21st Century. This book takes you the behind the camera (or, in his case, microphone), as he illustrates the mental and emotional toll that this critical work can take on a person.
It's also a highly relatable story about searching for purpose in life and a sense of belonging, both of which always seem to be just out of reach. A story that might otherwise seem depressing is told with a wry, dark humor, peppered with the rapid-fire pop culture references of a Dennis Miller combined with the casual profanity of an Andrew Dice Clay. This book is both an adventure and a learning experience - 5 stars no question!
This book is hard to put down after turning the first page. It is an honest look inside the mind of someone breaking into the ranks of earning the title of foreign correspondent. I personally worked with Sean when he was later employed by the U.S. Government. As someone who has served as a USAID contractor working in some of the places mentioned (Afghanistan, Iraq) in the book, I recommend others with the same experience to have a look. I am also a non-combat military veteran who has been deployed to the Middle East in the early '90s, but I will always remember a saying that other international development sector contractors told me in Iraq in 2012: "the only people that get into this line of work are Misfits, Mercenaries, and Missionaries--you can choose two but not all three." I think they were wrong. This book brought back memories of working in those places shows how we can all resemble or relate to those three M's in some way, and our motivations for doing so.
A very open and revealing book about the journey of a foreign correspondent in some of the most frightening places on earth including war zones. It is warts and all. The author, Sean Carberry, a former NPR reporter doesn’t spare any details including his own mental-health challenges that can understandably read at times like a soldier’s memoir. It is entertaining, engaging, very accessible and sobering. The self-deprecating humor humanizes the storytelling. I loved it and it doesn’t require an interest in reading about reporting in world hot spots to enjoy.
There's a joke about expats working in danger zones overseas - they are all escaping one of the three M's: a marriage, a mortgage, or murder. Sean Carberry's memoir describes how for many foreign correspondents, that joke isn't far off the mark. He captures the multifaceted motivations that drew a rookie reporter to cover conflict, the mistakes he made, and the long-term consequences that persist now that he has returned home. (And I promise, he's not a murderer!) An important read for anyone who is interested in working in conflict zones or who cares about where their news comes from.
This story of an overseas correspondent looking for “a war to call home” really pulls back the curtains on what it’s like to report on stories in war-torn countries. This no self-promoting “look at me the brave hero” story. It’s a fascinating story of the journey of a man braving danger to tell stories and the toll that can take. Carberry doesn’t pull any punches on anyone, even himself, in this compelling and raw book.
Sean shows a unique insider perspective of being a War correspondent. I remember hearing him on NPR, sounding clear, intelligent and polished. This book also lifts up the struggle with mental health for war journalists and the support they give each other.
This is a powerful read. What happens when someone experiences personal emotional trauma and then inserts himself into some of the most unstable environments around the world? When you circle the globe in search of the boom-boom you are likely to eventually experience some boom-boom. This is a compelling story of the author’s search for purpose and meaning and the explosive life experiences that resulted.
Learning the back story about how the stories we hear from conflicts around the world get to us is compelling and often the description of what happens behind the scenes may say more about a region/conflict than the story that gets reported. This book provides extremely useful knowledge and a new perspective into world politics and reporting.
I learned a lot about the life of a war correspondent and have a greater appreciation for the incredibly difficult job this is and the toll the work takes. I appreciated the honesty the author displayed and the accountability for his actions. He was candid about what he learned, his inexperience early on and how he grew and matured through his many experiences.
A good mix of humor, reality, and memoir.
Some of the experiences were too detailed for me (not too graphic, just too much detail) but it was easy to skim through and appreciate the overall experiences he had.
I have a whole new appreciation for war correspondents as I read the news of the current war.
An honest, frank, and sometimes funny account of the author's time as a war correspondent, this book tells the highly personal tale of 15 years covering war in the Middle East. The tone is conversational, making the reader feel more like a trusted friend than a spectator. The author also makes a convincing case for the need for increased awareness of the mental health toll (and appropriate care) on not only the military but also those who follow them.
Of immense value to readers with an interest in contemporary battlefield journalism, "Passport Stamps: Searching the World for a War to Call Home" is as inherently fascinating as it is impressively informative. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Passport Stamps" is a unique and unreservedly recommended addition to professional, community, and academic library Journalism collections and supplemental curriculum studies lists. It should be noted for journalism students, academia, and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "Passport Stamps" is also readily available in a digital book format.
Review in the Cipher Brief — it’s not a glowing review, but it does capture some of the dilemmas, or tensions, in the book about writing contemporaneously versus after years of reflection.
As a war correspondent, Carberry probably knows full well the paradox of writing the first version of contemporary history. For maximum impact, he should have written about his travels and experiences as he was living them, i.e., in the midst of the global war on terror, mostly. However, that is not always possible nor desirable. On the contrary, proper healing, as for research and investigations done internally, requires time, distance and a good dose of introspection.
Carberry’s story also reminds us that the human mind and its emotional memories can be tricky things to process or simply acknowledge, especially following multiple traumatic circumstances and situations. In the meantime, history keeps marching on.
Adapted piece in The Atlantic (requires subscription of some kind)
Excerpt on Current.org (free, but registration required)
Interview on the A2 Podcast