In January 1967, Robert Timberg was a short-timer, counting down the days until his combat tour ended. He had thirteen days to go before he got to go back home to his wife in Southern California. That homecoming would eventually happen, but not in thirteen days, and not as the person he once was. The moment his vehicle struck a Vietcong land mine divided his life into before and after.
He survived, barely, with third-degree burns over his face and much of his body. It would have been easy to give up. Instead, Robert Timberg began an arduous and uncertain struggle back—not just to physical recovery, but to a life of meaning. Remarkable as his return to health was—he endured thirty-five operations, one without anesthesia—just as remarkable was his decision to reinvent himself as a journalist and enter one of the most public of professions. Blue-Eyed Boy is a gripping, occasionally comic account of what it took for an ambitious man, aware of his frightful appearance but hungry for meaning and accomplishment, to master a new craft amid the pitying stares and shocked reactions of many he encountered on a daily basis.
By the 1980s, Timberg had moved into the upper ranks of his profession, having secured a prestigious Nieman Fellowship at Harvard and a job as White House correspondent for The Baltimore Sun. Suddenly his work brought his life full circle: the Iran-Contra scandal broke. At its heart were three fellow Naval Academy graduates and Vietnam-era veterans, Oliver North, Bud McFarlane, and John Poindexter. Timberg’s coverage of that story resulted in his first book, The Nightingale’s Song, a powerful work of narrative nonfiction that follows these three academy graduates and two others—John McCain and Jim Webb—from Annapolis through Vietnam and into the Reagan years. In Blue-Eyed Boy, Timberg relates how he came to know and develop a deep understanding of these five men, and how their stories helped him understand the ways the Vietnam War and the furor that swirled around it continued to haunt him, and the nation as a whole, as they still do even now, nearly four decades after its dismal conclusion.
Like others of his generation, Robert Timberg had to travel an unexpectedly hard and at times bitter road. In facing his own life with the same tools of wisdom, human empathy, and storytelling grit he has always brought to his journalism, he has produced one of the most moving and important memoirs of our time.
“In a crisp, unsentimental style, Timberg … traces his long postwar journey from the hospital ward to the newsroom—or, as he puts it, ‘Remember[ing] how I decided not to die….’ Wisdom resonates throughout Blue-Eyed Boy, a fierce and enthralling memoir….‘I suspect there’s something essentially human about what I fought my way through,’ he writes in the book’s prologue. That only begins to hint at the fullness of his life’s journey. This is vital reading.”
U.S. News & World Report:
“In a clear confiding voice, [Timberg’s] autobiography Blue-Eyed Boy speaks to you like an American Proust, straight from the start: ‘Falling asleep is never a problem for me. Waking up always is.’ As he approached age 70, he at last let himself look back at the jagged scenery of his life….There’s a hardwon beauty in those crevices…. Timberg’s memoir is a searing loss of innocence tale, one that may address a wider swath of college baby boomers in the 1960s than he thought. Whatever side you were on when it came to the Vietnam War, it ended badly. Nobody won. America suffered a shattering loss of innocence over that war, starting in 1967, the year Timberg—who goes by ‘Bob’—lost the man in the mirror. Then comes the best part of his journey: a mordant tale told of adult resurrection.”
The American Conservative:
“Blue-Eyed Boy, the just-released memoir by wounded veteran and journalist Robert Timberg, excels with limpid writing and gripping personal travail and triumph, never once hinting at or lamenting what-might-have-been, even as it admirably meets all the requisites of an exemplary memoir….Forcing the reader to seriously ponder obligations and responsibilities to one’s country and society, Blue-Eyed Boy is a welcome tonic, an elixir of life delivered with hard-hitting flesh-and-blood reality. Refreshingly honest in depicting less than admirable personal behavior, Timberg is equally blunt in recounting the arduously difficult and tortuously slow road to mental, psychological, and physical recovery. In spite of numerous setbacks and indignities in the struggle to cope and ‘come back,’ Timberg thrives as much in his writing as he has in life.”
“A fascinating look at how tragedy that would make most men crumble instead drove the author to survive, and on many levels to succeed….[A] fast moving, crisply written memoir.”
“An empathetic and extremely candid memoir from a man who decided ‘to remember how I decided not to die…not let my future die.'”
“This thoroughly absorbing autobiography really begins with the author’s life-altering experience of being badly wounded (and severely and permanently disfigured) as a marine officer in Vietnam….. Timberg will strike many readers as demonstrating the truth of the notion that ‘genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains’—although, in Timberg’s case, he first had to demonstrate a large capacity for enduring pain.”
Curled Up with a Good Book:
“This is an extraordinary tale of a remarkable boy with more courage and determination than any ten normal men. It will make you cry and make your own petty problems disappear completely.”
“If you only have time to read one memoir right now, make it Blue-Eyed Boy. Bob Timberg lived through what an exploding land mine did to him as a young Marine lieutenant in Vietnam. It changed forever most everything about him, including the way he looked. The story he tells superbly and honestly is one of pain and suffering, resilience and recovery that I promise will also stay forever with and within you. I hereby salute this stunning piece of work and invite you to do the same.”
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist, PBS NewsHour:
“If, as the proverb teaches, an honest man fears neither the light nor the dark, Bob Timberg, the author of this unsparingly honest memoir, must be fearless. This is his compelling story of suffering and redemption, of passion and courage, the story of one flawed and fallible, but ultimately admirable man who sustained grievous wounds in combat but managed to rebuild his life and make it matter. This is a gripping and honest book written by an honored journalist who is an honest man. Blue-Eyed Boy, I can almost guarantee, will make you cry, make you laugh, and make you think.”
Mark Bowden, New York Times bestselling author of Black Hawk Down:
“To say that war scars a man for life is a cliché, but for Bob Timberg it is a cliché that came excruciatingly true. In one searing moment on a well-traveled trail in Vietnam, a land mine exploded beneath his vehicle and left him hideously scarred. Timberg has lived with that long ago war every day since. His fight to rebuild his face, and to carve out a normal life and admirable career is as real and courageous a war story as you will ever read.”
Nathaniel Fick, New York Times bestselling author of One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer:
“Bob Timberg’s Blue-Eyed Boy is a homecoming story in the tradition of The Odyssey. The road back after combat is long, and Timberg brings his fortunate readers on a deeply personal journey that is also the journey of a generation. It’s a special book by a special man, and I am glad to have read it.”
John S. Carroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun:
“Blue-Eyed Boy is Robert Timberg’s candid and compelling memoir of courage on the battlefield and sustained heroism over the decades to follow. Terribly wounded as a young Marine officer in Vietnam, he reclaims his life in faltering steps. Eventually finding a calling as an author, he illuminates the deep rift in American public life between those who served and those who did not.”