Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime

Ben Blum. Doubleday, $28.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-385-53843-5
This engrossing true-crime saga follows a twisting labyrinth of confused and suspect motivations. In 2006 Blum’s cousin Alex Blum, a straight-arrow 19-year-old in an elite Army Ranger battalion, was the getaway driver in an armed robbery of a Tacoma bank involving four accomplices, one of whom was a higher-ranking Ranger named Luke Elliott Sommer. Alex’s arrest shocked his family, as did his unlikely excuse: he thought the robbery was a special-ops training exercise he had to participate in. Trying to make sense of this, Blum embarked on a years-long quest to suss out the factors that shaped Alex’s actions: his adulation of the military; the sadistic Ranger training regimen that turned recruits into obedient killers (in 2010 Alex went on Dr. Phil as a poster boy for psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s theory of “coercive social influence” in military culture); and the malign authority of Sommer, a charismatic but troubled man whose schemes embodied Ranger machismo and who gets a fascinating profile from the author. In a triumph of subtle reportage, Blum sleuths through the mind games enshrouding the heist while painting sympathetic but clear-eyed portraits of its perpetrators; the result is an unsettling dissection of the moral corruptions, small and great, that bedevil the culture of military honor. Agent: Tina Bennett, William Morris Endeavor. (Sept.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review listed the incorrect literary agency.

Reviewed on: 05/29/2017
Release date: 09/12/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 432 pages - 978-0-385-68142-1
Compact Disc - 978-0-8041-6605-8
Paperback - 672 pages - 978-0-525-52812-8
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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