Book Review: The Profession by Steven Pressfield

The Profession by Steven Pressfield

We should begin this review with “Full Disclosure“:

I just finished reading The Profession by Steven Pressfield, which I enjoyed a great deal. Steve sent me an earlier draft doc of the book and I consider Steve a friend. Furthermore, in an extremely gracious gesture, Steve granted me (or at least the novelist’s equivalent to a walk-on cameo appearance in his book. Therefore, if you the reader believe that I cannot review this book objectively…well….you are right. It’s not possible 🙂 . Here are some other reviews by Shlok Vaidya, Greyhawk of Mudville Gazette and Kirkus if you want greater impartiality.

Nor am I going to delve into the mechanics of the plot structure and action sequence in The Profession. For one, I think too much of the story in a review of a work of fiction spoils the enjoyment for the group of readers who would be most interested. And you can get the blow by blow elsewhere.

Instead, I would like to draw your attention to how Pressfield has written this novel differently. And why that matters.

There is plenty of action in The Profession and the book really moves. It is violent, but not at a Blood Meridian level of cruelty and the murky political intrigue that surrounds the hero, the mercenary’s mercenary and “pure warrior” Gilbert “Gent” Gentilhomme, is a nice counterpoint to physical combat and technical military details. Many people will enjoy the novel on this level and The Profession would make for an exciting action film. Or perhaps a series of films along the lines of The Bourne Identity or those Tom Clancy movies with Harrison Ford. All well and good. But that is not why The Profession is worth reading – that’s merely why it is fun to read.

What surprised me initially about The Profession was how unlike Killing Rommel it was. Killing Rommel also had war and adventure, but it was a deep study in the character development of Chap, the protagonist, who had enough of a textural, cultural, authenticity as a young gentry class British officer of the WWII period as to make Killing Rommel seem semi-biographical. As a reader, I didn’t much care if Chap and his men succeeded in killing Rommel, only that I would be able to continue to see the story unfold from Chap’s perspective. Many artists believe characters and character interaction are the most important element in a story, from Saul Bellow to Quentin Tarantino. Their stories are captivating even though their narratives are not always particularly logical or centered on a grand conflict.

The Profession is not like that at all. In my view, Pressfield turned his creative energies, his knowledge for military affairs and his formidible ear for history away from character development and toward theme. This difference may or may not explain his own reports of difficulty in wrestling with this novel.

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