The Fifth Act: America’s End in Afghanistan

By Elliot Ackerman

A Times Political Book of the Year 2022

A powerful and revelatory eyewitness account of the American collapse in Afghanistan, its desperate endgame, and the war’s echoing legacy.

Elliot Ackerman left the American military ten years ago, but his time in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Marines and, later, as a CIA paramilitary officer marked him indelibly. When the Taliban began to close in on Kabul in August of 2021 and the Afghan regime began its death spiral, he found himself pulled back into the conflict. The official evacuation process was a bureaucratic failure that led to a humanitarian catastrophe. Ackerman was drawn into an impromptu effort to arrange flights and negotiate with both Taliban and American forces to secure the safe evacuation of hundreds. These were desperate measures taken during a desperate end to America’s longest war, but the success they achieved afforded a degree of redemption: and, for Ackerman, a chance to reconcile his past with his present.

The Fifth Act is an astonishing human document that brings the weight of twenty years of war to bear on a single week at its bitter end. Using the dramatic rescue efforts in Kabul as his lattice, Ackerman weaves in a personal history of the war’s long progress, beginning with the initial invasion in the months after 9/11.

It is a play in five acts with a tragic denouement. Any reader who wants to understand what went wrong with the war’s trajectory will find a trenchant accounting here. And yet The Fifth Act is not an exercise in finger-pointing: it brings readers into close contact with a remarkable group of characters, who fought the war with courage and dedication, in good faith and at great personal cost. Understanding combatants’ experiences and sacrifices demands reservoirs of wisdom and the gifts of an extraordinary storyteller. In Elliot Ackerman, this story has found that author.The Fifth Act is a first draft of history that feels like a timeless classic.

Format: ebook
Release Date: 09 Aug 2022
Pages: None
ISBN: 978-0-00-853269-7
ELLIOT ACKERMAN is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels 2034, Red Dress In Black and White, Waiting for Eden, Dark at the Crossing, and Green on Blue, as well as the memoir Places and Names: On War, Revolution and Returning. His books have been nominated for the National Book Award, the Andrew Carnegie Medal in both fiction and nonfiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize among others. He is both a former White House Fellow and Marine, and served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart. He divides his time between New York City and Washington, D.C.


‘Both an intellectual and a man of action… [Ackerman] tells the story of the ‘clusterf**k’ unfolding as he holidays in Venice with his children. This conjunction of banality and evil is very striking’ The Sunday Telegraph -

‘[Ackerman] writes with power and raw honesty about how combat leaves no-one untouched and the survivors guilty… Ackerman takes this story far beyond the wars he fought and focuses on the changes the US has been through in 20 years…The Fifth Act is not just about collapse abroad, but a warning about collapse at home’The Times, Tom Tugendhat, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee -

”'During the chaotic US 'fighting retreat” - from Kabul in August 2022, the writer, a former Marine, desperately tried to extract Afghan interpreters and others who had served with the US military and diplomatic corps…The stories of the evacuation attempts …are extraordinarily affecting’TLS

”'The quality of the writing stands out. . . . part of a distinguished and growing literature by American veterans trying to understand the experience of those who served. . . . The Fifth Act’s contribution to understanding the war lies foremost in passages of reflection and well-chosen quotes . . . They give pause and offer a window into deeper thought” - Washington Post

‘[Ackerman] has a unique ability to center his and his comrades’ lived experience within the larger historical continuum’ Washington Review of Books -

‘The Fifth Act is among the best books about war that I've ever read’Michael Morell, former Director, CIA -

‘The American betrayal of Afghanistan took twenty years. Elliot Ackerman, a participant and witness, tells the story with unsparing honesty in this intensely personal chronicle’George Packer -