Named One of the Most Fascinating Books WIRED Read in 2020
Bulletproof Vest is at once an introspective journey into the properties and precisions of a bulletproof vest on a molecular level and on the world stage.
It is also an ode to living precariously, an open letter that defends the notion that life is worth the risk.
"Nothing's bulletproof," the salesman said. "The thing's only bullet resistant."
New York Times journalist Kenneth R. Rosen had just purchased his first bulletproof vest and was headed off on assignment in Iraq. He was travelling into the city of Mosul when he came to realize that the idea of a bulletproof vest is more effective than the vest itself.
From its very inception, poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide, as the chemical compound of Kevlar is known, was meant for tires. Its humble roots and applications are often lost to the colloquialism of the word, now synonymous with body armor, war zones and domestic terrorism.
But in fact, Kevlar is used as a material in more than 200 applications, including tennis rackets, skis, and parachute lines.
What Rosen learned through an intimate use of his bulletproof vest was that it acts as a metaphor for all the precautions we take toward digital, physical, and social security; at their most extreme, bulletproof vests represent a human desire to forge ahead.
Other Praise for Bulletproof Vest
“In Bulletproof Vest, Rosen explores the significance of this war zone accessory with compelling nuance and knowledge of military history. Perhaps more impressive, though, is his willingness to explore the relationship between military protective gear and human vulnerability.” – LA Review of Books
“For the author, a lifelong sufferer of anxiety, the idea of a bulletproof vest (or a 'bullet resistant' one, as the salesman reminded him) suggested a potent metaphor for humanity's relationship to violence, security, and mortality. His book mixes his own wartime accounts from Iraq and Syria with discussions of anxiety and the history of body armor; along the way, Rosen seeks to describe just what he was trying to banish when he put on his vest. The author's prose alternates between being confessional and informative … Over the course of this reliably tense book, Rosen does a wonderful job of emphasizing the destructive power of warfare by framing his thoughts around accounts of being a noncombatant in a war zone. Overall, it's a quick read but one with great impact, as it asks its audience not only to think about protective vests, but also about the soft, vulnerable things that they're meant to protect. A compelling, thoughtful dive into the pursuit of being bulletproof.” – Kirkus Reviews
“Rosen, war-reporter, journalist, abyss-looker, intuiter of the human spirit, presents the materials of war, stitches them together in a fascinating story that shows no matter how tight and polymeric the jacket, the true dangers of war are the mental wounds that go straight to your head. His insights into war do what they can to protect us from those wounds – but like the vest, offer an imperfect protection. Thankfully, Rosen's words are near perfect and perfectly moving.”
– Nicole Walker, Professor of English at Northern Arizona University, USA, and author of Sustainability: A Love Story (2018)
“A tense but beautifully written frontlines study of war in the fashion of Michael Herr's Vietnam era book 'Dispatches.'”
– The Day (Conn.)
2020 tour & appearances
4/16 @ 6 p.m. (Virtual)
Bank Square Books
53 West Main St.
Mystic, CT 06355
4/17 @ 2:35 p.m.
The Natasha Hall Show
4/22 @ 7 p.m. *
A Cappella Books
208 Haralson Ave NE.
Atlanta, GA 30307
4/23 @ 3 p.m. *
Tall Tales Book Shop Inc.
2105 Lavista Rd. #108
Atlanta, GA 30329
5/1 @ 7 p.m. *
1302 N. Third St.
Harrisburg, PA 17102
3321 State St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
5/9 @ 7 p.m. *
126 N Larchmont Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90004
5/16 @ 1 p.m. *
332 Stockbridge Rd.
Great Barrington, MA 01230
5/22 @ 7 p.m. (Virtual)
6/15 @ 7 p.m. (Virtual)
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02138
9/17 @ 7 p.m. (Virtual)
686 Fulton St.
Brooklyn, NY 11217
* = appearance cancelled or postponed
coverage, excerpts, and reviews
Necessary Protection: Erica Wright interviews Kenneth R. Rosen (Los Angeles Review of Books)
The Long, Fraught History of the Bulletproof Vest (Smithsonian Magazine)
The Illusion of Perfect Protection (WIRED)
Where Journalists Prepare for the Worst the World Can Throw at Us (Narratively)
Reliably tense ... A quick read but one with great impact ... A compelling, thoughtful dive into the pursuit of being bulletproof. (Kirkus)
In Searching for Dead ISIS Fighters in Iraq, I Found Refuge in My Friends (Newsweek)
Bulletproof Coffee to Bulletproof Vest: An Object Lessons Interview (The Millions)