Roy Scranton

Roy Scranton is the author of the novel War Porn (Soho Press, 2016) and the philosophical essay Learning to Die in the Anthropocene (City Lights, 2015). His journalism, essays, fiction, poetry, and reviews have been published in The Nation, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, LIT, Boston Review, Prairie Schooner, Los Angeles Review of Books, Contemporary Literature, The Appendix, and elsewhere. He is also one of the editors of Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War (Da Capo, 2013). He holds a Ph.D. in English from Princeton and an M.A. from the New School for Social Research, and teaches creative writing in the Department of English at the University of Notre Dame.


24 January 2017


“War porn,” n. Videos, images, and narratives featuring graphic violence, often brought back from combat zones, viewed voyeuristically or for emotional gratification. Such media are often presented and circulated without context, though they may be used as evidence of war crimes.

War porn is also, in Roy Scranton’s searing debut novel, a metaphor for the experience of war in the age of the War on Terror, the fracturing and fragmentation of perspective, time, and self that afflicts soldiers and civilians alike, and the global networks and face-to-face moments that suture our fragmented lives together. In War Porn three lives fit inside one another like nesting dolls: a restless young woman at an end-of-summer barbecue in Utah; an American soldier in occupied Baghdad; and Qasim al-Zabadi, an Iraqi math professor, who faces the US invasion of his country with fear, denial, and perseverance. AsWar Porn cuts from America to Iraq and back again, as home and hell merge, we come to see America through the eyes of the occupied, even as we see Qasim become a prisoner of the occupation. Through the looking glass of War Porn, Scranton reveals the fragile humanity that connects Americans and Iraqis, torturers and the tortured, victors and their victims.

"What impresses is the brutal immediacy of the writing, its authority. Roy Scranton is a truth telling war writer."
—E.L. Doctorow, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Ragtime and The March

"War Porn is dire, savage, and brilliant, a simmering fever-dream of a novel that's as pure and true in its vision of the long war as anything I've read. Roy Scranton is merciless—and why should he be anything but? War's corruption soaks through every layer of life, and War Porn drives home that truth with unflinching, and ultimately harrowing, honesty."
—Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

“Roy Scranton’s searingly honestly first novel is surreal, ultra-real, and like everything he writes from the heart. This examination of the tragedy of what happened in Iraq reaches out to touch of all us. A brilliant literary achievement.”
—Jeff VanderMeer, New York Times Best Selling author of Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy

"This book is truly unique—true in its fidelity to fact, unique in the depth of its empathy. In prose that rises to aphoristic, coruscating brilliance, Iraq vet Roy Scranton has painted, in words, the equivalent of Goya's war etchings. A rare and genuine masterpiece."
—Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, author of The Watch and The Storyteller of Marrakesh

“Roy Scranton makes us feel the brutalizing affects of war on both Iraqi civilians and American soldiers from the inside out. War Porn seduces, then delivers a sucker-punch no one will forget. This is one of the most honest and propaganda-free novels about the Iraq War yet written.” 
—Helen Benedict, author of Sand Queen and The Lonely Soldier

​"​Roy Scranton has created a singular structure to house public and private memory of the long Iraq War. His war stories illuminate, horrify, and seduce. This is a novel of rare ambition—War Porn gripped me as I read it and haunts me still." 
—Hilary Plum, author of They Dragged Them through the Streets

"I have never read a book like War Porn. Roy Scranton writes with unnerving power. There is much to admire here—the meticulous craftsmanship, the hysterical comic passages, the way the sheer audacity of vision is matched at every turn by the innovative skill to carry it out—but what I'm left with at the end is difficult to put into words. It's intense and troubling. It's what all truly excellent literature leaves you with. A sense of something shattering."
—Phil Klay, National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment

"A harrowing novel of the Iraq invasion and occupation, WAR PORN exposes the dark heart of that war for all to see. Brilliant and stark, WAR PORN is that rare book that demands to be read out of sheer significance—a stunning accomplishment."
—Matt Gallagher, author of Youngblood

When the Next Hurricane Hits Texas

Imagine a hurricane, a hurricane like Matthew, aimed straight at the heart of the American petrochemical industry.

Isaiah whirls through the sky, gathering strength from the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters. Beach towns are evacuated. Citizens and companies in Texas’ petro-industrial enclaves from Bayou Vista to Morgan’s Point are warned: Prepare for the worst.

The huge cyclone gathers strength as it nears the barrier islands off the coast, intensifying to Category 4. Hours before landfall, 150 mile-per-hour winds begin pushing water over the Galveston Seawall, and by the time the eye finally hits, Galveston has been flattened by a 20-foot wave.

Isaiah’s monstrous arm reaches across the bay toward Houston, some 50 miles inland, adding water to water, and when it smashes into the Exxon Mobil Baytown refinery, the storm surge is over 25 feet high. (Read more in the New York Times)

‘Star Wars’ and the Fantasy of American Violence

FOR a long time after I came home from the war, fireworks made me jumpy. They sounded like what they are, shrieking rockets and exploding gunpowder, and every Fourth of July set off Alert Level Yellow. I’d crack another beer and try to laugh it off even as the friends I was with turned into ghosts of the soldiers I once knew.

Thirteen years ago, I spent the Fourth of July on the roof of a building in Baghdad that had once belonged to Saddam Hussein’s secret police. Our command had suspended missions for the day, set up a grill and organized a “Star Wars” marathon — the three good ones — in an old auditorium. But George Lucas’s lasers couldn’t compete with the light show playing out across Baghdad, and watching a film about the warriors of an ancient religion rising up from the desert to fight a faceless empire seemed, under the circumstances, perverse.

So instead of “A New Hope,” I watched scenes from Operation Iraqi Freedom... (Read more at the New York Times)

16 February 2016

Choosing War

On Nancy Sherman's Afterwar and Michael Putzel's The Price They Paid...

Whatever one might say about the corrupt boondoggle of Afghanistan, the war in Iraq was an aggressive power grab executed with astonishing idiocy, enriching companies such as Halliburton, DynCorp, Bechtel, and ExxonMobil at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and ongoing, almost incomprehensible human suffering. Anyone doing the moral philosophy of war needs to make sense of what it means to know you have committed evil, not as a victim of “moral injury” but as a perpetrator, and anyone talking about morality and the Iraq War needs to account for the gross irresponsibility, outright lies, and pointless waste of human life that characterized that conflict. What kind of “moral healing” is appropriate for Specialist Lynndie England, who tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib, or Sergeant Frank Wuterich, whose Marines killed twenty-four civilians in Haditha? What about for Colonel Michael D. Steele, whose soldiers testified that he ordered them to “kill all military-age males” in their area, or General George Casey, who, as senior commander in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, oversaw the country’s descent into civil war? What kind of community expresses gratitude for such behavior? Who is the “we” that ought to “integrate” such vile acts? 

(Read more at Dissent)

The New Nature

Nature has always been political. The human-nature binary has shaped politics for centuries,
centuries that saw a handful of Western European nations and the United States (read, “human”) dominate the rest of the world (read, “nature”) through resource extraction, fossil-fueled industrialization, slavery, genocide, and war. That domination hasn’t ended, but the Manichaean ideology behind it has been unsettled by climate change and undermined by the idea of the Anthropocene: that 
Homo sapiens is now a geologic force. “Humans” are radically reshaping “nature,” whether we like it or not. What this means for human agency is perhaps the most urgent challenge the Anthropocene poses.

23 December 2015

We're Doomed. Now What?

There is little reason to hope that we’ll be able to slow down global warming before we pass a tipping point. We’re already one degree Celsius above preindustrial temperatures and there’s another half a degree baked in. The West Antarctic ice sheet is collapsing, Greenland is melting, permafrost across the world is liquefying, and methane has been detected leaking from sea floors and Siberian craters: it’s probably already too late to stop these feedbacks, which means it’s probably already too late to stop apocalyptic planetary warming. Meanwhile the world slides into hate-filled, bloody havoc, like the last act of a particularly ugly Shakespearean tragedy.
Accepting our situation could easily be confused with nihilism. In a nation founded on hope, built with “can do” Yankee grit, and bedazzled by its own technological wizardry, the very idea that something might be beyond our power or that humans have intrinsic limits verges on blasphemy. Right and left, millions of Americans believe that every problem has a solution; suggesting otherwise stirs a deep and often hostile resistance. It’s not so much that accepting the truth of our situation means thinking the wrong thought, but rather thinking the unthinkable. (Read more at the New York Times)

22 October 2015

What I Learned on a Luxury Cruise Through the Global-Warming Apocalypse

To see the Arctic death spiral firsthand, and to see the Arctic before it melted, I took a 17-day “adventure cruise” and learned an inconvenient truth: We can’t make it stop. Read more at The Nation.

29 September 2015

Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization

Just published from City Lights: Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, my book-length expansion of the New York Times essay "Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene."

"In Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, Roy Scranton draws on his experiences in Iraq to confront the grim realities of climate change. The result is a fierce and provocative book."—Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

"Roy Scranton lucidly articulates the depth of the climate crisis with an honesty that is all too rare, then calls for a reimagined humanism that will help us meet our stormy future with as much decency as we can muster. While I don't share his conclusions about the potential for social movements to drive ambitious mitigation, this is a wise and important challenge from an elegant writer and original thinker. A critical intervention."—Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

Coming home from the war in Iraq, US Army private Roy Scranton thought he'd left the world of strife behind. Then he watched as new calamities struck America, heralding a threat far more dangerous than ISIS or Al Qaeda: Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, megadrought—the shock and awe of global warming.

Our world is changing. Rising seas, spiking temperatures, and extreme weather imperil global infrastructure, crops, and water supplies. Conflict, famine, plagues, and riots menace from every quarter. From war-stricken Baghdad to the melting Arctic, human-caused climate change poses a danger not only to political and economic stability, but to civilization itself . . . and to what it means to be human. Our greatest enemy, it turns out, is ourselves. The warmer, wetter, more chaotic world we now live in—the Anthropocene—demands a radical new vision of human life.

In this bracing response to climate change, Roy Scranton combines memoir, reportage, philosophy, and Zen wisdom to explore what it means to be human in a rapidly evolving world, taking readers on a journey through street protests, the latest findings of earth scientists, a historic UN summit, millennia of geological history, and the persistent vitality of ancient literature. Expanding on his influentialNew York Times essay (the #1 most-emailed article the day it appeared, and selected for Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014), Scranton responds to the existential problem of global warming by arguing that in order to survive, we must come to terms with our mortality.

Plato argued that to philosophize is to learn to die. If that's true, says Scranton, then we have entered humanity's most philosophical age—for this is precisely the problem of the Anthropocene. The trouble now is that we must learn to die not as individuals, but as a civilization.

Order it today!

08 April 2015

An Iraqi Band's (Semi) Happy Ending

Marwan Hussein, Faisal Talal, and Moe Al Ansari of Acrassicauda
Yosimar Gomez/Courtesy of Acrassicauda
Fifteen years ago, Marwan Hussein, Firas Al-Lateef, Faisal Talal and Tony Aziz were teenage headbangers in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, learning to play Metallica and Slayer off bootleg cassettes. They named their band Acrassicauda (after Iraq's ubiquitous black scorpion, Androctonus crassicauda) and joined a small but active heavy-metal scene in Baghdad.

Then, in 2003, the U.S. invaded, and life became a hellish cycle of checkpoints, explosions and murders. Marwan Hussein and Talal were almost killed by a car bomb, Aziz's house was damaged by a mortar, and the band's rehearsal space was blown up, probably by a rocket. "We've seen some shit, man," says Hussein. "You see stuff that makes you question your existence."

A few years later, Acrassicauda fled to Syria. Meanwhile, a Vice documentary, Heavy Metal in Baghdad, helped make them media darlings — and high-profile targets for extremist groups, who often attacked Western-style musicians. A flicker of fame turned Acrassicauda into permanent exiles.

Feeling responsible, the filmmakers who had made them famous helped them get refugee visas to the U.S. in 2008. The bandmates eventually wound up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and started grinding it out on the local metal scene, scoring an opening slot for industrial-rock vets Ministry (frontman Al Jourgensen called them his "favorite metal band in the world"). They finally made it into the studio last September to cut their debut, Gilgamesh, a Kickstarter-funded heavy-metal tour de force named after an ancient Sumerian legend.

(Keep reading at Rolling Stone.)