It really bugs me when someone reviews a book by way of the standards for something other than what it is. This is a literary compilation, collection, journal. Any or all of the above will work. It is not a history or an autobiography or the like, and to dismiss or blame it for not being so is just wrong and lazy.
That said, I consider it a brilliant gem of glimpses and insights, which is exactly what a read of this sort should be. It's like browsing Salter's heart and mind, with some of the best bits of his stories spicing up the mix.
I like reviews to have excerpts, and the following is my favorite passage from this collection, and a favorite rumination on war.
-- "War is so many things. It is an opportunity to see the upper world, great houses that have become hospitals or barracks, precious objects sold for nothing, families with ancient names at the mercy of quartermaster sergeants.
"In the familiar footage the guns jump backwards as they fire, the tanks roll past and forgotten men wave. It is all this and also the furnace of the individual in a way that a life of labor is not. Its demands are unending, its pleasures cruel. Goya knew them, and Thucydides, and Isaac Babel. One morning there is the wonderful smell of breakfast, and on the next the sudden arrest and hasty sentencing. The fate that seemed impossible, the justice Lorca knew. He could not cry out. I am a poet! They know he is an intellectual, or worse. They put him in a truck and he rides, with others and without a shred of hope, to an outlying district, where he is handed a shovel and told to dig.
"It is his grave he is digging, and in silence, the silence he will soon be part of, he begins, who was raised in his country, who became its very voice. 'Death laid eggs in the wound,' he once wrote, 'at five in the afternoon. His wounds were burning like suns, at five in the afternoon, and the crowd was breaking the windows . . .'
"In his grip is the smooth wooden handle, and the first shovelful of earth is one of the most precious moments of his life, if only it could last. But in war nothing lasts and the poets are killed together with the farm boys, the flies feast on their faces.
"For us it was simple, and always the same: Who was scheduled, what was the weather, what had the earlier missions seen?" --