Combat, Hell-raising, Cancer, Business Start-ups, and Undying Love: One American Guy's Reckless, Lucky Life

Publisher: Random House
“This is a memoir: a package of boasts, false modesty, flawed memories, dropped names, outright errors, and embarrassing disclosures that I think are pretty neat–but may appall you, if you’re squeamish or have an orderly turn of mind.”—Robert Nylen

The thing is, Robert Nylen should have died several times in 1968. He was a goner in 2006, and 2007 as well, and yet he survived through a combination of dumb luck and sheer perseverance. Of course, as you read these words, he’s already bit the dust. But let’s not dwell on that.

A self-confessed reckless jerk, Nylen spent the last four years of his life grappling with Big Diseases (cancer, diabetes), an astonishing twelve broken bones, and ten surgeries. His lifetime total is twenty-four fractures, most of which resulted from a flagrant refusal to act his age–or anyone’s age, for that matter. And yet Guts is not a mere chronicle of injuries but a sharp and wry meditation on American Manhood.

Growing up in suburbia in the ’50s and ’60s, with a father who had worked on the atom bomb, Nylen was an immature kid who was always eager for attention. In college he became a slovenly, hard-partying fraternity brother who barely graduated. Then came the realization that he was going to have to go to Vietnam. A dramatic tour of duty came to an abrupt end with multiple wounds, leading him to grow up fast. It was then that he started the real risky business: business itself. Some ventures succeeded and some failed. He exercised feverishly and often displayed a complete lack of common sense. And then he got sick, inevitably, with colon cancer.

Hilarious, moving, and riveting, this is the life of a tough guy as seen through the scope of a national obsession with toughness. Whether he was facing Viet Cong as a platoon leader in Vietnam or doing battle with venture capitalists at home, Nylen never backed down from a good fight–and he had the many scars to prove it. In Guts, Robert Nylen writes with humor and precision about the travails–and glory–of manhood.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter One

Black Ice  

A warm day in late December 2007 proved me nuts, and an idiot, again. I was in a hurry. Had to drive 190 miles south from our western Massachusetts home to take a meeting in Manhattan and then go to a party. Hastily, I gassed my car at Neighbors convenience store...
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“Like the best memoirs, this book brings to life the voice and spirit of a remarkable person. It also contains some of the best, and most honest, war-writing I know.”—Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains

"What a life! Love and sickness, war and work, told with wit, with an honesty that sometimes burns, and a compassion that brings tears to the eyes.”—Jonathan Harr, author of The Lost Painting

“This is a tough book about a tough man. Nylen explores the interior landscape of an archetypal American man—himself—with courage, honesty, and the gallant humor of a soldier who knows he's fighting his last campaign. Although his voice is as raw as an unhealed wound, it lingers powerfully in your mind. I feel like I have just been through a boot camp on how a man should live, and how he should die.”—Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower

“Its antic, self-mocking charm only enhances the deeper truth of this book: it is a story of extraordinary courage.”—Richard Todd, author of The Thing Itself

“No one braver than Bob Nylen was funnier; no one funnier was braver. And very, very few have ever been more honest about why men behave the way we do. His personal story is singular, but its lessons are universal.—Daniel Okrent, author of Public Editor #1

"Robert Nylen gets it right in Guts: what it takes for a man to go off to war, to kill, to be wounded, to make a living, to raise a family and even to die. Why me? Why them? Who dodges what bullets, and what do you do when the one with your name on it catches up to you? Guts is what it takes to be a man. Guts Bob Nylen had—and in his book he spills them all. "—William Broyles, author of Brothers at Arms

From the Hardcover edition.