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Brian Castner

Decorated war veteran and author of The Long Walk and Disappointment River

Brian Castner presents “The Long Walk” at the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Selection
  • About Brian Castner

    Brian Castner served as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer in the US Air Force from 1999 to 2007, deploying to Iraq to command bomb disposal units in Balad and Kirkuk in 2005 and 2006. His memoir The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows is the story of his struggle to survive modern combat in Iraq and his personal tale of confronting the new person he had become upon returning to his family. Castner astonishes audiences with his powerful and harrowing story of the terror, excitement, and camaraderie of combat, and the lonely battle against the unshakable fear, anxiety, and survivor guilt that he—like so many veterans—carries inside.

    After leaving the active military, Brian Castner became a consultant and contractor, training Army and Marine Corps units prior to their tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His writing has appeared in a number of national and regional publications, including The Wall Street JournalNewsweekForeign Policy,Publishers Weekly, and Garry Trudeau’s The Sandbox, an online forum for dispatches by Iraq and Afghanistan service members. His latest book, Disappointment River, is a travel memoir and historical account of Castner’s retracing of Alexander Mackenzie’s 1789 journey in search of the Northwest Passage.

  • Speaking Topics

    Covering the Forever War

    After writing his war memoir, The Long Walk, Castner became a freelance journalist, and has reported from conflict areas around the world. Take a ride across the globe, with American soldiers in Afghanistan, desperate Ebola doctors in Liberia, and to the rise of ISIS in Iraq, to hear about the forces shaping our world.

    A Journey to the Arctic

    In the summer of 2016, Castner paddled the 1100 mile Mackenzie River, the second longest in North America, all the way to Arctic Ocean, to tell the story of Alexander Mackenzie in Disappointment River. But only a few years before, he was struggling to return home after combat tours in Iraq. Hear his remarkable story of Post Traumatic Growth, and how a bomb suit in Iraq led to a canoe in the Arctic.

    The Challenge of Climate Change

    In 1789, when Alexander Mackenzie paddled the river that now bears his name, he was met at the Arctic with impassable pack ice. When Castner paddled the same route in 2016, he saw open ocean. Castner discusses his journey through traditional Indigenous villages, and how oil pipelines, drilling, melting snow roads, and climate change are affecting their way of life, as the Arctic warms twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

    Ideas are a Matter of Timing

    Some ideas are remarkably ahead of their time. Charles Babbage invented a steam-powered computer in the nineteenth century, Kodak developed digital photography half a century before the smart phone, and Alexander Mackenzie discovered a Northwest Passage two hundred years too early. Hear Castner tell Mackenzie's little-known story, and how in business and enterprise, timing is as important as ideas themselves.

  • Video

  • Praise for Brian Castner


    Brian Castner was GREAT. Even exceeded already-high expectations, in my opinion! A great speaker, very engaging, clear, easy to follow and understand. Just all around excellent, I think. The high school teachers loved it and thought it was perfect – he said things about writing they’ve been trying to tell their students. The students had a lot of questions.  And all the attendees I talked to at the evening session seemed to have greatly enjoyed it too.

    Niagara University

    Praise for Stampede

    A ripping tale of ambition, adventure, insanity and greed. Brian Castner tells a big American story of the last big American frontier. I couldn’t put this book down.

    Elliot Ackerman, author of Red Dress in Black & White and finalist for the National Book Award

    Stampede is a much-needed historical restorative on the true nature of the Klondike Gold Rush. But it is also a timely and vivid account of an encounter between American hubris and the Alaska Factor that ended disastrously, and a reminder of the respect this place deserves.

    Matthew Komatsu, Alaskan search and rescue, and Alaska Literary Award winner

    A riveting tale told with panache and discernment. Brian Castner brings to throbbing life the thousand days of the Klondike rush, and leaves the reader breathless yet edified.

    H. W. Brands

    Praise for Disappointment River

    Vivid. . . . Castner has the Conradian ability to make you see and feel.

    The Washington Post

    Disappointment River is an adventure tale that will keep you happily reading while safely in your armchair.

    Minneapolis Star Tribune

    Whether recounting the historic search for the Northwest Passage or his own epic journey on the Mackenzie River, Castner is an able guide, a steady hand, a voice of reason. You’ll want to sit in his canoe and ride this out. I couldn’t put Disappointment River down.

    Dean King, author of Skeletons on the Zahara and The Feud

    An exhilarating historical narrative…Castner evokes vivid personalities and drama from the archives … Historians and armchair travelers alike will be equally pleased with this volume.”

    Publishers Weekly

    Vividly described, in well-wrought scenes that alternate from inspiring to humorous to stomach-clenching… Castner is a highly skilled writer and engaging companion.

    Anchorage Daily News

    Appealing on both historical and contemporary levels, Castner’s work will please readers fascinated by tales of discovery.


    …Intriguing and enlightening…For anyone concerned with the global effects of climate change, the meaning behind Disappointment River becomes alarmingly clear.


    [Castner] provides a lively biography of Mackenzie… A vital addition to the library of the far north and of exploration.

    Kirkus, starred review

    Praise for The Long Walk

    The Long Walk brings home in a visceral way the hidden, personal burden of war that many veterans continue to carry.

    The Boston Globe

    Direct and disturbing...A painful but compelling read, even as Castner finds ways to cope, at least partially, with his long walk back at home.

  • Books by Brian Castner

  • Media About Brian Castner

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  • 212 572-2013
  • Brian Castner travels from Buffalo, NY

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