I've read something like 100 bad reviews on this book from active/former Marines. Most of these guys are picking on Swofford's details. All of them basically call him a 10%'er or outright liar. Too bad. I was not a 10%'er by any stretch of the imagination, or a liar. I served with both 3/7 and 2/7. I deployed to the same places, and humped the same gear as everyone else there. I even pissed my pants in Boot Camp, but under vastly different circumstances. I found that Swofford's book contains more truth than many of these former Marines will admit.
Swofford misses on some details, but then he freely admits that he had to reconstruct some of the technical aspects of his experience, so I can forgive most of that. He also bends the truth in some places, which can also be excused. I don't think anyone's biography is a glittering example of the truth put to print, and to read Jarhead with this expectation is a mistake. The cussing, foul, drunken undisciplined madness is certainly a large part of the USMC infantry. Go ahead and lie to yourself, but it's the truth. Particularly in the rear, and even worse on deployment.
Many of the Marines who gave bad reviews said, "never in my 'Corps!". Well, every honest Marine I served with would certainly tell you that the Marine Corps has changed over the years--and not always for the better. The Marines of today are not the same kinds of people that they were in the '40's, '50's or 60's, or any other decade. But the essence of the 'Corps has never changed. Infantry Marines have always, and always will be the toughest, best trained fighters there are. But they are also the greatest collection of misfits and oddballs you've ever seen or heard of. I saw and heard many of the things Swofford talks about. Some of that's not 'urban legend', but behaviors that repeated themselves throughout the 7th Marines.
The basic problem with Swofford's book is that it will not make you feel good to read it. The reason these other Marines hate this book is because it is trying to deal with a question that Marines have been struggling with forever and ever. How can you love something so much, and equally hate it at the same time?
No one's trying to take the 'Corps away from Marines that fought at Iwo Jima, or Chosin, or any one of the hundreds of other places soaked with jarhead blood. Swofford is not taking a crap on your honor or your diginity. I suspect he loved the 'corps every bit as much as anyone. He also, quite honestly, hated it.
I would recommend this book for one reason, and one reason only. It is about 85% honest, with about 20% BS to make it readable. That is about 100% more honesty than you'll get anywhere else. If Swofford was 100% honest, then no one would want to read it but him and maybe the handful of buddies he had in STA 2/7.