134 of 151 people found the following review helpful
Which is both good and bad (but mostly good). Kurt Eichenwald's (you know him as the former NYT reporter and author of "The Informant") new book here is no snooze fest. The story is riveting, fast paced and a real page-turner. Eichenwald's writing comes alive, and honestly at times you forget you are reading a well-researched scholarly history of that period, and think you are reading Grisham.
We have a cast of thousands here, but of course GWB and Tony Blair get top billing. However, their errors and missteps are spotlighted here as well as their other policy decisions. Odd terms like "Enemy Combatant" are penned so that "extraordinary rendition" can be carried out.
This book has it all- secrets, spies, military tribunals, torture, waterboarding, anthrax, bombings, and of course Gitmo.
Many secrets are revealed, the backstory is fascinating. Did you know that while Blair was telling Bush that the UK would support the invasion of Iran, the UK top legal advisor was telling Blair that the attack was illegal?
Sometimes a bit dark and disturbing, but it's all the truth.
75 of 90 people found the following review helpful
As I decided if I could possibly read through this book, without the actual Nightmares of 9/11, maybe this chilling read won't affect me as bad as the Tragic day itself. I was wrong, of course most of us would suffer the horrifying flashbacks of a dark legacy that will forever haunt this country. Putting aside what we all experienced in our personal loss, sadness and fear, I began to read through the pages, which reads like a suspenseful thriller that's composed of extensive research. Bestselling author, Kurt Eichenwald delivers a comprehensive, chilling account of the first 500 days after 9/11. He reveals all the horror of the 18 months that changed America forever in gripping details of terrorist strategy, decisions that were made, and shocking information on investigations and conflict. In addition, he reports on wire tapping, the CIA, training camps and disturbing torture chambers. The author also includes historic events that took place in a world of secrets and lies. This is a compelling, comprehensive page-turner of inspection, deception and terror that will make us think, long after this book is closed. Thrilling, breathtaking, and Heartfelt from the beginning to the end!
32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2012
This is a very unusual book in what it achieves. First, what it is not. If you are interested in this topic and have read some of the prominent earlier books, you may find nothing new of significance (I didn't). And if you are looking for an introduction, there is probably too much that is silently skipped.
What it does very well is to create a strong gut feeling for the many failings of the US response, due to incompetence, arrogance, carelessness, ideology that rejected evidence,... The book is written in the style of a thriller, popping back and forth between story lines. I found it a very fast-paced read that constantly drew me forward. Even if you are familiar with the events, you are still likely to find the book very readable because of its organization and approach. However, the problem with this approach is seen in the description of the response to the anthrax attack: It is abbreviated far past the point of losing its essential character. Plus, it was so peripheral that I can't see how it belongs in this book.
A big limitation of the fast-paced style is that it precludes analysis and insights into why something happened. For example, an extended analysis of the misconceptions about the "Manchester Manual" is consigned to the "Notes and Sources" appendix (pp 545-552). Advice: Read it -- it is a critical part of the story. One of my biggest frustrations with the accounts -- this and others -- is that I haven't seen a remotely satisfying explanation of why the CIA didn't have qualified, experienced interrogators as part of its normal course-of-business. Or why the military did not use experienced interrogators from the Reserves -- predominantly from civilian law enforcement -- despite the Reserves being explicitly structured to preserve and provide that capability.
In the Epilogue I was taken aback to read passages that were in direct conflict with what was in the preceding chapters. For example, rather than "struggling to find a proper balance between national security and legal rights" (pg 508), the lawyers of the Bush Administration used the crisis to push an extreme interpretation of "The Unified Executive", and abrogated basic rights, such as warrants for searches even though they could provide no example or even a reasonable argument why the existing FISA procedures weren't adequate. And, as the book shows, after persistently failing to even try to sort out the innocent from the guilty, these lawyers put their efforts into blocking attempts to make them do so. My assumption is that the author was attempting to placate some of his sources by being able to point to these passages, deflecting them from what was written earlier. However, I couldn't help but wonder if he hadn't also shaded (softened) what was in the earlier chapters to manage his relationship with those sources.
I have serious problems with the sourcing of the claims that the waterboarding of KSM provided actionable intelligence: It is listed simply as a CIA report with no assessment of its credibility. The book had already mentioned that there were multiple instance of the CIA taking credit for information obtained by others (especially the FBI). The reality was that the CIA and the Bush Administration were repeatedly and consistently caught in deceptions and outright lies about what information had been produced by waterboarding. And about the efficacy of waterboarding: They initially claimed that a single session caused the subject to immediately reveal all. Then it was a few sessions. Then 40. Then 183. Then that although waterboarding didn't directly produce intelligence, it had made KSM more compliant to subsequent interrogation. With only a small part of this extensive history in the book, how is the reader to judge whether this CIA report is credible or just more self-serving lies? Granted there were too many major deceptions and lies during this period to expect the book to even touch on most of them, but this was a big enough part of events and of the book to expect a more critical presentation.
In summary, I have very divided feeling about this book. I love the way that it gives the reader a strong _impression_ of these events, but I dislike how its focus hides that these are but _representative_ stories and that there was a much bigger picture.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2012
I can now say I've read all of Kurt Eichenwald's books. I think he's among the best writers of business scandal/white collar crime non-fiction ever; "Conspiracy of Fools" was mind-bogglingly good, and "The Informant" and "Serpent on the Rock" were also terrific. So I was excited and curious to see him branch out into another area of non-fiction.
As the title of my review indicates, I have mixed feelings. I still think Eichenwald is among the best non-fiction writers we have, and he brings to this "story" his incredible ability to move a narrative forward - even when we know how it ends. However, I think he tried to cover too much in this story - the reactions to and after 9/11, the plans to invade Iraq, the early stages of the war on terror and, of course, the use of "aggressive" interrogation techniques (AKA torture) by the US. As a result, the book keeps jumping from one topic to another, and while it's a relentlessly good read, I found myself having a form of culture shock every time we moved topics. It's not a huge criticism, but it's "there."
There were times when I found the book frustrating due to Eichenwald's depiction of some people; he certainly paints Dick Cheney, John Yoo and David Addington, among others, as princes of darkness for pursuing the US's disregard of international law and the right of the Bush administration to do whatever it wanted to do in the cause of the war on terror, and yet in his Epilogue, Eichenwald goes soft on Yoo and Addington and tries to put their views in a more sympathetic context. And while his depiction of Cheney is consistently bleak, he seems somewhat sympathetic to President Bush - something I can't bring myself to do. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the people he depicts are, after all, human and neither all evil nor all good. This ambiguity is particularly well drawn in the case of Tony Blair - it's really a masterful portrait of a man in political agony.
All in all, I'd give this four and a half stars, but since I don't think it's his best (and Amazon doesn't "show" half-stars, I've rounded it down to four.
One last comment - I hate finding typos in a book, especially when it's an expensive one. I found a few too many in this one, and it was irksome that Eichenwald thanked and complimented his proofreader for doing such a great job; I respectfully disagree.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2012
This book is worth the read for the quality of the research. But it did not hold together as well as other books by this author. Perhaps the material is too fresh. Better editing would turn this from a very good to great book
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2012
There are plenty of quotes out there that would fit the cast of lunatics depicted in the book 500 Days. This book is a worthy read, however, I found it to be disjointed, skipping from topic to topic. The cutting in and out on the Anthrax issue was distracting to me. Covering the eighteen months following 9/11 on a world stage, not just within the U.S. is a lot to handle as a reader.
All of the people who were making the decisions were all like minded. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo - are all egomaniacs. Ashcroft an insecure and insatiable power monger. Rice and Colin Powell, I visualize scared followers; passive abusers. Tony Blair - A caricature of a keystone cop.
As for Bush, he loved to use the word "tyrant" to describe enemies. Look at the definition and I see Bush himself: tyrant" carries connotations of a harsh and cruel ruler who places his or her own interests or the interests of an oligarchy over the best interests of the general population, which the tyrant governs or controls.
To insert another quote: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Albert Einstein.
The good guys: Alberto Mora; Robert Doumar; Frank Dunham Jr.; Neal Katyal and many others. Their input, however, mattered little.
The victims: Too many to mention. Every United States citizen and many others around the world.
500 Days is a very sad and disturbing book. I recommend it to those with a strong stomach for relentless abuse- both literally and figuratively.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2013
Page 342 (my book) Robert Douman (judge)
"We must protect the freedoms of even those who hate us and that we may find objectionable. The warlords of Afghanistan may have been in the business of pillage and plunder. We cannot descend to their standards without debasing ourselves."
I have read a few books on the Bush presidency and the aftermath of 9/11. This is quite possibly the best one. It gives a broad view of events in the U.S., Europe, and to a lesser extent Afghanistan and Pakistan. It also provides us with striking portraits of the many personalities involved along with their conversations.
The structure is chronological which I initially found confusing, particularly as there are constant shifts throughout (sometimes on the same page) to diverse topics and characters. But this also gives us a feeling of how several events during that time were intersecting and colliding with each other simultaneously. In a sense it makes the book a real page turner as we experience this progression and constant movement.
Obviously there are many disturbing situations throughout the first 500 days after 9/11. We vividly see the downgrading of the Bush administration where human rights are trodden over. Several actions stand out. I will provide just one - why did Dick Cheney have so much power in influencing and making decisions - he was a vice-president who traditionally has no authority. By contrast, Truman, when he took over after Roosevelt's' death, did not even know of the developments on the atomic bomb.
While the author does give Bush and his entourage latitude in that they were trying to protect their country from further attacks. We also are provided with the details of a grab for power where the U.S. constitution was over-looked. It was like in order to protect ourselves - let's go it alone, overrule government regulations and international law... and by the way we will do torture too. The author shows how both the CIA and the U.S. military took this slippery slope where torture became a "modus operandi". Its' devastating when something unacceptable becomes acceptable.
The author never lets us lose site of the enemies we are dealing with - Islamic fundamentalists who are bent on destroying Western liberal democracy. In their own country they blew apart the Bamiyan statues that were made in the sixth century because they were deemed an affront to Islam. In Bali (an awful event that we tend to forget) they meticulously planned and bombed a nightclub area in 2002 that killed over 200 people and injured over 200. Obviously these terrorist groups must be stopped.
The prelude to the Iraq war is brought up. It is clear this had nothing to do with pursuing terrorism. We are given a good view of the Orwellian doublespeak that led to this invasion. In the U.S. administration the war build-up for Iraq was brought up within hours after 9/11.
This book gives us a perspective on how the United States, Canadian and British governments coped after 9/11. Sadly, it is not ennobling. The personalities and what they said and did, speak for themselves.
Bush proclaimed that he could set up a trial system on his own, then determine what constituted a crime and what rights would be afforded the defendants...Had anyone in the White House even read the Constitution?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2013
Well written and interesting reading. Hard to believe these things happened without the public knowing, Chaney was such a war monger.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2013
We already know how crooked and inept our politicians are- The book just seems to upset you reading about all the bungling, and territorialisim that goes on in our government agencies. No wonder other countries view us as weak. Only read the book if you want to hear more of how the Bush administration shot themselves in the foot........
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2013
This is a chronological history of how Bush/Cheney/Blair lied by saying that Saddam Hussein had WMD and that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 911 - how the American and the United Kingdom populace got suckered into the second Iraq War (which then helped Cheney's Halliburton make billions in profits through war infrusturcture). It also showed how our government tortured and imprisoned numerous innocent individuals when guys like John Woo wrote bogus documents saying that pain inflicted is not torture if it does not lead permanent internal organ damage or permanent mental impairment. Eichenwald, also a fiction writer, weaves all of the various threads as they happen, showing how all of the different facets are happening in parallel. He even includes the anthrax threat, which Cheney/Bush thought were possibly being performed by Al Qaeda terrorists, when in fact they were perpetrated by Bruce Ivins, a top government anthrax scientist, who eventually committed suicide before he could be tried and imprisoned. The book is based on 600 hours of interviews and the perusal of hundreds of thousands of pages of documentation, e-mails, medical records, etc. This book supplements the very fine books "The Looming Tower," "The Eleventh Day," " Ghost Plane," "Black Banners," and "The Dark Side."