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Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 14, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307959473
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307959478
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2,148 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,529 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

After years working for both the CIA and the National Security Council, Gates was president of Texas A & M when he was asked by President George W. Bush to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense in 2006. He accepted, and he served in both the Bush and Obama administrations until 2011. He has written a revealing but sometimes frustrating recounting of his experiences as he attempted to manage the Pentagon and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates offers absorbing and often surprising accounts of the formation of new and sometimes successful policies to alter the course of the wars. He also describes the internal wars within each administration and his struggles to ram change through the Pentagon bureaucracy. Unfortunately, Gates shows little introspection, or questioning regarding the basic geopolitical strategy that got the U.S. into these wars. Furthermore, given his decades in Washington, Gates’ pose as an outsider banging his head against entrenched political and bureaucratic interests isn’t credible, especially since Gates was regarded as a savvy infighter during his earlier experience in Washington. Still, this is a useful and informative, if self-serving, memoir covering critical years in recent history. --Jay Freeman

Review

“Probably one of the best Washington memoirs ever...Historians and policy wonks will bask in the revelations Gates provides on major decisions from late 2006 to 2011, the span of his time at the Pentagon…Gates is doing far more than just scoring points in this revealing volume. The key to reading it is understanding that he was profoundly affected by his role in sending American soldiers overseas to fight and be killed or maimed.”
—Thomas E. Ricks, The New York Times Book Review
 
“Touching, heartfelt...fascinating...Gates takes the reader inside the war-room deliberations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and delivers unsentimental assessments of each man’s temperament, intellect and management style...No civilian in Washington was closer to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than Gates. As Washington and the rest of the country were growing bored with the grinding conflicts, he seemed to feel their burden more acutely.”
—Greg Jaffe, The Washington Post
 
“Forthright, impassioned…highly revealing about decision making in both the Obama and Bush White Houses…[Gates’] writing is informed not only by a keen sense of historical context, but also by a longtime Washington veteran’s understanding of how the levers of government work or fail to work. Unlike many careful Washington memoirists, Gates speaks his mind on a host of issues…[he] gives us his shrewd take on a range of foreign policy matters, an understanding of his mission to reform the incoherent spending and procurement policies of the Pentagon, and a tactile sense of what it was like to be defense secretary during two wars.” 
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
 
“A refreshingly honest memoir and a moving one.”
—Jack Keane, The Wall Street Journal

“A compelling memoir and a serious history…A fascinating, briskly honest account [of a] journey through the cutthroat corridors of Washington and world politics, with shrewd, sometimes eye-popping observations along the way about the nature of war and the limits of power.…Gates was a truly historic secretary of defense…precisely because he did get so much done…His descriptions of how he accomplished these feats—the mix of cooptation and coercion that he employed—should be read by every future defense secretary, and executives of all stripes, as a guide for how to command and overhaul a large institution.”
—Fred Kaplan, Slate
 
“A breathtakingly comprehensive and ultimately unsparing examination of the modern ways of making politics, policy, and war…Students of the nation’s two early twenty-first century wars will find the comprehensive account of Pentagon and White House deliberations riveting. General readers will be drawn to [Gates’] meditations on power and on life at the center of great political decisions…His vision is clear and his tale is sad. Gates takes ‘Duty’ as his title, but the account of his service also brings to mind the other two thirds of the West Point motto: ‘honor’ and ‘country.’”
—David M. Shribman, The Boston Globe
 
Duty…is an invaluable contribution to our understanding of what makes Washington tick.”
—Edward Luce, Financial Times
 
“Gates has offered…an informed and…earnest perspective, one that Americans ought to hear, reflect on and debate.”
—Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic

“Engaging and candid….Young people who want to understand and live up to the highest ideals of American statesmanship would do well to read this book carefully; Gates has much to teach about the practical idealism that represents the best kind of American leadership.”
Foreign Affairs

“Compelling…trenchant.”
Newsday

“This is a serious, thoughtful, illuminating, and valuable insider account of the final years of the George W. Bush administration and early years of the Obama presidency….Gates holds little back in this revealing memoir.”
Choice

“If you read only one book by a Washington insider this year, make it this one. It should be savored by anyone who wishes to know more about the realities of decision-making in today’s federal government.”
Library Journal

“The full story that emerges from this detailed and often deeply personal account is of a man fed up with the dysfunction of the nation’s capital.”
The American Conservative

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Customer Reviews

Well written book; very informative.
Andre J. Fournier
Outstanding read and Secretary Gates provides some very interesting insight to the inner workings of the Bush and Obama administrations.
D. Kaan
Though in some situations goes very deep, perhaps too much into details, at any moment book was not boring to read.
Denis Vukosav

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

293 of 326 people found the following review helpful By Writing Historian on January 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One paragraph from Gates is worth highlighting to encapsulate the book's overall theme - "I did not enjoy being secretary of defense. As soldiers would put it, I had too many rocks in my rucksack: foreign wars, war with Congress, war with my own department, one crisis after another. Above all, I had to send young men and women in harm's way." That quote frames what I believe to be the cathartic reasons that Gates wrote this book. I do not believe that he wrote this book for political reasons.

The first two chapters chronicle those events which I feel set the tone for the rest of the memoir, namely, Gates' uncomfortable introduction to Washington politics in the midst of an unpopular conflict, having replaced an unpopular SecDef, as the Democratic Party in both houses flexes its newly gained clout.

A significant portion of the third chapter is devoted to Iraq. It is also where Gates discusses his observations and opinions of prominent members of the Bush cabinet and military services.

Chapter Four - entitled "Waging War on the Pentagon" - focuses on Gates' struggles to overcome the entrenched bureaucracy within the Pentagon.

Gates talks about Syria, Russia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, China, North Korea, NATO, Eastern Europe, Georgia (Former Soviet Republic), and "of all things, piracy" in Chapter Five. The strongest points of this chapter are Gates' insights into his dealings with the Chinese, Russian and Israel leadership, as well as the somewhat symbiotic relationship between Israel and Iran.
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233 of 268 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on January 14, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Robert Gates has a doctorate in Russian and Soviet history and has worked under eight presidents. Gates served for 26 years in in the CIA and NSC, and under Bush I became Director of Central Intelligence. After leaving the CIA he became president of Texas A&M University, leaving there to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. Author Gates then spent four and a half years as Secretary of Defense under both Presidents Bush and Obama. His memoir, 'Duty,' details decision making in both those administrations. While Gates didn't keep a diary himself, he was able to draw upon 40 books of notes by Geoff Morrell, former ABC White House correspondent who was Pentagon press secretary at the time.

What's surprising about Gates' book is that, after a lifetime of keeping personal opinions to himself, he's so candid now. Obama is described as 'the most deliberative president I worked for,' and 'refreshing and reassuring' in his structured approach to decision-making, while Bush II as impossible to dissuade from convictions he held about Iraq. As for Afghanistan vs. Obama, gates contends that while there was no doubt about the president's support for the troops, Obama also suspected he was being 'gamed' by the military into supporting their requests. Thus, Obama was in the position of not trusting General Petraeus - his commander there, disliking Afghanistan's president Karzai, feeling the war wasn't his, and primarily simply wanting to get the U.S. military out of there.

Hillary Clinton, though 'smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded,' disappointed Gates with her admitting her opposition to the 2007 Iraq surge was based on her assessment of domestic politics in her ill-fated run for the presidency. (Gates also notes that Obama did likewise.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Years from now, this will be a valuable book for historians. I found it informative, but it can be a long read. I thought about why, even though it has some interesting facts and anecdotes, it was not the type I would say I can't put down until it's finished. Then, I realized the answer. Having been a former Army officer, it jumped out at me at one point: this reads much like after action reports I would often have to review. Most compelling histories and biographies/autobiographies maintain a strong story narrative in each chapter. While the book had good chronological breaks, it didn't give a full sense of an underlying theme. Again, it's an interesting read and it will hold your attention if you enjoy material about politics along with the ups and downs of both presidential administrations. I also believe it is fair and balanced as can be for someone who was in his position. In the end, I would be amiss, though, if I didn't say "Thank you, Secretary Gates, for your service. We need more like you."
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229 of 267 people found the following review helpful By Citizen John TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 14, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book makes a splash in many ways yet it has some flaws. I purchased Kindle and Audible versions for simultaneous reading/listening. Consider this 63-page book for a high-level summary of the chapters: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M Gates -- Summary, Review & Analysis

Strengths
* Gates shows impatience with domestic politics during war. I could feel the passion.
* Gates evidences personal change through visiting severely wounded troops and learning about the sacrifices of their families.
* Tons of photos, at least in Kindle version.
* Solid narration. George Newbern performed audio version. At opportune times was mystery storyteller, creating tension and suspense.
* The section "Waging War on the Pentagon" marks shift of America's war effort to one of urgency and ruthlessness, and might elevate the book's status in the genre of military history.
* Explains how big federal contracts are navigated and why leadership means fighting the system.
* View of Washington, DC from articulate insider that began federal government career in 1966 and served closely under several administrations.
* Realistic-sounding viewpoints on military interventions and strategy.
* Summarizes lesson of entire book in "On War" section. It's about how wars are deceptively easy to get into; it's a national scolding for being dismissive of history.

Flaws
* The book starts slowly with speeches and lengthy preambles that resemble the self-licking ice cream cone the author was fighting. After that momentum picks up considerably.
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