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House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power Hardcover – May 4, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (May 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618187804
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618187805
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 2.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,048,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. If there were nothing more to Carroll's book than its chronicling of the U.S. military's amassing of power and influence from WWII to the present, it would still be valuable history. But the National Book Award winner (An American Requiem) makes the story something else altogether. "The lifetime of the Pentagon is my lifetime," he asserts, noting that the building had its dedication ceremony the week he was born; he also grew up playing in its maze-like corridors while his father worked as a high-ranking air force general. The nuclear dread that dominated the Cold War era thus plays out as personal and family drama, turning the book into "[my] long-delayed conversation with [my] father." It's strongest in its first half, where the development of atomic power and the turmoil of the Vietnam era hold the greatest personal significance for Carroll; later sections on the Reagan and Clinton eras are informative but less intimate. Carroll's approach can be poetic—he makes much, for example, of the coincidence that the Pentagon groundbreaking took place on September 11, 1941—but the emotional weight he brings to a Chomsky-like critique of American militarism results in an aggressively compelling history. Photos. (May 16)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Carroll was born the same week in January, 1943, that the Pentagon was dedicated, the Manhattan Project got under way, and Roosevelt declared that the goal of the war was the enemy's "unconditional surrender." In this "biography" of the Pentagon, he extends these moments into a fuguelike history of American military power from Hiroshima to Iraq. The dominant theme is personal: growing up, Carroll, whose father, a general, worked in the Pentagon, saw the building both as his "twin" and as "a kind of dark woods." On the practical side, he argues that "in the nuclear age, civilian oversight of American military policy had become largely mythical," that the Pentagon had "Congress in its thrall and presidents at its mercy." And yet his most fascinating stories involve moments—as in the Berlin crisis and the Vietnam War—when civilians successfully opposed the Pentagon's monolithic power.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker

More About the Author

James Carroll was raised in Washington, D.C., and ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1969. He served as a chaplain at Boston University from 1969 to 1974, then left the priesthood to become a writer. A distinguishedscholar-in-residence at Suffolk University, he is a columnist for the Boston Globe and a regular contributor to the Daily Beast.

Customer Reviews

Carroll has done a fine job here.
R. MARK Plummer
The author is poignant in quoting McNamara as accepting responsibility for two great war crimes--the fire bombings in WWII, and the failed bombings on North Viet-Nam.
Robert David STEELE Vivas
He is most of all fair and balanced in presentation.
J. M. Stout, Ph.D.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

136 of 150 people found the following review helpful By Emmett Miller on April 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a huge book in many ways. The history of the Pentagon is dense and often mystifying, but Carroll manages to show how it is a very human institution with his now patent insight and precision. He manages this by telling its history as a scholar, a journalist of the highest order, and sometimes as a son. Carroll's father was an Air Force general during the Cold War, whose office was located in the Pentagon where the jet struck on 9/11. This book could not have been published at a better time. There is no better way to understand what is at work behind today's headlines than by reading this book. It is at times shocking and frightening, but always illuminating and extremely intriguing. I wouldn't say it reads like a spy novel, even if it is the stuff spy novels are made of, but Carroll's style flows and carries you along effortlessly. There are few politcal heroes here, Democratic or Republican. Carroll is careful to tell this story with unwavering truthfulness, but it would be a mistake to think of this as an attack on the Pentagon or the U.S. military. Carroll has an obvious affection for the place and for the military as an institution, perhaps in spite of himself. Carroll might be the only person in America who could tell this story of immense import with such integrity and thoroughness at this time when we seem so desperately need it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author is the son of General Carroll, the first Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, a former FBI special agent who entered the military with the rank of brigadier general with the mandate to create the Office of Special Investigations for the U.S. Air Force. The author is also a former Catholic priest, sympathetic to the Berrigans and those of the Catholic left who opposed the war in Viet-Nam. The book is in consequence not only an extraordinary reference work, but also a labor of love and a labor of conscience. I read it and appreciated it in that vein.

I was surprised to not see in the otherwise excellent bibliography any reference to Lewis Mumford's Pentagon Of Power: The Myth Of The Machine, Vol. II and this confirms my impression that each generation reinvents the wheel, and discovers persistent truths for itself. The author does quote Dwight Eisenhower to good effect--apart from the normal quote warning us of the military-industrial complex, General and President Eisenhower is quoted on page 206 "National Security over the long term requires fiscal restraint," and on page 387, "People want peace so much, that one of these days governments had better get out of their way and let them have it." I point to General Smedley Butler's book, War Is a Racket: The Anti-War Classic by America's Most Decorated General, Two Other Anti=Interventionist Tracts, and Photographs from the Horror of It and to Jonathan Schell's book, which the author acknowledges,
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Prof. Richard on May 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
James Carroll has written a polemic to document the rise of the permanent warfare state in America over more than half a century. It is a scholarly work written at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Mass. Pages 517 to 608 are footnotes of his source material. Pages 609 to 623 are a Bibliography followed by an extensive Index.

Readers may disagree with Carroll's conclusion, namely that the Department of Defense is now dominant over both the legislative and executive branches of government and leading us inevitably to unending war. But he must not be dismissed as a liberal crank.

There are conservatives in America who believe that the Founders established limited government, a tradition of non-involvement in foreign wars, and civilian control over the military. Carroll's arguments are dismissed at our peril.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By William F Harrison on July 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
James Carrol has given us three wonderful books: Constintin's Sword, An American Requiem, and his current flawed but exceedingly important work, HOUSE OF WAR. Why flawed? While this is an important book, there are several dozens of redundencies and reiterations of the same, admittedly important passages, again and again. I like Carrol's language and certainly respect his vast knowledge of events that I thought I was very familiar with, but actually had little knowledge concerning the currents and eddies roiling the tides of our common experiences. However, with better editing and an elemination of many of the reiterations, the book could have been shortened by perhaps a hundred pages. And at 512 pages of text and 142 pages of acknowledgements, notes, bibliography and index, it is a veerry long and heavy tome.

Carrol, because of his father's position as a centrally located Air Force general, and eventually first head of the Defense Intellegence Agency, has been afforded remarkable access to opinions of and inteviews with many of the players who were responsible for many of major decisions and events that were so important to the American experience from his birth in 1943 during the week the Pentagon, the House of War, was dedicated, to the current disasterous administration of the man who characterizes himself as The Decider, that very worst president of the United States, George W. Bush.

Carrol, a defrocked Catholic priest, and I am certain a major disappointment to his father and all the father's military comrades who knew him, has amazing insights in the happenings in every adminstration from FDR to GWB.
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