on July 7, 2009
This excellent account compares favorably with Jeremy Scahill's 2007 book about Blackwater, in that it is based on interviews with Erik Prince and other key Blackwater execs, and reviews the private military contractor's accomplishments as well as failures. It also carries the story forward to the end of 2008, including all the legal difficulties at the end of the company's existence. It is very enjoyable to read but could have benefited from at least some footnoting of sources relied upon.
on November 20, 2011
1) This book is a quick read that provides a very broad treatment of Erik Prince and his Company Blackwater. You read it because you have an interest in how someone lives their life and how they created a vision and then made it come to life.
2) I walked away with respect for Erik Prince. He worked hard to create a company and then even harder to make it profitable. Even if you don't like guns or war, you could just strip that away and see how management accomplished some pretty amazing things. Erik was driven and worked hard to surround himself with people who could get things done. I was impressed with his poise and how he continually had to prepare for testimony in front of Congress, while writing new contracts with other agency's.
3) I was frustrated with the agency's of the government. You have to do things their way, expect no support when things go wrong, and then they need you so much they can't fire you. How messed up is that.
4) I was also interested in the lack of overall control in Iraq, a lack of a fundamental message, no real strategy that I could figure out, and constant infighting. No wonder things did not go well.
5) After the Blackwater brand was damaged I understood the company name change. Google now says Prince has a personal net worth of $2.7 Billion. I doubt that is correct, but if it is in the ballpark he has done well.
6) This book is like a piece of cake. It looks good, is easy to digest, but the sugar high doesn't last long.
on November 20, 2014
Uncritical, pseudo-biographical puff-piece in book form. Not quite hagiographic, but certainly fawning.
"M.o.W." is also missing the serious strategic analysis that, while probably more likely to contribute to a less-flattering narrative for Prince and his firm (especially in the context of corrupt government contracting), would've generated some historical value for the book. Another reader notes, "Blackwater started with $200,000 in contracts in 2000, and ended up with over $1 billion income in the next seven years. Simons explains very little of how that occurred." HBS won't pull a case-study out of this text...
Looking back on "M.o.W." post-Snowden, in the age of Greenwald and Poitras when they're at the height of their professional power, success and relevance, this book seems to be the antithesis of real investigative journalism. It reads like something one would expect from a strategic/crisis communications firm.
"A CNN producer and anchor, Suzanne Simons is the first journalist to get deep inside Blackwater—and, as a result of her unprecedented access..." <===== says it all. "M.o.W." = "access-journalism", not investigative journalism. Meh.
Nevertheless, given that you can buy a brand-new hardback version for $1.84 (+ $3.99 shipping), it's ok.
"Master of War" is literally a sub-$2 book.
Simons begins "Master of War" telling us us that "No company has ever amassed Blackwater's size, strength, and full-service military capabilities . . . within a few short years it boasted more weaponry, manpower, and high-tech systems than many small countries." A good buildup, but the book fails to deliver any information of significance.
Erik Prince, its founder, grew up in a well-to-family (family business was sold for $1.35 billion after father died at an early age) with family friends that included Chuck Colson, Gary Bauer, and James Dobson. Erik's was admitted to the Naval Academy, but left in his sophomore year because of "overly stringent rules," then enrolled in and graduated from Hillsdale College, became a White House Fellow, and ended up transferring to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's office. Prince became enamored with Navy OCS and becoming a Seal, which he accomplished. However, after about two years, Prince resigned at a time when his wife was battling cancer (eventually died) and his family was dealing with issues following his father's death.
Prince decided to focus on providing training facilities for Navy Seals that would be superior to what he had experienced. Soon was providing assistance training local law enforcement, then began picking up Navy contracts after getting on the approved contractor's list. (Prince was also a major Republican donor, though the book does not link those donations to favors received.) Eventually became a contractor providing security for Paul Bremer in Baghdad - State Dept. supposedly lacked the ability to do so in a combat zone. Prince's wealth also allowed the company to provide helicopters, according to Simons.
Blackwater became famous when four of its contractors were killed and hung from a bridge in Fallujah. There were about 170 private security companies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Blackstone alleges that it was constantly being blamed for the acts of the others - eg. running a U.S. division commander off the road, unwarranted killings of Iraqi civilians, etc. Blackwater started with $200,000 in contracts in 2000, and ended up with over $1 billion income in the next seven years. Simons explains very little of how that occurred. Blackwater employees were paid $500-$600/day for a variety of duties, including training Afghan police and other personnel.
Blackwater's downfall began in Sept. 2007 when it's contractors shot up the area in Nisoor Square - alleging they were fired upon first - 14-17 civilians were killed. By the time investigators initiated their inquiry, the evidence had been "cleaned up." Five contractors have been charged, one is cooperating with authorities; the company has not been charged. Regardless, the Iraq government banned Blackwater from operating within its borders.
"Master of War" offers little to commend reading it - my suspicion is that the author did little research beyond interviewing its CEO. If you're looking for an expose, this isn't it.
on February 10, 2014
As I have been following the world of PSCs and especially Blackwater for years already and writing my master thesis about it, it was a nice insight from the opposite side to read what happened and why which decisions were taken. You have to be interested in this topic, but if you are: the book is a must! Do take care not to take everything for granted and read critical.
on November 27, 2013
Displayed the conflicts between government and private business enterprise. Coupled with Eric Prince's own book, spells out what has occurred. Having had a relative working with a Blackwater operation rhyme and reason become self evident. Worth your time to read and draw your own conclusions...
on May 29, 2013
I was recommended this book by a friend who is really into things like Tom Clancy which isn't my thing but i was pleasantly suprised.
Coming from New Zealand we get very little coverage of the way the wars in the middle east are fought or the politics behind the scenes so it was really interesting for me.
I would recommend this book to anybody who is interested in politics or modern conflicts.
on October 3, 2013
I really enjoyed this book. I have a Blackwater sticker on the back window of my ford Explorer, and I have been to blackwater in Moyock. Plus I am a helicopter pilot. Reading this book makes me more proud of my sticker. CNN did Journalistic Malpractice. They just wanted to make George W, and Dick Cheney look bad. To date, there has been NO Trial. Nothing.
on March 26, 2013
Enjoyed the start of the book regarding Erik's drive and focus to create the company. Seemed to become a little dull during parts however finished quite well in outlining the companies slow down due to reputation and politics. Would recommend the read if you are wanting to understand more about Erik or Blackwater.
I bought this book after hearing the author interviewed on NPR. The last book I read even remotely concerned with military history was Massie's excellent "Peter the Great", so I was surprised to find how riveted I was by "Master of War".
While the book seems to get off to a slow start, it begins in earnest with a fairly brief bio of Erik Prince, a seriously Type A man, who left the Naval Academy but who later trained as a Navy SEAL. Prince, having inherited some $1 billion from a family business, initially set Blackwater up as a law enforcement/special forces training facility, which expanded rapidly (thanks to Prince's deep pockets) into providing military zone security forces for the State Department and other government agencies. Blackwater burst into the public's eye with the murder and desecration of several of its "contractors", and with the highly publicized incident involving the murder of civilians in traffic in Iraq.
This book condenses to the very essence, the distinct differences between an enormous military and governmental bureaucracy, as opposed to the fairly nimble and adaptable capabilities of a business run with a nearly inexhaustible supply of immediate money, and an extremely zealous chief executive. When the State Department wanted security in Iraq, Blackwater provided it. When the US government believed that there was no clear picture of the number and operations of contractors operating at the behest of various US government agencies - it hired a contractor to provide that oversight.
The tale of Blackwater then becomes one of flouting and exceeding the mandate they were given. Blackwater calls the people they send out on these jobs, conractors, and treats them as such for tax purposes. This is a thin veil which should be pierced, as they then use this as a corporate excuse for lawless behavior performed by individuals while performing assignments for Blackwater.
That said, this is also a tale of American capitalism: Erik Prince saw a gaping hole in training, and security provision abroad, and used his financial wherewithal to fill that need - quickly. He is a driven man, with a business that he has set up with no board of directors to answer to. With his enormous wealth, he is able to deliver quicker than any governmental agency could ever hope to.
The lack of coordination amongst the various contractors, together with those well publicized incidents, as well as a plane crash (due to lack of proper training) - and the arrogant, lawless behavior of some of the contractors, ultimately lead to Blackwater being banned from operating in Iraq, and the beginning of Prince's withdrawal from daily operations of Blackwater.
The book left me feeling even more bewildered about the US war machine around the world: governmental inefficiencies exist on a much more massive scale than imagineable; private enterprise can fill some of those gaps; government is so big that it can't oversee the private contractors, let alone coordinate with other agencies to allow the various contractors to work cooperatively, much less under the ultimate purview of the US military command.
This book serves as a strong indictment of big government at its most critical, and its very worst, and chronicles a man who saw opportunity there.