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Power Wars: Inside Obama's Post-9/11 Presidency Hardcover – November 3, 2015

4.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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The true story of how laws written after 9/11 under the guise of protecting a nation in peril distracted us from our ideals of liberty and the rule of law. Learn more | See related books
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Editorial Reviews

Review

A New York Times Editors' Choice

Named one of the best books of 2015 by ABC News and The Guardian

"Offers a master class in how to think seriously about crucial aspects of the [war on terrorism]. ... comprehensive, authoritative ... anyone truly interested in foreign policy or national security should find it essential and enthralling, thanks to the author's intelligence, objectivity, legwork and literary skill. ... Savage's superb book should stand as an indispensable guide to the debate."―Gideon Rose, New York Times Book Review

Power Wars "will almost certainly stand as the most comprehensive account of the Obama administration's policies, views, theories and bureaucratic battles over national security laws and the legacy of the 2001 attacks. His account is thoughtful and consistently fair-minded... no small achievement."―James Mann, New York Times

"Both the most comprehensive and the most engrossing look at how Obama morphed from a candidate beloved by the civil liberties community into what many saw as a continuation of George W. Bush...could not be more timely."―Trevor Timm, The Guardian

"The most essential explanation of modern-day American national security policy.... Anyone who has followed current events on drone strikes, surveillance, and encryption, and other essential issues at the forefront of modern America--and wants the entire inside baseball play-by-play to go with it--will love this book."―Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica

"Delves deeply into the nooks and crannies of every significant national security debate touching on the intersection of national security and law. The product of prodigious research and interviews with seemingly every player, Savage's book provides a revealing picture of the inner workings of the Obama presidency."―Gabriel Schoenfeld, The Weekly Standard

"The book has much broader appeal than to those in the national security law bubble... [Deeply sourced] is an understatement, as Savage reveals the contents of never-before released documents, memos, and internal deliberations across a variety of topics."―Cully Stimson, Lawfare

"Over the years, Savage has become one of the most knowledgeable and tireless reporters chronicling the civil liberties and war powers controversies under the Obama administration. ... Savage has written a book that will clearly be the comprehensive historical account of these controversies."―Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

"A rich blow-by-blow account of how and why the Obama administration determined the legality of its war-on-terrorism policies."―Jack Goldsmith, The New Rambler

"It is hard to imagine many journalists capable of writing a book on this topic on the scale, and with the ambition, of this one."―Robert Bauer, Time

"The value that Savage brings to his book is in reporting out how Obama's lawyers, who were often the toughest critics of Bush when they were out of power, wrestled with and ultimately sanctioned this retrenchment."―Eli Lake, Bloomberg View

There is "no more comprehensive guide to today's debates over national security and civil liberties."―Dina Temple-Raston, The Washington Post

"The most comprehensive account to date of the Obama administration's approach to national security law and policy-making."―Matthew C. Waxman, Time

"Extraordinarily comprehensive."―Marty Lederman, Just Security

Power Wars covers "in intricate detail nearly every major issue in Obama's national security policy: detainees, military commissions, torture, surveillance, secrecy, targeted killings, and war powers. Its behind-the-scenes story will likely stand as the definitive record of Obama's approach to law and national security. ... His main interest is presidential power in its perennial struggle with Congress and the courts. Ultimately, the stakes are high: whether we will continue to have, in John Adams's words, 'government of laws, and not of men.'"―David Luban, The New York Review of Books

Power Wars "offers a unique and thorough history of the American surveillance policy post-9/11, the inner machinations of the executive branch at the highest levels, the legal battles, the battling personalities, and the strange evolution from Bush to Obama in this critical area of law and policy ... As one who has studied and written about the Snowden phenomenon, I can't imagine a better, more total and fair inside history of that dramatic event."―Ronald Goldfarb, Washington Lawyer

About the Author

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie Savage is a Washington correspondent for the New York Times and has been covering post-9/11 legal-policy issues since 2003. A native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, he graduated from Harvard College and holds a master's degree from Yale Law School. His first book, Takeover, a bestselling and award-winning account of the Bush-Cheney administration's efforts to expand presidential power, was named one of the best works of 2007 by the Washington Post, Slate, and Esquire.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (November 3, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316286575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316286572
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a fantastic read! Savage is one of those all-too-rare authors who can take on an incredibly weighty subject, but deliver it in a thoroughly enjoyable fashion through writing that is simply great. An important subject + a great read = two thumbs up!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you buy one book this year, buy this one. Charlie is the most knowledgeable reporter when it comes to checking the Obama administration - and the controversial war powers the president has used. Buy this book for everyone who cares about civil liberties and presidential powers - buy it for students, lawyers and journalists. It's a compelling read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well-written book on an important set of topics.

Lots of good stories, though one wonders at times about his "fly on the wall" accounts of dialog and closed meetings - who was his source, and what point were they trying to make?

His key question is whether there is more continuity or change in policy from GW Bush to Obama, a huge question that I have heard debated by some of the characters in this book, and 700 pages later (spoiler?) Savage does not end up favoring either answer entirely over the other, which is probably fair.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have found this book both thorough and interesting. It gives one a first hand look at the inside legal churn that has taken place in the Obama administration, primarily regarding secrets, prisoners and detentions. Lots of people and lots of meetings where the legal underpinnings of potential policies are formulated. Not much look at Barack Obama himself, yet his intentions and values are the key to much of what takes place.

The author comes across as fair minded and certainly insightful from time to time. I've no negative comments, just a warning to readers that the book is detailed and there are many, many specific players involved. The writing is good, the book is not dull.
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Format: Hardcover
An excellent, thorough, intelligent book.

It is mystifying why publishers will print a book of 700 pages covering a variety of technical subjects, and yet refuse to include an index. The publishing house let down the author and his readers, and deprived scholars of a valuable source. No one should be compelled to read 700 pages to research a particular subject, like the policy for holding prisoners or for releasing intelligence reports.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this book Charlie Savage updates the 'imperial presidency' literature inspired by the George W Bush administration. The Obama administration came in planning to change the US approach to the war on terror - to close Guantanamo Bay, to foreclose the use of torture, to ground American actions in statute rather than in presidential prerogative. But the attempted attack on a Detroit-bound aircraft at Christmas 2009 - by the "underwear bomber" - raised both the substantive and (especially) the political stakes. Savage provides a topical approach to the legal questions involved in crucial national security decisions: e.g., to expand the program of drone warfare (and to use drones to kill American citizens abroad); to expand surveillance (as discussed by the Snowden revelations); to implement a revised detention regime for "enemy combatants," continuing the use of military tribunals; to fight the 2011 NATO war in Libya while ruling out the applicability of the War Powers Resolution. The book is focused on Obama but necessarily must dive back into history. In so doing, it provides what may be a uniquely cogent history of the recent development of the national security state. The two-chapter recounting of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and its application since 1978, for instance, neatly disentangles what is often a hugely confusing story.

The book is intensely substantive, then, but very readable. And it raises a key question: if the Obama administration's lawyers are willing to tell the president that anything he wants to do is legal, is that just presidential prerogative by another name?
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Format: Hardcover
As a professor teaching comparative national security law in Canada, I read a lot of books on national security law and policy. Between academic terms this year, I sat down with Charlie Savage's book. I put it down thereafter as infrequently as possible until I had completed it. It is probably the best book on national security law, policy-making and lawyering that I have ever read. It is astonishingly comprehensive in terms of scope, detail and insight on the substance of the undergirding policy and legal issues in the Obama years. Mr Savage extracts huge amounts of information on this most secretive area of law, and stitches it together in a manner that allowed me to connect dots in an area I follow relatively closely -- and all the while in a most readable manner. This book is a service to the public and a pleasure to read. It deserves a wide audience, reaching well beyond the confines of those of us who focus on this area.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent, detailed book. The author's distinction between "rule of law" liberals and "civil liberties" liberals is useful, but not entirely persuasive, because the Obama administration has a strange understanding of rule of law. For example, two teams of Obama lawyers told him bombing Libya wouldn't be lawful unless he invoked the War Powers Resolution. Obama finally found a lawyer willing to say the opposite. That's not the rule of law, that's finding a legal fig leaf to do what you wanted to do. See the discussion in another new book which covers a few of the same issues, Lawless: The Obama Administration's Unprecedented Assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law
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