From Publishers Weekly
Noesner, a former FBI hostage negotiator for 23 years, was the first person to run the bureau's Crisis Negotiation Unit. Looking back, he recalls some major standoffs along with his efforts to understand and interpret the behavior of hostage takers, sometimes finding negotiations thwarted by the actions of his own colleagues. The compelling centerpiece of the book is Noesner's analysis of "what went wrong at Waco" with the Branch Davidians when negotiation and tactical teams were working at cross purposes. After opening with a dramatic account of a man who abducted his estranged common-law wife and their son and was holding a gun to her head, Noesner describes his own "quintessentially American childhood," when he got the idea for his life's work from a segment about the FBI on The Mickey Mouse Club. Drawing on official reports, personal notes, memos, and memories of conversations, he writes with a simple style that nevertheless generates much suspense, recreating past events with a vivid intensity certain to fascinate true crime readers.
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Formerly chief of the FBI’s unit for hostage negotiation, Noesner interlinks principles for talking to cornered desperadoes with cases from his career. Some of those caught nationwide attention, such as the disastrous 1993 siege of religious zealots in Waco, Texas, and here Noesner tells his side of the story. In his discussion of less-well-known incidents, Noesner underlines his core belief that negotiation is more effective in peacefully resolving standoffs than law enforcement’s method of tactical assault. Although professionals are the audience for that debate, true-crime readers have plenty to absorb in Noesner’s accounts, which include several episodes of the husband-abducting-wife-and-kids scenario, a couple of prison riots, three 1990s showdowns between the law and beleaguered fanatics (the Branch Davidians, the Montana Freemen, and the “Republic of Texas”), and a miscellany of terrorism and kidnapping incidents. Working his ideas into the narrative, Noesner reconstructs negotiating dialogue both as a critique of techniques, such as establishing rapport with a hostage taker, and as life-or-death drama. The latter, plus the inside-the-FBI tone, renders Noesner’s recollections a guaranteed attraction in new-books displays. --Gilbert Taylor