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on May 3, 2005
There are no bits of sensational gossip in this book, and this is one reason that it is so enjoyable. Petro is clearly a stand-up kind of guy and I can see why he became so trusted in the Secret Service. It is quite interesting to see the human side of the agency (politics, competition, back-stabbing, etc.). One otherwise might tend to imagine the agents as kind of stiff. I was also impressed by his explanation of the way that protection is afforded the president via three concentric rings of coverage. This is a fast and easy read; well written and edited.
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on January 30, 2005
The Secret Service is one of the most well-known but mysterious organizations in the federal government. We see them almost everyday on television alongside the president as he works the ropes somewhere. In "Standing Next to History: An Agent's Life Inside the Secret Service", retired Special Agent Joseph Petro paints a wonderful picture of the protective bubble surrounding the American presidency. With fascinating stories from his years guarding the Reagans, the Fords, the Quayles, the Rockefellers, and even the pope, we receive a glimpse of what the world's leaders are truly like. We learn that the pope was one of those people who when he was hungry would begin digging through a pantry and we discover that Nancy Reagan was truly not the monster she was portrayed to be. With humorous anecdotes and occassional commentary on the Secret Service today, Joseph Petro has written a masterpiece and is perhaps the best book ever written on the United States Secret Service. "Standing Next to History" is a book that you can't put down once you pick it up and is certainly a must-read. Five stars are easily given here.
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on February 14, 2005
Mr. Petro was on The O'Reilly Factor discussing his book, which whetted my appetite for this truly fascinating account of life inside "The Service."

From the opening pages, this work is a dignified account of a solemn duty, and the reader can sense that Mr. Petro took his charge with the utmost of seriousness. There is not one ounce of sanctimony in his tenor. He considered each assignment a sacred duty to protect, whether they were friend (Ronald Reagan) or foe (Arafat), whether he agreed with them politically (Dan Quayle, or The Pope), or not.

What I love about this book is that Joseph Petro does not spend close to 300 pages patting himself on the back, displaying faux modesty making statements such as "I don't consider myself a hero." He's honest without being mawkishly sentimental (such as what one can see daily on Oprah).

A subplot to this book harkens the reader back to a time when our leaders displayed a respect for the office they held, and carried themselves with a dignity that was commensurate with that office. In picture after picture you see this dignity reflected in the posture and demeanor of Joe Petro.

This book is not only a tribute to the many courageous men and women of The Secret Service, it is also a tribute to the fine American who shared his life as he stood next to history: Agent Joseph Petro.
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on January 10, 2005
It's not often that non-fiction reads like a movie, but this does and like any great movie, this has it all. There is the high drama of protecting a high value target like Pope John Paul II, and the down to earth humor that came along with being part of the private enourage of Ronald Reagan. But when it comes to a spine chilling scene, none can beat the moment where Petro, armed with an Uzi submachine is riding in the Vice President's motorcade and spots an arm come out of the crowd with a gun. In the flash of a millisecond, he aims his weapon. As he says about Secret Service agents, when they fire they do not miss. In the flash of that same millisecond, he realizes that the gun is red. The color of the pistol, combined with years of concentrated training stops Petro from firing. Thank God, as it turned out to be a water pistol in the hand of a child. If that person reads this, he will understand how close he came to getting killed. For the rest of us, "Standing Next to History" beats most movies any day.
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on January 20, 2005
Joseph Petro worked for the Secret Service for 23 years. During that time he was the agent in charge of President Reagan's protection and also was responsible for Pope John Paul II's security while in the US on tour in 1987. He also did stints with Vice President Quayle and Vice President Gerald Ford.

This is not a comprehensive review of the Secret Service's history, mission, or place in society. Petro delivers, with ghost writer Jeff Robinson, a highly readable yet never schmaltzy account of his many years as an active Secret Service agent protecting some of the highest-profile people in modern history and, moreover, occupying a "fly on the wall" position during such famous negotiations as Reagan and Gorbuchevs' in Geneva that eventually led to the Berlin Wall coming down. Even then-Secretary of State George Schultz was not present at some of these negotiations!

Petro dispels a few myths, including the old adage that Secret Service agents are supposed to take a bullet for the President, and really shows us how methodical and determined agents are at serving their protectees, such as when Petro alters the Popemobile to make it easier for the agent seated in front to craw into the bubblespace behind.

He also shows us a side of the people he has protected without seeming like a prying paparazzi or that he is passing judgment. For example, he was assigned to Nelson Rockefeller when he was VP to Gerald Ford. Petro tells an amusing anecdote of Rockefeller trying to dial the White House switchboard and telling them "It's the Vice President, please put me through to the President" but subsequently the phone is cut off. Petro informs poor Rockefeller that he has a direct line to the President, he does not need to use the public telephone network!

Petro was also there when Dan Quayle did his famous spelling of "potato" with an "e" on the end. Apparently the cards that Quayle was using with the children were incorrect and Quayle simply wasn't paying attention, he copied the spelling on to the children's blackboard. The media hyped this as Quayle not knowing how to spell whereas in reality he probably doubted his own ability to spell - a crucial difference. That doesn't make Quayle wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer but Petro's ability to offer up such at-odds views of well-known figures makes for a pleasant diversion.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone interested in what life is like behind the curtains of the White House. If you're a fan of the West Wing as I am, you'll love this book.
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on December 14, 2005
Up front disclaimer: I worked in the White House support community for several years, and knew Joe Petro during that time. He was a straight-shooter then, and his book accurately describes him, his job performance, and the effects he had on others. Joe was, and is, one of the good guys: always professional, and always thoughtful and scrupulously committed to his mission.

[...] My personal experience with Presidential overseas trips were that the US was not unversally loved, and that some lower level officials took great delight in injecting their own little stumbling blocks wherever they could. I was told very frankly by one official of a long-term ally that they liked to gig us a little, just to show their independence. So, in support of the several points in the book describing some rough interfaces, I can attest that, if anything, they were understated.

I haven't read all of the books written by retired Secret Service agents, but have read a few, and this is the best so far. I highly recommend it.
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on April 19, 2005
If the films, "Guarding Tess" and "In the Line of Fire" or "State Of The Union," captured your attention, you will be fascinated by this factual account of the agents who protect Presidents and their spouses.

It is a detailed precise overview of security issues, challenges and the sacred duty of guarding the President in the USA and abroad. Author Joseph Petro delivers a powerhouse of historical intrigue.
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on March 18, 2005
What an exhilarating revelation of how tax dollars are spent. I wish all our government had as much integrity, intelligence and personal responsibility as Mr Petro. Much of the historical facts were known but the charming, poignant or frightening details added so much to understanding international relations. Mr Petro was a leader in 'taking care of his men' e.g. during a thunderstorm at an outdoor stadium where the Pope was saying mass he not only brought in the Pope but called in the sharpshooters at an elevated height, so they were not struck by lightning. Much appreciated was the wisdom in his comments regarding the Homeland Security re organization. It was tense reading in some parts about the lack of sleep and physical exhaustion entaild which caused this reader concern for his health, especially since his genetic makeup includes his own father's premature death. He certainly deserves a wonderful retirement filled with satisfying and happy memories of his dedicated service and the knowledge of a grateful nation.
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on June 2, 2005
Mr. Petro had every opportunity to sensationalize what was obviously a fascinating career in the midst of some of the most important people of the last century. He did not. He wrote an excellent book based on fact and experience and it was compelling without the need to embellish. A solid and quick read for anyone with an itch for American History.
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on May 3, 2006
Joseph Petro writes a readable and interesting account of his life in the U.S. Secret Service. He also talks a little about Vietnam, and a little football. I mainly read this book to find out more information on Ronald Reagan, although the majority of stories were already in print.

One of the best chapters and it was the chapter with the greatest new information and insight was concerning Vice President Quayle. It was neat to see the comparisons in the presidential and vice presidential protection details. Also some of the stories are kind of amusing about Marilyn Quayle and the Secret Service. Also I did not realize Dan Quayle was such a great runner. I knew he was and is smart of course but I did not quite realize his athletic prowess, it does not however surprise me.

Anyways this is a valuable book in terms of learning more about the protection of politicians and even the pope (JPII) when he visited the U.S. Petro definitely has a different perspective than military or political aides. He is able to give more of an unbiased and often professional account. He seems like a serious and professional guy who has so far lived a pretty unique and amazing life.
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