From Publishers Weekly
A re-creation of the inner workings of a government commission threatens to be a dry bureaucratic procedural, but the 9/11 Commission was so politically fraught that its story is compelling in its own right. Chairman Kean and vice-chair Hamilton detail the commission's fight with Congress for more money and time; its wranglings with the Bush administration to win access to witnesses and classified documents; its delicate relations with victims' families, who were its harshest critics and staunchest champions; its strategic use of public censure to wring concessions from recalcitrant officials; and the forging of a bipartisan consensus among fractious Republican and Democratic commissioners. Their tone is evenhanded and diplomatic, but some adversaries—NORAD, the FAA, House Republicans—get singled out as stumbling blocks to the investigation. The authors cogently defend the compromises they made and swat conspiracy theories about coverups, but critics unhappy with the commission's refusal to "point fingers" or its lukewarm resistance to White House claims of executive privilege may not be satisfied. The issues the commission wrestled with—official incapacity to prevent disaster, the government's use and misuse of intelligence, presidential accountability—are still in the headlines, which makes this lucid, absorbing account of its work very timely. Photos. (Aug. 15)
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The 9/11 Commission Report
(2004) was an exception to the rule that U.S. government publications are written in unreadable bureaucratese. Its plain English yielded sales of hundreds of thousands of copies, and its success indicates that a huge audience may exist for this account by the commission chairmen. Former politicians Kean and Hamilton adopt a chronological approach and a style dominated by descriptions of their investigative process: theirs is not a source for knowledge about the Islamic terrorist strikes of 2001. Information related to 9/11 does permeate the text, but it appears as the object of fact finding, such as the time line of the FAA's and NORAD's reactions to the hijackings. Along with the formal organization of the commission, Kean and Hamilton dwell on two habits of Washington that they worried would roil the commission: leaks and partisanship. As their narrative rolls forward, this leak or that partisan enters their story, whose most dramatic moments reside in the commission's televised hearings. These, one learns, had scant investigative value and were considered vehicles for educating the public about the terrible attacks. A continuation of that lofty aim, this volume's prominence is assured; less certain is the perseverance of average readers. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved