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Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 14, 2014
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“Probably one of the best Washington memoirs ever...Historians and policy wonks will bask in the revelations Gates provides on major decisions from late 2006 to 2011, the span of his time at the Pentagon…Gates is doing far more than just scoring points in this revealing volume. The key to reading it is understanding that he was profoundly affected by his role in sending American soldiers overseas to fight and be killed or maimed.”
—Thomas E. Ricks, The New York Times Book Review
“Touching, heartfelt...fascinating...Gates takes the reader inside the war-room deliberations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and delivers unsentimental assessments of each man’s temperament, intellect and management style...No civilian in Washington was closer to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than Gates. As Washington and the rest of the country were growing bored with the grinding conflicts, he seemed to feel their burden more acutely.”
—Greg Jaffe, The Washington Post
“Forthright, impassioned…highly revealing about decision making in both the Obama and Bush White Houses…[Gates’] writing is informed not only by a keen sense of historical context, but also by a longtime Washington veteran’s understanding of how the levers of government work or fail to work. Unlike many careful Washington memoirists, Gates speaks his mind on a host of issues…[he] gives us his shrewd take on a range of foreign policy matters, an understanding of his mission to reform the incoherent spending and procurement policies of the Pentagon, and a tactile sense of what it was like to be defense secretary during two wars.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“A refreshingly honest memoir and a moving one.”
—Jack Keane, The Wall Street Journal
“A compelling memoir and a serious history…A fascinating, briskly honest account [of a] journey through the cutthroat corridors of Washington and world politics, with shrewd, sometimes eye-popping observations along the way about the nature of war and the limits of power.…Gates was a truly historic secretary of defense…precisely because he did get so much done…His descriptions of how he accomplished these feats—the mix of cooptation and coercion that he employed—should be read by every future defense secretary, and executives of all stripes, as a guide for how to command and overhaul a large institution.”
—Fred Kaplan, Slate
“A breathtakingly comprehensive and ultimately unsparing examination of the modern ways of making politics, policy, and war…Students of the nation’s two early twenty-first century wars will find the comprehensive account of Pentagon and White House deliberations riveting. General readers will be drawn to [Gates’] meditations on power and on life at the center of great political decisions…His vision is clear and his tale is sad. Gates takes ‘Duty’ as his title, but the account of his service also brings to mind the other two thirds of the West Point motto: ‘honor’ and ‘country.’”
—David M. Shribman, The Boston Globe
“Duty…is an invaluable contribution to our understanding of what makes Washington tick.”
—Edward Luce, Financial Times
“Gates has offered…an informed and…earnest perspective, one that Americans ought to hear, reflect on and debate.”
—Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic
“Engaging and candid….Young people who want to understand and live up to the highest ideals of American statesmanship would do well to read this book carefully; Gates has much to teach about the practical idealism that represents the best kind of American leadership.”
“This is a serious, thoughtful, illuminating, and valuable insider account of the final years of the George W. Bush administration and early years of the Obama presidency….Gates holds little back in this revealing memoir.”
“If you read only one book by a Washington insider this year, make it this one. It should be savored by anyone who wishes to know more about the realities of decision-making in today’s federal government.”
“The full story that emerges from this detailed and often deeply personal account is of a man fed up with the dysfunction of the nation’s capital.”
—The American Conservative
Top Customer Reviews
The first two chapters chronicle those events which I feel set the tone for the rest of the memoir, namely, Gates' uncomfortable introduction to Washington politics in the midst of an unpopular conflict, having replaced an unpopular SecDef, as the Democratic Party in both houses flexes its newly gained clout.
A significant portion of the third chapter is devoted to Iraq. It is also where Gates discusses his observations and opinions of prominent members of the Bush cabinet and military services.
Chapter Four - entitled "Waging War on the Pentagon" - focuses on Gates' struggles to overcome the entrenched bureaucracy within the Pentagon.
Gates talks about Syria, Russia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, China, North Korea, NATO, Eastern Europe, Georgia (Former Soviet Republic), and "of all things, piracy" in Chapter Five. The strongest points of this chapter are Gates' insights into his dealings with the Chinese, Russian and Israel leadership, as well as the somewhat symbiotic relationship between Israel and Iran.Read more ›
What's surprising about Gates' book is that, after a lifetime of keeping personal opinions to himself, he's so candid now. Obama is described as 'the most deliberative president I worked for,' and 'refreshing and reassuring' in his structured approach to decision-making, while Bush II as impossible to dissuade from convictions he held about Iraq. As for Afghanistan vs. Obama, gates contends that while there was no doubt about the president's support for the troops, Obama also suspected he was being 'gamed' by the military into supporting their requests. Thus, Obama was in the position of not trusting General Petraeus - his commander there, disliking Afghanistan's president Karzai, feeling the war wasn't his, and primarily simply wanting to get the U.S. military out of there.
Hillary Clinton, though 'smart, idealistic but pragmatic, tough-minded,' disappointed Gates with her admitting her opposition to the 2007 Iraq surge was based on her assessment of domestic politics in her ill-fated run for the presidency. (Gates also notes that Obama did likewise.Read more ›
* Gates shows impatience with domestic politics during war. I could feel the passion.
* Gates evidences personal change through visiting severely wounded troops and learning about the sacrifices of their families.
* Tons of photos, at least in Kindle version.
* Solid narration. George Newbern performed audio version. At opportune times was mystery storyteller, creating tension and suspense.
* The section "Waging War on the Pentagon" marks shift of America's war effort to one of urgency and ruthlessness, and might elevate the book's status in the genre of military history.
* Explains how big federal contracts are navigated and why leadership means fighting the system.
* View of Washington, DC from articulate insider that began federal government career in 1966 and served closely under several administrations.
* Realistic-sounding viewpoints on military interventions and strategy.
* Summarizes lesson of entire book in "On War" section. It's about how wars are deceptively easy to get into; it's a national scolding for being dismissive of history.
* The book starts slowly with speeches and lengthy preambles that resemble the self-licking ice cream cone the author was fighting. After that momentum picks up considerably.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A fine man. His credibility is proven because not only was he the Secretary of Defense for President Bush, President Obama asked him to remain in his position. Read morePublished 5 days ago by Terry Cochran
A bit of a tome from time to time, but it does provide the reader with a good insight into the failings of the Obama administration's war policy.(?)Published 8 days ago by John Daley
Excellent look at the tenure of a Defense Secretary in the middle of one of our nation's most complicated chapters. Read morePublished 8 days ago by Amazon Customer
An outstanding writer with an unbiased view of the way our government really works who is unafraid to give his opinion good or bad of the individual players.Published 9 days ago by Amazon Customer
Just terrible, generic, un-insightful and boring. I respected Mr. Gates and his illustrious career..he is good, but not at writing or giving advice.Published 10 days ago by Amazon Customer
Very informative and an politically non-bias presentation of the inside government functioning.Published 11 days ago by RES
Very readable insiders' story of the efforts to define and accomplish the "mission" in two confusing wars, and the constant battle against bureaucracy. Read morePublished 14 days ago by publius
Really interesting book and a great look at the career of Secretary Gates. I bought it to learn about the difference between the Administrations he worked for. Read morePublished 21 days ago by N.S. Sanchez