Customer Reviews: Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor
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on September 22, 2009
I'd heard about this book through friends of mine and something that leaked about it in the Washington Post this summer, and we couldn't WAIT for it to come out. So many of us come to Washington to "change the world" and so many of continue to plug away at just that, every day. What I wish more of us would do is write about what working in this town is really like. It's funny, it's scary, it's sad, it's quirky, it's frustrating, and it's awe-inspiring... all at the same time. As someone who's lived and worked in DC for the past 20 years (cripes, am I that old?), it's refreshing to read memoirs that take risks and share stories that aren't always the most flattering -- whether it's about a certain subject or the author him/herself. When I read Matt's book, I cringed at some of the things he admitted to saying, doing, and thinking, and other times, I wanted to cheer him on. I found it interesting that he didn't try to shove down our throat his own opinion about how things should work, or how he would've done things differently. Those kinds of books make me nuts. Instead, I felt like I was reading some real reporting about what his life was like -- good and bad -- in working on the Hill and in the White House. The Pentagon chapter was good, too. His writing is strong, and he really has a confident voice in his storytelling. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to anyone who wants a good, funny book, and who wants to learn what the day-to-day life is like in Washington.
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on September 22, 2009
Matt Latimer's memoir is a humorous and candid take on life in Washington D.C. and the leaders we send there. His book exposes the other side of the people who we only see during their campaigns when they are nicely scripted and polished, promising the moon when they know they can't deliver it.

The author puts a human face on the distant government monolith and he says a lot of things that many people across the country are thinking but that they have had no one to voice. I really appreciated his openness and honesty.

Frankly it is heartening to know that there are people in Washington who really do care about principles and are not merely seeking power and prestige.
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on September 28, 2009
I'm not going to write a long review like some of the others posted here because you need to be reading this book instead of a long, dry review! The author tells it all -- the good, the bad, the funny, the ridiculous, the surprising -- about what goes on in Washington (Heaven help us in most cases!) The thing I liked best was that he wrote just as if he and I were sitting down having a conversation about some of the big names in government -- big names that he has met and worked with. There were some times when I thought, "Wow, I didn't know you could tell something like that" but I could tell that he was very honestly giving his opinions. His observations about most of the people served to back up the opinions I had already formed about them (I liked Donald Rumsfeld before reading the book, I liked him even better after reading it). Matt didn't spare himself, either, in some instances. This was not a case of a writer arranging the facts to make himself look good. Oh, and did I say that it is a really, really funny book? Yes indeed!
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on September 22, 2009
Who said conservatives aren't funny?

Matt Latimer's journey to and through America's most powerful city is a very funny and well-told story from a guy that everyone can identify with. Not your average political memoir, it's a must read for anyone interested in politics or thinking about moving to Washington, DC.

Latimer doesn't pull punches against pols that deserve criticism, but he also lets the reader know who the good guys are. Unlike so many books about Washington, this one is so entertaining that I can easily see it being turned into a movie or TV show someday.

I look forward to reading more from Matt in the years ahead.
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on September 26, 2009
This is one of the most compelling inside-the-beltway memoirs I've read from two perspectives. One for the obvious reason of providing valuable insight into the conservative movement from those with power inside the GOP during the George W. Bush era. Secondly because of the highly entertaining writing coupled to the author changing his literary style to better describe a character or situation. The result is a wonderfully crafted and compelling read. I'd also argue this book is far more worthy of being turned into a movie than Primary Colors, whose tone is often shared by Speech-less.

Unsurprisingly, the book is being grossly misrepresented by apologists of the George W. Bush legacy, Mr. McGurn's WSJ column regarding Speech-less was particularly dishonest. More surprising is that the book has not garnered much support from conservatives in spite of the author's mildly subversive attempt to depict President G.W. Bush as `no true Scotsman' (conservative); an attempt I think Latimer fails at miserably. Bruce Bartlett, a highly respected conservative who previously authored a book highly critical of the W. Bush era Republican economic policies was one of the few to write honestly about Speech-less' contents in his blog at Capital Gains and Games.

While the book starts-off like most memoirs, with Mr. Latimer re-creating the scene at the White House depicting the most interesting saga he experienced during his tenure and is therefore the hook; the book is not focused exclusively on his experiences in the White House but instead is a more ambitious attempt to describe how someone becomes conservative, politically ambitious, and has their ideals tested by interfacing with politicians who wield power.

What's lacking is a self-review by Latimer after events have enfolded that retest the author's political views. As far as we know Mr. Latimer can see no wrong in the conservative movement and its dominance within the GOP, just some bad luck that the movement contained a few bad actors such as Mr. Bush and Senator McCain (who is explicitly attacked as `no true Scotsman' - an argument with some merit). Latimer's time at the White House doesn't start until the second half of the book.

The typical weakness of most memoirs is the portion of the book near the beginning but after the initial hook. This is where memorists often report on how they got into the position of getting access to events that interest the public. Too often these passages are an overly long, boring, narcissist review of their life leading up to the events that caused us to purchase the book in the first place. This is not the case with this book and in fact distinguishes this book from most D.C. memoirs given this author both writes interesting prose and reveals the inside world of D.C. conservatism in a manner I hadn't yet seen adequately covered, specifically the character of the people who wield power and their managerial abilities. In this case this section also buttresses the author's credibility to criticize the President of the U.S.

I'm not a conservative, believe conservatism destroyed the Republican Party (of which I was a 29-year member of until Palin was nominated VP), and caused damage to the country that will last generations. However, I was fascinated by Latimer's story on how someone born to two well-informed liberals comes to be a conservative; in spite of also attending two highly acclaimed universities (U. of Michigan, and Columbia's law school) and having no experience in the private sector prior to entering politics. While I think I can analyze the core reasons this happened, I think that's a spoiler I would answer in the comments section only if asked.

Mr. Latimer's description of his time as a senior staffer for a U.S. Representative from Michigan, Republican Nick Smith, is where the story moves from merely compelling to a literary style in a realm all its own. Mr. Latimer describes his tenure with Rep. Smith in a format best compared to the dry humor of the Coen Brothers in Raising Arizona or Fargo. And while we're laughing at the zany antics Mr. Latimer experiences working with Mr. Smith, I ended up concluding I wouldn't hold Mr. Smith's somewhat eccentric personality against him when I entered the polling booth though I'm not sure Mr. Smith would take these revelations in stride.

Mr. Latimer quickly switches to more a serious tone when describing his time serving on the staffs of Arizona Republican Jon Kyl and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Latimer greatly respected both men, both of whom are described as public servants focused exclusively on doing the very best job they were capable of doing. Mr. Latimer does not extend the story to actions Mr. Rumsfeld took beyond his communications' people with one exception; so don't expect any unrevealed revelations in that regard.

In his section on his time with Mr. Rumsfeld, Latimer is masterful at depicting the incredible incompetence of the Pentagon Press Office while also validating a major reason why the Bush Administration was so incompetent in his descriptions of how the White House controlled even low-level non-military staffing positions in Iraq, validating Rajiv Chandrasekaran's charges in his Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (Vintage), and consistent with other investigative reporters and authors findings.

Another distinguishing characteristic of the book is Mr. Latimer's fealty to conservatism, so much so he disparages "the cleaners", members of the Republican party brought in to clean-up the messes or bail-out the party caused by their predecessors, so often those with a purer ideology. Mr. Latimer even opines on who is the ultimate cleaner, James Baker III, the very person I pick, have respect for, and have read his books. Mr. Latimer sees little to respect in cleaners like Mr. Baker or Robert Gates while embracing solid conservatives lacking the religious attributes so common to modern-day conservatism, people such as Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, and Fred Thompson. None of whom have held high elective office in either national office or populous areas, a pattern that seems to escape Mr. Latimer's glossed-over perception of conservatism. (If one assumes that Presidents are elected without much consideration of who their VP nominee is, which I do.)

The cynical have attributed this strange tangential journey on cleaners to ambition on Mr. Latimer's part by selling-out W. Bush in a way that defends the conservative movement, supposedly to keep him in good stead with the post-Bush GOP for future career aspirations. There is some evidence supportive of this argument. However, I don't share that sentiment. Instead I found Mr. Latimer to be an incredibly naïve player, primarily because his lack of experience in the private sector has caused him to have little appreciation for the processes and approaches that lead to executive and institutional success which so often discards ideology when it compromises results.

The cynics' argument is buttressed by Mr. Latimer's putting non-true-blue conservatives he believes are not worthy of office into categories as a way of dismissing them, e.g., claiming they lack principle because they're neither a zealous liberal or conservative. Mr. Latimer fails spectacularly when he ignores the fact that it's easy to correlate those conservatives who've failed to the very positions that win conservatives elections, which is why the cynic's argument is compelling. This latter disregard by Latimer for improperly framing events within the context of what the conservative movement stands for is the reason I discount the book one star.

The final part of the book covers Mr. Latimer's time in the W. Bush White House. The best advice I can give on considering this perspective prior to reading the book is to read the online GQ excerpt of this book. The style Mr. Latimer uses in parts of this book changes frequently, from serious narrative given the degree of levity a President must have for many decisions, to dark comedy given the complete ineptness by the President and much of his staff who created a working culture that assures defective decision-making, which is coupled to the near-universal conservative trait of being either unwilling or unable to adapt once prior decisions have been discovered to be utter disasters (a primary reason why conservatives have relied so heavily on `cleaners' in the first place). Mr. Bush, Ed Gillespie, and Karl Rove are particularly distinguished in jumping to decisions and then attempting to avoid reconsideration of their mistakes.

This highly flawed decision-making process is best identified when President Bush is complaining about how cut-off he is from his own Treasury Dept. and publically promoting positions on the financial crisis he either disagrees with or was ignorant of the implications of prior to taking his `bold' position (Latimer reports that Bush loved using the word "bold" in his speeches to preface his decisions). These passages, while written in a serious style, come off as dark comedy given the actual words coming out of the President's and some of his staff's mouths. The best example was the President learning he had actually sold a position to the public that would ultimately have the Treasury Department purchasing assets from troubled Wall Street investment banks at an inflated price (relative to their then-perceived value) and then sell them for what they could get. The President when learning the plan he promoted was not "buy low, sell high" as he originally thought proclaimed, "Why I did I sign on to this proposal if I don't understand what it does?"

The Bush section of the book begs the question; did Mr. Latimer read Robert Draper's book, Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush? I ask this question because it convincingly validates Mr. Draper's observations and descriptions of the Bush White House among others. Draper's book was the result of his having more access to the President by any outsider prior to his writing his book on Bush. I highly recommend Draper's book as well though it too is limited in scope.

Latimer in particular validates Draper's finding that a White House cocoon existed, insulated even from other departments within the Executive Branch coupled to the White House's propensity to make `bold decisions' without having gone through any sort of competent process to insure sound decision-making, a pattern not merely indicative of Bush but most of his White House senior staff.

And like Latimer's modesty in not extending his reporting beyond his personal experiences like he did with Mr. Rumsfeld, he does the same with his reportage of the White House. This book is not intended to be the be-all report on the Bush White House during Latimer's tenure within its walls. It does provide valuable perspective to the reader when they read future books that more broadly cover the Bush Presidency and it is this validated perspective that should warrant our consideration.
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on October 23, 2009
I have thoroughly enjoyed Speech-less. It is informative and humorous. Latimer doesn't set out to destoy anyone politically or otherwise. It seems that the facts as stated are as Matt Latimer saw them. It is written so well that with a little effort on the readers part, that they could gain a feeling of actually knowing the subjects without having ever met them.

His style of writing reminded me of the tv show, The Wonder Years. Many of the paragraphs ended with a humorous punch line, sort of like Keven Arnold in that tv series as he narriated his life, ending each segment of narration with something humorous.

As I said, it was also very informative, in that it explains a lot of what goes on behind the scenes in the House, Senate, and the White house, most of which I never knew or could have imagined. I have a different perspective when one of the politicians steps up to the microphone. Mostly his 'thoughts' are not really his, but something that was written to mostly to make him/her look good. Of course to do that it must be something they think the public wants to hear.

I cannot imagine anyone reading this book and not thoroughly enjoying it unless they are reading to dig up the dirt on someone. If that is your goal, skip this book.
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on October 14, 2009
First of all, I'm from San Francisco... need I say more?

That said, *Speech Less* is a witty, fun, breezy ride of what it's like having access to some of the most powerful people in the world, yet having none of that power yourself. Some other reviewers claim that this is a negative because, although Latimer had access to high ranking GOPs, he really "didn't know them." But, that's the beauty of this book... Latimer gives us the perspective of being the proverbial fly on the "White House" wall (and the "Pentagon's," "House's," and "Senate's" too!).

Latimer's prose is clear, concise, and a joy to read. The narrative is peppered with just the right amount of dialogue and turn-of-phrases to keep the pace moving. And, as others have mentioned, Latimer will tickle your funny bone. I especially loved the passage when Latimer became the campaign manager for penny-pinching Congressman Nick Smith, who made the author drive around in a Dodge Neon the color of a tongue. Latimer rationalizes, "Actually this was better than what Nick had offered his previous campaign manager--use of his old truck, which, literally, had a dead cow in the back." You'll be delighted to find these little humorous gems in every chapter.

*Speech Less* is a fast read and well worth the time. You'll be entertained, yet amazed that a conservative insider was willing to paint his view of Washington so honestly. I've read about 25 books so far on the W. Bush years and Latimer's was the first to admit, "... we'd spent more than any administration since LBJ's?"

My last comment is a warning to those in power now. Latimer, referring to the conservative movement, quotes a early twentieth century philosopher (Eric Hoffer) near the end of the book, "Every great cause begins as a movement, degenerates into a business, and becomes a racket." Hopefully, the new "change" movement remembers this and realizes that the pendulum does swing, like it did for progressives in 2007, but also for conservatives in 1999.
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on October 7, 2009
I judge a book partly on whether it holds my attention. This one did. The story of his experiences move right along. As a liberal I was wary of pumping up his sales but as a political junkie I could not resist the insider bits, especially when he was so vilified by some of his compatriots.

What Mr. Latimer is missing, and he does not seem to know it, is experience in the work world. He went straight from school to the poliical world and, in some ways, was shocked by what he found. The news flash is that the ineptitude of which he speaks is not unique to politics. When he goes elsewhere in the world -- business or, most especially, academia -- he will find that the world is the same. Some people are wonderful, others not so much.
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on November 26, 2009
"Speech-less" is one of the best "Washington insider" books I've ever read (and I've gone through a LOT of them). It is well-written, with a great mix of hilarious anecdotes and sober commentary. Having spent nearly 8 years working in Washington, I have to say that nearly all of Mr. Lattimer's observations about the city and Beltway culture are 100% correct. I too came to DC with aspirations of serving the common good and working my way up in the political world. Like him, I developed an increasingly critical opinion of Washington and the people in it. (Ideologically, I went in the opposite direction - I was an avowed Democrat, became a Republican, and am now happily somewhat right of center.) Basically, as Mr. Lattimer has detailed in his book, in Washington one observes a number of well-meaning and intelligent people struggling to accomplish true aims and goals against a majority of unqualified and/or self-centered individuals (including but not limited to the politicians). Ironically, many of the people who truly want to change the system for the better end up becoming disillusioned or burnt-out and leave Washington/political life, while the people who profit from the dysfunctional status quo stay and at times become more entrenched. Fortunately, sometimes the "good" guys do win. But there is still a lot of room for improvement.

If you are looking for a book that bashes one political party at the expense of another, you won't find it in "Speech-less". Mr. Lattimer makes observations (good and bad) about both Democrats and Republicans. I loved this about the book; it tells it like it is, without some sort of right- or left-wingnut agenda. Mr. Lattimer is still proudly Republican; he just wants to make the system better. And I for one can't fault him for that.

I rarely buy hardcovers but after reading the first few pages of "Speech-less", I knew this one would be a keeper. I only wish I hadn't blazed through the book so quickly. Here's hoping Matt Latimer writes another one soon!
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VINE VOICEon June 21, 2012
I actually liked this book a lot even though I question whether Matt was a real conservative. He asserts his admiration for Kyl, Rumsfeld, and Cheney and his dislike for Condi, Powell, and McCain. In this perspective, I think those he did not admire were probably more effective in Washington than Cheney or Rumsfeld.

Latimer is a good wordsmith, and this book shows he is a master story teller as well. I found his stories about the inefficiencies in Washington very believable. Since Washington is about reelection, it is no wonder that people don't go out on a limb to change things. If they did, they would lose their election. His second boss Congressman Smith almost lost in an election, since he decided he didn't want money from special interests. His later work for the President showed that it was about getting a standard speech done on a regular basis with no special excitement. I think his characterization of Karl Rove was spot on. Rove was not as clever or smart as he made out to be.

This is an entertaining read about the inside political world in Washington. Matt burned his bridges to the conservative political establishment. Maybe he should try to be a Libertarian.
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