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Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator Hardcover – September 21, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 156 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (September 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400067251
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400067251
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,756 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This was such a rewarding book. I've always been fascinated by that very basic question: when someone is disturbed and irrational enough to actually pick up a gun and take hostages, how on earth do you talk him down?

What was most startling to me was that until very recently in human history--a few decades ago--we didn't know.

The more I learned, the hungrier I got to learn more. How interesting that so much of it amounts to listening.

I had previously learned a great deal about hostage negotiators researching my book COLUMBINE. (The head of the FBI investigation in that case, Dr. Dwayne Fuselier, was a leading negotiator and I spent a great deal of time with him.) Fuselier spoke very highly of Gary Noesner, so I was curious.

I expected to skim through much it, but found myself hanging on every word. There is a great deal to learn here, and it was just as interesting to watch the story of how difficult it was to teach the FBI these ideas. Individuals picked them up rather easily, but making the institution embrace them was a bigger challenge.

My biggest surprise, though, was what a natural storyteller Noesner turned out to be. He has the easy style and readability of a lifelong novelist. It was a gripping and thoroughly enjoyable read.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A faced paced and informative look at the world of hostage negotiating. The writing is very down to earth and should be accessible by readers at any level. I find myself already being more mindful of some of the techniques discussed in the book during my personal business dealings. The concepts detailed in the book can (and do) apply to most situations of conflict that normal people encounter in their day to day affairs. This is perhaps the greatest strength of the book. The dramatic vignettes do not cover any new ground in the true crime genre; the concepts behind them, however, are immensely helpful to anyone who may find themselves in conflict with others since we will all encounter more of these situations before our life is over. 4/5 stars.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a fair and balanced look inside the FBI's crisis negotiations and crisis management programs. Gary's observations of the process from an operator's view point is priceless and right on point. He writes in a non-critical converational style, pointing out the positives as well as the negatives associated with each incident. Unless you have been where the author has,you cannot understand or appreciate the tension involved in "stalling for time" when human life is at stake. Gary's reasoned approach to negotiations made a tremendous contribution to the rethinking of crisis management within the FBI. The mistakes highlighted in this book are easily made when managers/leaders rush to judgement at a crisis. This book should be required reading for any law enforcement professional. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good read as well!
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is riveting but with wider implications than the stories it tells. Over and again Gary Noesner emphasizes how important it is to have trained negotiators available to manage hostage and other crisis situations and how deadly can be the all-to-human tendency to rely on force as a first response. We, as Americans, should be very grateful for his service and make sure that we have people with his skills available in our future because the need for such skills is sure to arise. His telling of his interview of Majed al-Mulqi, leader of the terrorist hijacking of the Achille Lauro, was most illuminating. Here useful information including an admission of murder was forthcoming where confrontational interviews had drawn a blank. Over and again instances are related where horrendous situations were defused without needless loss of life. Required reading.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Stalling for Time" is fascinating, but not at all in the way I expected.

There are firsthand accounts of some of the major hostage Incidents of modern times - in particular Waco and Ruby Ridge - which add to the historical record. But the tone throughout the incident stories is very much "just the facts ma'am" -- by which I mean that the stories are not played up for emotion, or even for drama. The amazing thing the author has done is to make "head FBI hostage negotiator" come across as - well - just another corporate job.

The main point that comes across from this book is the deep philosophical division within the FBI - and presumably, across the law enforcement community - between those who favor negotiation as a way to end hostage situations, and those who want to go In with guns blazing. The author is a passionate advocate of the negotiation approach, sometimes in support of tactical action, often as a solution in itself. He cites a number of examples where his advice was not followed, and he complains about the shortsightedness of his bosses in Washington and in various field situations.

What was most surprising, and frankly scary, about this book is how little science, or even modern management practice, appears to be involved in making such critical life-and-death policy decisions. The author refers to 2-week training courses for example as the entry into hostage negotiation; it takes 6 months to become a massage therapist, and 3 or 4 years to become a firefighter. And his arguments about the best approach to various situations are based on his experience, which is considerable, but he doesn't offer data to support his conclusions.
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