PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewBrennan’s memoir presents a rich portrait of his unusual life, which took him from a working-class New Jersey neighborhood to a position as a Middle East specialist who met with kings and presidents and witnessed the rise of Al Qaeda. But as a reporter who has spent much of the last two decades writing about counterterrorism matters in which Brennan played an important role, I recognized the virtual absence of certain topics ... One wonders if his inability to use his files to refresh his memory resulted in such holes ... memoirs by former national security officials always exhibit a certain Swiss cheese quality because so much about their professional experiences remains classified. Brennan sometimes writes around that problem, as when he invents a hypothetical briefing to President Obama about whether to approve a drone strike ... even if Brennan’s narrative often cannot stand alone as a one-stop-shopping account of the events it covers, his own reflections on his long and momentous career are a worthy addition to the available history of the post-9/11 era.
Guy M Snodgrass
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewSnodgrass, a former Navy fighter pilot who worked in Mattis’s office from the spring of 2017 until the summer of 2018, has stepped forward to fill some of the vacuum created by Mattis’s silence. To be sure, his vantage point was limited...But Snodgrass saw more than enough for his memoir to take its place in the growing annals of government dysfunction ... Snodgrass, who eventually quit after clashing with a top Mattis aide, clearly admires his former boss but does not canonize him.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... a valuable guide to the story so far and offers some predictions about what the next chapter may look like, after the Islamic State is forced back into a mere insurgency ... Despite its subtitle, Soufan retells the Qaeda story from the beginning, enriching that now oft-told tale with newer materials, including some from the trove of communications seized in the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. His approach is to explain the movement through the eyes of a few key terrorist figures ... the best and most interesting parts of Soufan’s book center on a less famous figure: Saif al-Adel, a pragmatic Egyptian ex-soldier who devoted his professional life to the post-Cold War global Sunni Islamist movement and played a secondary role, Zelig-like, in most of the important events in Qaeda’s history ... Soufan offers lucid explanations of a worldview that to casual Western eyes may seem mindlessly nihilistic, but is coherent within its own terms of seeking to establish a caliphate.
Michael V. Hayden
MixedThe New York Review of Books...when it comes to matters that raise questions about the competence, reputation, and potential criminal liability of intelligence officials, 'the world as it was seen from Langley' may not always be the same as 'the world as it is'...truth to Hayden sometimes seems to be whatever serves the interests of his own faction: the permanent bureaucracy of intelligence and military professionals ... while I believe that major aspects of his book are flawed, I also think that other parts are excellent. Hayden spent his career grappling with some of the world’s most complex problems and he has many interesting, if often bleak, things to say about them—especially when his account is less driven by his concern to defend the record of the intelligence agencies.