Brennan’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.
The best thing about the memoir of this very strong-willed and prickly man is that it’s a full Brennan, from beginning to end. This is a headstrong and unapologetic book, one whose author tells us what he really thinks — especially about President Trump ... For students of the CIA, this book is a narrative of life in an institution that is at once rigidly bureaucratic and toxically tribal ... Even when he’s recounting such moments of compromise, Brennan emerges in his account as a proudly stubborn man ... Trump supporters will wrongly see the book as vindication for their argument that Brennan was out to get Trump from the beginning.
Gone are the days when national security chiefs quietly retired and perhaps wrote a discreet book a few years later recounting their years of service in understated tones ... Brennan dishes the gossip and offers strong, detailed, insider accounts of important events, such as how al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was tracked down and how drone strikes were carried out ... Yet something important is missing here — the big picture ... Brennan, who spent his early years as an intelligence analyst, provides relatively little analysis of how these dramas have reshaped U.S. national security and what lies ahead ... Brennan is at his best when he shares his access to places such as Saudi Arabia, where he was stationed twice and developed relationships with key figures in the government and the royal family ... too often he returns to inside-the-Beltway political battles and his now repetitive attacks on Trump.