Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Titillating headlines with embarrassing revelations about President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Vice President Joe Biden aside, 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, a mandarin who has served eight presidents, gives fairly high marks to the two recent presidents he served as secretary of defense. He has some choice and quite critical words for the US Congress ("prickly to deal with," "truly ugly," etc.), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (whom he chides for his "arrogance and outlandish ambition"), and Vladimir Putin (who has a "lust for power"). Gates himself comes off as a paradoxical figure: he found public service to be the most gratifying part of his life yet repeatedly expresses his frustrations and writes of how much he detested the job of secretary of defense. What comes through very clearly is just how deep and genuine Gates's concern for the troops he and presidents sent into combat is. Gates holds little back in this revealing memoir. --Michael A. Genovese, Loyola Marymount University

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

After years working for both the CIA and the National Security Council, Gates was president of Texas A & M when he was asked by President George W. Bush to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense in 2006. He accepted, and he served in both the Bush and Obama administrations until 2011. He has written a revealing but sometimes frustrating recounting of his experiences as he attempted to manage the Pentagon and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates offers absorbing and often surprising accounts of the formation of new and sometimes successful policies to alter the course of the wars. He also describes the internal wars within each administration and his struggles to ram change through the Pentagon bureaucracy. Unfortunately, Gates shows little introspection, or questioning regarding the basic geopolitical strategy that got the U.S. into these wars. Furthermore, given his decades in Washington, Gates' pose as an outsider banging his head against entrenched political and bureaucratic interests isn't credible, especially since Gates was regarded as a savvy infighter during his earlier experience in Washington. Still, this is a useful and informative, if self-serving, memoir covering critical years in recent history.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2010 Booklist

Library Journal
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The title of this inside-the-beltway memoir is telling: Gates, who worked in eight different presidential administrations, focuses on his duty to serve. He recounts his tenure as defense secretary (2006-11) under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as entailing not only the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but also battles with Congress and the Pentagon. Gates argues that Congress looks best from a distance; he found testifying before congressional committees frustrating at best, and he sought to protect the interests of the Pentagon while at the same time trying to reform the largest bureaucracy in the federal government. His memoir is also moving in several passages as Gates recounts his attendance in war zones and at military hospitals and funerals. His candor and humanity are most on display when he writes of the emotional toll he suffers when composing condolence letters to fallen soldiers' loved ones. Verdict 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. Highly recommended for all readers, especially those interested in the U.S. presidency, public policy, and national security.-Stephen Kent Shaw, Northwest Nazarene Coll., Nampa, ID (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.